Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Darwin Letter Friday

This week: Stinky, stinky, 12-year-old Darwin

Charles Darwin, at the age of 12, wrote several letters into a ‘Memorandum book’ while on vacation from school. He was staying at his family home in Shrewsbury, and apparently not bathing much. Ah, the days when washing was a chore!

Please be advised that the spelling mistakes and lack of punctuation are his, not mine.

To Dear Friend, January 4, 1822

My Dear friend,

you must know that after my Geography, she said I should go down to ask for Richards poney, just as I was going, she said she must ask me not a very decent question, that was whether I wash all over every morning no then she said it was quite disgustin then she asked me if I did every other morning, and I said no then she said how often I did, and I said once a week, then she said of cour you wash your feet every day, and I said no, then she begun saying how very disgusting and went on that way a good while, then she said I ought to do it, I said I would wash my neck and shoulders, then she said you had better do it all over then I said upon my word I would not,

then she told me, and made me promise I would not tell, then I said, why I only wash my fett once a month at school, which I confess is nasty, but I cannot help it, for we have nothing to do it with, so then Caroline pretended to be quite sick, and left the room, so then I went and told erasumus, and he bust out in laughing and said I had better tell he to come and wash them her self, besides that she said she did not like sitting by me or Erasmus for we smelt of not washing all over, there we sat arguing away for a good while.

I remain your affectionately

Justice w a nose as big as your fist

January the 2, 1822

The second letter today

That could be my favorite new insult — “You smelt of not washing all over!”

I love how the brothers antagonize sister Caroline about personal hygiene, and invite her to come and wash the grubby little guy. And if someone can explain to me what he means by “nose as big as your fist,” I’ll buy you a beer. Origins adds [burst] after “Justice,” which I assume to be a little star he drew.

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