‘I am getting sick of insectivorous plants’ Darwin confessed in January1875. He had worked on the subject intermittently since 1859, and had been steadily engaged on a book manuscript for nine months. January also saw the conclusion of a bitter dispute with the zoologist St George Jackson Mivart. In April and early May, Darwin was occupied with a heated debate over vivisection, and at the end of the year, he campaigned vigorously on behalf of a young zoologist, whose blackballing by the Linnean Society infuriated him: ‘I have not felt so angry for years.’
Darwin recognised that explaining the evolution of the honey-bee’s comb-building abilities was essential if his theory of natural selection was to be taken seriously, and in the 1850s he carried out his own experiments at his home at Down House in Kent, and wrote many letters on the subject.
The letters from these years reveal the main preoccupations of Darwin’s life with a new intensity. The period opens with a family tragedy in the death of Darwin’s oldest and favourite daughter, Anne, and it shows how, weary and mourning his dead child, Darwin persevered with his scientific work, single-mindedly committed to the completion of his barnacle research. His four-volume study was finally published after eight years of work. Darwin's professional circle was enlarged both by new friendships with noted scientists such as the physiologist Thomas Henry Huxley, and the American botanist Asa Gray, but also by contact with a network of animal breeders, nurserymen, and pigeon-fanciers.
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