These letters illustrate the chief interests and preoccupations of Chevallier and Corrie over a period of thirty years. As well as matters of personal and family concern, they cover the affairs of the universities of Durham and Cambridge, and speak of the movements and causes which agitated the Church of England and the diocese of Durham in the mid-19th century.
The letters are an important source for the early history of the University of Durham, commenting on the struggles to secure sufficient endowment, the appointment of staff, the development of the curriculum, choice of textbooks, content of lectures, the founding of the university's observatory, in which Chevallier was instrumental, and many other aspects of the fledgling institution. Cambridge controversies reflected in the letters include the contested election to the chancellorship in 1847, the proposal for a royal commission to enquire into the running of the university in 1850, and quarrels over attempts to introduce examinations for students in divinity. On church affairs, there are comments on moves to reform church endowments, episcopal appointments, the Oxford Movement, and the deplorable (in Corrie's view) consequences of Catholic emancipation. There are also vivid glimpses of some of the pastoral difficulties Chevallier encountered at Esh, where more than half the inhabitants of the parish were Roman Catholics, and Sunday cricket and illicit whisky distilling flourished.