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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Frederick Watkins   [18 September 1831]

Barnbro. Rectory.


My dear Darwin,

Never did I think so highly of our present Government, as when I heard they had selected Charles Darwin for Gt. naturalist & that he was to be trans-ported (with pleasure of course) for 3 years— Woe unto ye Beetles of South America, woe unto all tropical butterflies— So you another of ye old set, & may I not say a nearer & dearer than most of them, are going to launch on to ye Ocean of Life & leave behind ye little fortunatæ insulæ of fun & frolic & carelessness. By Jove, old Boy, truism tho’ it may be, we shall never see again such days as we have seen, be half so happy as we have been, or eat half so much as we have ate; ye last at least is impossible.1 In my humble opinion you are right in going & some of these 〈    〉 〈wi〉ll2 see you ranked with Brognia〈rt,〉3 〈d〉e Candolle,4 Henslow, Linnæus & Co.— Whilst I, luckless wretch, am rusticating in a country Parsonage & shewing people a road I dont know—to Heaven. One of our friends would say it was “a melancholy fact” that 3 years is a long time & in that long time much may happen both at home & abroad, sorrow sickness or ye grand finale—but if that time passes & finds us both on ye face of “this best of all possible worlds” why then, old boy, what a shake of ye hand we will have, what a bottle of Sherry what excursions, & what stories of wonders seen & dangers past. It may be as Cavendish5 says he intends to find me on his return from Malta “in ye Snug Parsonage with Mrs. W & some leetle Freddies” What a reunion of good & excellent fellows we might have he & you & Jack Venables6 &c &c. alas, alas we know not what is in ye womb of time. But at least, old fellow, ye worst fortune in ye world cannot deprive us of many pleasant & sacred recollections (n.b. 〈    〉)7 ye note of ye nightingale & ye voice of ye cherubim, ye moonlight walk & ye social glass (query, bottle?) ye roll of ye organ & ye clash of knives & forks, with small-talk, arguments, billiard-balls & beetle hunting enough to furnish ye most unfurnished head in Cambridge with ideas— We cannot expect quite ye same hereafter but things perhaps higher & holier & believe me there is no one, I look forward to spending happy hours with, more sincerely than yourself— Our friends are scattering fast. Whitley prognosticates change in his vital barometer, Jem Turner8 & Jack Venab. are both preparing for orders & Curacies, Cavendish off next month to Malta for 3 or 4 years, Duncan dubbed a Viscount9 & of course on ye wing, Grey10 looking out for something diplomati〈qu〉e, all that is good in Emmanuel Colbeck, Clutton & Co. rusticating,11 worthy old Smith,12 ye only feather left in ye wing. Its a heavy draft on ye mental bank, & not cashed so easily. I dont think I shall return to Cambridge; this next week we are to be at Doncaster of course, Balls, Races, dinners & dissipation, but cares & blue-devils spoil all these & I’d rather be with you on those soft still evenings listening to ye cries of strange birds, & admiring those wonderful forests.

It would be impertinent in an individual like myself to ask a naturalist to waste his time on me but if ever he has nothing to do & would kill a little time he may fancy how glad I should be to hear from him. Hang it I dont half like ending even this quasi-conversation, but it must be some time or other—so we shall dine together again in 3 years. What shall we have for dinner? My best wishes go with you on ye sea & land in ye Old World or New— do sometimes think of happy old times & remember that you’ve always one sincere friend in | Frederic Watkins13

Can I do any good for you in Cambridge or elsewhere. You know my ability is little but my will is great, if there is let me know & don’t fear trouble F W


Watkins was a member of CD’s dining club at Cambridge, which was called the Gourmet or, by John Maurice Herbert, the Glutton Club. In a letter of reminiscences written to Francis Darwin, Watkins (then Archdeacon of York) described the Club as making ‘a devouring raid on birds & beasts which were before unknown to human palate … I think the Club came to an untimely end by endeavouring to eat an old brown owl.’ (DAR 112: 113v.–114; see also LL 1: 168–70). Herbert lists the members of the Club, besides CD, Watkins, and himself, as [Charles Thomas] Whitley, [James William Lucas] Heaviside, [Jonathan Henry] Lovett Cameron, [Robert] Blane, and H[enry Porter] Lowe (DAR 112 (ser. 2): 70–1).
Section of manuscript missing as a result of excision from verso. See n. 7.
Alexandre Brongniart.
Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle.
George Henry Cavendish.
Probably Richard Lister Venables, who was at Emmanuel, Watkins’s College. No Jack or John Venables is listed in Alum. Cantab.
An excision, after an obliteration had earlier been made in heavy black ink.
James Farley Turner.
Adam Duncan, styled Viscount Duncan from September 1831, when his father was created Earl of Camperdown.
Possibly William Scurfield Grey.
William Royde Colbeck and Ralph Clutton, both Fellows of Emmanuel College.
Possibly the Rev. Thomas Smith, of Emmanuel College. He was a ‘ten-year man’; i.e., an ‘undergraduate, who had entered the University after having attained the age of twenty-four, and professed to have entirely devoted himself to the study of theology, was permitted, if he had performed the statutory exercises and ten years had elapsed since the date of his first admission, to graduate as a Bachelor of Divinity without having taken a previous degree.’ (Winstanley 1940, p. 153).
The name is spelled ‘Frederic’ in this signature, but given as ‘Frederick’ in Alum. Cantab. and by Francis Darwin. Watkins’s signature on a letter he wrote to Francis in 1882 is also ‘Frederick’.


Alum. Cantab.: Alumni Cantabrigienses. A biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900. Compiled by John Venn and J. A. Venn. 10 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1922–54.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

Winstanley, Denys Arthur. 1940. Early Victorian Cambridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Rejoices in CD’s appointment and predicts he will rank with Candolle, Henslow, and Linnaeus.

Recounts their past pleasures and gives news of friends, who are scattering fast.

Letter details

Letter no.
Frederick Watkins
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Barnborough Rectory
SE 19 1831
Source of text
DAR 204: 67
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 130,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1