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Love and affection

Emma Darwin

As Valentines Day draws near, geologist and science writer Nina Morgan considers historical affairs of the heart

Geoscientist 20.02 February 2010

Charles Darwin had a great respect for Charles Lyell. The copy of the first volume of Lyell's Principles of Geology that Darwin took with him on the Beagle was, Darwin writes in his autobiography, "of the highest service to me in many ways." And after he returned in 1836 he developed a strong affection for the eminent man. "Amongst the great scientific men, no one has been nearly so friendly & kind, as Lyell" he wrote to his cousin, William Darwin Fox, on 6 Nov 1836. "I have seen him several times & feel inclined to like him very much."

The friendship flourished to such an extent that Lyell was one of the first people Darwin told about his impending marriage. In a letter written on 12 November 1938, just one day after he became engaged, Darwin wrote to Lyell to say (in one of his least elegant sentences!): "I have the very good, and shortly since very unexpected fortune, of going to be married. The lady is my cousin, Miss Emma Wedgwood, the sister of Hensleigh Wedgwood, and of the elder brother who married my sister, so we are connected by manifold ties, besides on my part by the most sincere love and hearty gratitude to her for accepting such a one as myself .... I hardly expect such good fortune would turn up for me. I fear you will say I might very well have left my story untold till we met. But I deeply feel your kindness and friendship towards me, which in truth, I may say, has been one chief source of happiness to me ever since my return to England... I am sure that Mrs Lyell, who has sympathy for everyone near her, will give me her hearty congratulations." A sentiment that Lyell himself would be sure to share.

The young Charles


The quote from Darwin's autobiography is taken from Charles Darwin, Autobiographies, Penguin Classics. The correspondence between Darwin and Fox appears as letter 319 on the Darwin Correspondence website The letter to Lyell, dated Monday 12 November 1838, is quoted in Vol. II of Emma Darwin, A century of family letters 1792-1896, edited by her daughter, Henrietta Litchfield, published by John Murray, London, 1915.

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