Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Darwin Letter Friday

UPDATE 7-25: Check out this week’s letter: Darwin Builds a Fort!

Charles Darwin was a typical teenager. He thought that some of his teachers were full of crap, and wasn’t afraid to say so (at least to his sister).

This letter from Charles to his sister Caroline has a few choice words for a professor Duncan, namely that his lectures “cannot be translated into any word expressive enough of his stupidity.”

I don’t remember if I ever talked that way about my teachers, but if I did, they would be right to call me a snotty little punk. Nevertheless, it’s coming from a free-thinker who revolutionized scientific thinking, defying some of the biggest authorities of his day. So enjoy this very amusing letter; just a hint of what was to come.


Jan. 6th. | 1826—

My dear Caroline,

Many thanks for your very entertaining letter, which was a great relief after hearing a long stupid lecture from Duncan on Materia Medica— But as you know nothing either of the Lecture or Lecturers, I will give you a short account of them.— Dr. Duncan is so very learned that his wisdom has left no room for his sense, & he lectures, as I have already said, on the Materia Medica, which cannot be translated into any word expressive enough of its stupidity.

These few last mornings, however, he has shown signs of improvement & I hope he will “go on as well as can be expected.”f1 His lectures begin at eight in the morning.— Dr. Hopef2 begins at ten o’clock, & I like both him & his lectures very much. (After which Erasmus goes to Mr. Lizarsf3 on Anatomy”, who is a charming Lecturer) At 12, the Hospital, after which I attend Munro on Anatomy— I dislike him & his Lectures so much that I cannot speak with decency about them.f4 He is so dirty in person & actions.— Thrice a week we have what is called Clinical Lectures, which means lectures on the sick people in the Hospitals—-these I like very much.—f5 I said this account should be short, but I am afraid it has been too long like the Lectures themselves.—

I will be a good boy, and tell something about Johnson again (not but what I am very much surprised that Papa should so forget himself as to call me, a Collegian in the University of Edinburgh, a boy.) he has changed his lodgings for the third time, he has got very cheap ones, but I am afraid it will not answer, for they must make up by cheating.— I hope you like Erasmus’ official news, he means to begin every letter so.— You mentioned in your letter that Emma was staying with you, if she is not gone ask her to tell Jos.f6 that I have not succeeded in getting any [titanium],f7 but that I will try again. Tell Katty and Susan I shall be very grateful if they will write to me, it is so pleasant receiving letters; and I hope, although our correspondence has begun late, you will send me many more nice affecting letters about dear little black nose. Erasmus thinks I shall have more pleasure in seeing it than all the rest of the families put together. You seem to hold the same opinion with regard to my dear little nephew.— I want to know how old I shall be next Birthday. I believe 17, & if so I shall be forced to go abroad for one year since it is necessary that I shall have completed my 21st. year before I take my degree. Now you have no business to be frowning & puzzling over this letter for I did not promise to write a good hand to you.

I remain your af— dear Caroline, | C. Darwin.

Love to Papa & tell him I am going to write to him in a few days—

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