DARWIN, Charles.

Autograph letter signed to Sir Henry Holland.

Down, Bromley, Kent: 6 November [1864] Stock Code: 142404
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"I was very ill for about ten months with incessant vomiting" - Darwin discusses his health with his second cousin, a notable physician

An unpublished fully autograph letter signed from Darwin to Sir Henry Holland, thanking him for congratulations on his receipt of the Copley medal, discussing Herbert Spencer's new work and his own health and commenting on Holland's travel and adventures ("How wonderful your strength & vigour of interest are: I had heard of your Gibraltar expedition").

Sir Henry Holland, first baronet (17881873), was related to Charles Darwin's grandfather Josiah Wedgwood and was second cousin to both Charles and Emma Darwin. Holland had a successful career as a society physician, sometime medical attendant to the Princess of Wales (later Queen Caroline). On the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 he was appointed physician-extraordinary, and in 1840 he became physician-in-ordinary to the prince consort. Darwin discussed his family's health in correspondence with him and Holland was one of the 20 or so doctors Darwin consulted directly about his mysterious ailments, though ultimately he had more faith in William Jenner. Here Darwin describes his improving health: "I am, I hope, decidedly getting better, but fear that I shall never reach my former modicum of strength: I am, however, able to do a little work in Natural History every day. I was very ill for about ten months with incessant vomiting, which became bad when you were in America last year."

Holland shared Charles Darwin's keen interest in science and geology. In contrast to Darwin, he enjoyed exceptionally good health and was able to indulge his abiding love of travel right up to the time of his death. After graduation he toured in Portugal, Gibraltar, Sardinia, Sicily, the Ionian Isles, and Greece, publishing an account of the eastern part of this journey in 1814. His previous letter to Darwin, to which this is a reply, mentions a recent return to Gibraltar to examine caves and fossils. The year after this letter he was appointed president of the Royal Institution, a key role enabling him to popularize science.

In 1862 Holland had published a collection of his articles, Essays on Scientific and Other Subjects. Charles Darwin had no very high opinion of Holland's writings (in a letter to J. D. Hooker of 23 June 1863, yoking them with Spencer's works, he describes them as "all words & generalities"), so the remarks about Spencer in the present letter slyly conceal Darwin's feelings behind a polite facade. Here Darwin characterizes Spencer's work as "extremely clever, & yet, I cannot tell why, I never feel much wiser, when I have finished reading him."

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Three and a half pages written on a single bifolium letterhead, folded to form 4 pages, octavo.


Light soiling especially to the edges. Offered together with a photogravure reproduction of the Elliott & Fry photographic portrait of Charles Darwin, showing him leaning against an upright post of the veranda at Down House, c.1881, above a facsimile of his signature.


Not in the Darwin Correspondence Project. Holland's letter to which this is the reply is DCP-LETT-4659.


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