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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. H. Darwin   [28 October 1877]1


My dear Father,

I suppose you will have heard from the Vice Chancellor consulting you as to what time you will like to take your degree.2

I gather from Hughes & Dr. Phear that they would like you to fix on three or four days on which you could come up, out of which they cd. take their choice.3 I told you that there were only stated days on which you cd. take the degree, but I hear now that there is some talk of an extra-congregation but of which no date is fixed & that is why I ask you to name a space of several days— if it included a Thursday I think they wd. be able to have their choice of the ordinary day or the extra day. I wd. suggest the week from Nov 18th.–23rd. I don’t kno’ whether there wd. be any degree besides yr’s on the extra day but perhaps there might be   The special day wd. be a much shorter job than the other because there wd be no ordinary business & wd be over in 20 min. The master of Emman Dr. Phear is very anxious for a special day, but I don’t yet know what the Vice C. thinks4   There might be a few other degrees conferred on the Special day, but I don’t much think there wd. be. However I dare say you will have settled it all before you get this.5

I am afraid I have been working rather too hard lately & I did an act of great courage yesterday in putting aside my work, but I don’t feel as if I cd. take an interest in anything else.6 I was working a good deal when I really was’nt up to it & was very seedy yesterday & today I cd. hardly work if I would.

I will try to work a little easier when I start again, but you can’t think what a pang it cost me to lay it aside (The rest is the fag end of a letter I wrote last night in consequence of some bother about yr degree but which is all removed by what I heard afterwards) even for a day, for I am just bearing down on the most interesting point.

However I went on till I had finished the most difficult point, & I shall be able to take up the thread again now that that is down in black & white. I feel almost confident now that tides in the body of the Earth will have altered the obliquity of the Ecliptic—& there’s a grand result for the geologists to play with. How much & which way I hav’nt the least idea but I suspect it would take a million years even with a very perceptible earth tide to make a considerable change in the obliquity. But we’ve got a good bank of time to draw on & surely even a few degrees of change in geological history wd be very important.

I think it is just on the cards that it may turn out to be an inequality of enormous period say a million years decreasing & then a million increasing but I don’t quite see my way to that yet.

I am so very glad to hear poor Hen. is about again7   I hadn’t the least idea that you were going to pay a visit to London. I hope you will find Uncle Ras tol. Perhaps I will run up for a night— how long do you stay. perhaps tomorrow8

I wonder whether you cd. persuade Frank to come up to Cambridge for your L.LD— Newton Clark & others wd. be so very glad to see him. Is Bessy in London with you?9

Your affectionate son | G. H. Darwin

I’ve left off tee-totalling for I don’t think it suited & I must say like my wine very much

Will you send me a telegram if there is not room for me— I think a day or two’s change may get me up again


The date is established by the references to the vice-chancellor’s letter and to CD’s visit to London (see n. 8, below). In 1877, 28 October was a Sunday.
See letter from Edward Atkinson, 25 October 1877, concerning the honorary LLD (doctor of laws) that was to be conferred on CD.
Thomas McKenny Hughes and Samuel George Phear served on the Senate of the University of Cambridge.
Phear was the master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge; the vice-chancellor of the university was Atkinson.
CD had written to Atkinson on 27 October 1877, expressing his preference for the degree ceremony to take place on 6 December.
George Darwin was continuing to work on his paper on the supposition that that the earth was composed of a viscous or imperfectly elastic matter, and thus subject to tides in its interior (G. H. Darwin 1878; see letter to G. H. Darwin, 18 [October 1877] and n. 3).
Henrietta Emma Litchfield had fallen ill with a fever in Switzerland while caring for her husband, Richard Buckley Litchfield, who was recovering from an appendectomy (letter from Horace Darwin to G. H. Darwin, 24–5 October 1877 (DAR 258: 864)).
CD and Emma Darwin visited Erasmus Alvey Darwin in London from 26 to 29 October 1877 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
Francis Darwin had become friends with Alfred Newton and John Willis Clark while he was a student at Cambridge. It is not known whether Elizabeth (Bessy) Darwin visited London.


Writes again about arrangements for the honorary degree ceremony.

Has been working on tides, which he is almost certain have altered the obliquity of the ecliptic.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Howard Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Trinity College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 210.2: 60–1
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11213,” accessed on 17 September 2021,