21 May 2007

Charles Darwin Argues Away for a Good While

The New York Times alerted me to the Darwin Correspondence Project out of Cambridge, which includes the biologist's first surviving letter. Its recipient can't be identified, but the 1822 date indicates that Darwin wrote it as a twelve-year-old just back from his boarding school.

Young Charles complained about a heated conversation with his older sister and tutor, Caroline. Their relationship seems not unlike the relationship of many other sisters and brothers:

My Dear friend

you must know that after my Georgraphy, she said I should go down to ask for Richards poney [unidentified], 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 [older brother] erasmus, and he bust out in laughing and said I had better tell he[r] 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
The epistolary editors add that to understand "the sanitary arrangements at Shrewsbury School in the early nineteenth century," we should consult James Basil Oldham, A History of the Shrewsbury School (Oxford: 1952), page 155.

See also the Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online, source of the picture above of Charles and his younger sister Catherine in about 1816.

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