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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Frederic William Farrar   5 March 1867


March 5, 1867

My dear Sir

I am very much obliged for your kind present of your lecture.1 We have read it aloud with the greatest interest and I agree to every word. I admire your candour and wonderful freedom from prejudice; for I feel an inward conviction that if I had been a great classical scholar I should never have been able to have judged fairly on the subject.2 As it is, I am one of the root and branch men,3 and would leave classics to be learnt by those alone who have sufficient zeal and the high taste requisite for their appreciation. You have indeed done a great public service in speaking out so boldly. Scientific men might rail for ever, and it would only be said that they railed at what they did not understand. I was at school at Shrewsbury under a great scholar, Dr. Butler;4 I learnt absolutely nothing, except by amusing myself by reading and experimenting in chemistry.5 Dr. Butler somehow found this out and publicly sneered at me before the whole school, for such gross waste of time; I remember he called me a Pococurante, which, not understanding, I thought was a dreadful name. I wish you had shown in your lecture how Science could practically be taught in a great school; I have often heard it objected that this could not be done, and I never knew what to say in answer.

I heartily hope that you may live to see your zeal and labour produce good fruit; and with my best thanks, I remain, my dear Sir | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin


CD refers to Farrar’s lecture at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, ‘On some defects in public school education’ (Farrar 1867). CD’s copy has not been found.
Although he was a master at Harrow school and a classical scholar, Farrar was critical of the prevailing system of English education, which was based on Greek and Latin. He advocated the teaching of science, as well as reforms in classical education that would eliminate verse composition and the memorisation of abstruse grammatical rules (Farrar 1867).
Root and branch men: those supporting a reform involving the total abolition of some existing institution (OED).
Samuel Butler was headmaster of Shrewsbury School when CD was a pupil there.
In his Autobiography, p. 46, CD wrote about his early interest in chemistry, as a result of which he was given the nickname ‘Gas’ by his schoolmates (see also Correspondence vol. 1).


Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Farrar, Frederic William. 1867a. On some defects in public school education. [Read 8 February 1867.] Proceedings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain 5 (1866–9): 26–44.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Much obliged for lecture [On some defects in public school education (1867)]. Would leave classics to those with zeal and taste for appreciation. Learned nothing at school except by reading and experimenting in chemistry.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Frederic William Farrar
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 144: 41
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5432,” accessed on 21 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15