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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   17 September 1868

Septr. 17 /68—

My dear Sir,

I return the accompanying without delay, but the books have not yet come to hand.1 I managed to reach Westerham on the same day that I left you, slept there, and proceeded to Seven Oaks next morning, where I visted Knowle House & Park, & then back to town in the evening. I am very glad to learn that our visit did not overmuch fatigue you.2

I was in the coffee-room of a hotel last evening, & there I met a man of particularly intellectual appearance, & I soon found him to be a man of very superior attainments—a Swede by birth (quite Anglicized), and artist by profession. In the languages of Europe a thorough polyglot, & well versed in Anglo-Saxon, Russian, old Norse or Icelandic, with much to say about old Snorre Sturleson & the composition of the Edda, in the 12th Century of our era.3 Well, our talk was various, & he mentioned a curious fact which is quite new to me, though it may not be so to you; & if new to him I should like to have your wrangler son’s explanation of it.4 If you pour a liquid (water) in a thin stream from the mouth of a jug or otherwise, that column of water invariably twists spirally from right to left! Why is this? I hear that there was some discussion on the subject, & several theories broached, in the old Gentleman’s Magazine of 1818 or thereabouts, & again some ten years before; so I must hunt up Mr. Sylvanus Urban.5 I do not remember seeing it anywhere treated of.

Yours very truly, | E Blyth


The enclosure has not been found, and the books have not been identified.
Blyth visited Down House on Saturday 12 September and Sunday 13 September 1868, and may not have left until Monday morning (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). Knole House, an Elizabethan house in Sevenoaks, Kent, had a 1000 acre deer park; part of the house was open to the public in the nineteenth century (see Post Office directory of the six home counties 1870, and Sackville-West 1922). No letter from CD following Blyth’s visit to Down has been found.
The Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson probably wrote the three parts of the Edda beginning in 1220 (see Pulsiano ed. 1993, pp. 600–2); for an English translation of the Edda, see Snorri Sturluson 1987.
In January 1868, George Howard Darwin was second in the Mathematical Tripos examination at Cambridge; the position was known as ‘second wrangler’ (Cambridge University calendar 1868).
The Gentleman’s Magazine was started in 1731 by Edward Cave, who used the editorial pseudonym Sylvanus Urban (ODNB). Accounts of water spiralling from right to left have not been found in the Gentleman’s Magazine from 1808 to 1819.


Cambridge University calendar: The Cambridge University calendar. Cambridge: W. Page [and others]. 1796–1950.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Post Office directory of the six home counties: Post Office directory of the six home counties, viz., Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. London: W. Kelly & Co. 1845–78.

Sackville-West, Victoria. 1922. Knole and the Sackvilles. London: W. Heinemann.

Snorri Sturluson. 1987. Edda. Translated by Anthony Faulkes. London: Dent.


Wonders if George Darwin can explain why a thin stream of water poured from a jug always spirals right to left.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Blyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 221
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6372,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16