Editorial policy and practice

When the project was established in 1974, not only had most of the extant Darwin letters never previously been published, but the research had not been done that would allow the correspondence to be fully intelligible. The edition aims to provide full transcriptions of the letter texts themselves, but also, by the inclusion of scholarly footnotes and appendixes, to make them accessible to historians, scientists and general readers.

After initial transcription, each letter is closely checked against the original or a facsimile four times, to give as high a degree of accuracy as possible. Original spellings (and mis-spellings!) are retained.

The editors follow the ‘clear-text’ convention, providing letters uncluttered by editorial interpolations, but with a record of Darwin’s alterations and annotations detailed separately, enabling scholars to reconstruct the text of the original if desired. Translations are given of letters written in languages other than English.

Editorial method: (based on the introduction to the printed Calendar)

The basic entry for each letter, both in the printed Calendar and on the Darwin Correspondence Project website, contains the following information: a reference number (the ‘Calendar’ or ‘Letter’ number); the name of the correspondent, if identified; the address, if one appears on the letter or can be supplied; and the date, if known or conjectured. The body of the entry contains the summary of the content. The physical description of the letter is then given, and, if it has been published, a bibliographical reference is added. Finally the location of the original or copy that is the basis of the entry is recorded.

The editorial practices that have been applied to the parts of each entry are described in detail below.

1. The name of the correspondent. Darwin did not usually address his correspondents by name in the salutation of his letters unless they were relatives – in which case he used their forenames, or close friends – for whom he used the surnames alone. Consequently for most of the letters written after the early 1840s (when envelopes began to replace covers on which the name and address as well as the text were written) the name of the correspondent must be conjectured. Many of the recipients of the letters summarised in this volume have had to be identified by inference from the content and date of a letter or its reply, or some other indirect evidence such as its presence in a collection of private papers of the recipient. When the content is substantial or the subject matter is the special province of one or a few naturalists, detection and reliable identification are usually successful. Fortunately the difficulty of such identification is in inverse proportion to the substance: the letters supplying the fewest clues are in general also the least important ones. A doubtful identification is followed by a question mark.

If the correspondent has more than one forename, initials are used. The full name appears in the Biographical Index to the printed Calendar (which is the basis for the name register entries on this website). Initials have been supplied silently even if they do not appear in the letter. A correspondent whose name was changed during his or her lifetime is listed under the name used at the date of the letter. The Biographical Index provides cross-references in such cases: Emma Wedgwood, later Emma Darwin; and Leonard Jenyns, later Leonard Blomefield. When alternative forms of a name exist, the editors have selected that under which the correspondent is most generally known, in his own works, in biographical dictionaries, or in other standard reference works. If practice is obviously inconsistent, the form for authors used in the National Union Catalogue of the Library of Congress has been adopted. The forenames given in the entries are those used by the individuals themselves; for example, Grant Allen, rather than Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen, and Anton Dohrn, rather than Felix Anton Dohrn; again the NUC provides a useful guide. In cases in which confusion may arise, alternative names have been cross-referenced in the index. All titles, such as Rev., Dr, Sir, Major, Admiral, etc., have been omitted, except those of hereditary peers of the United Kingdom known by their titles.

When a letter was written on behalf of some group or company, the name of that group or company is added in parentheses, and both company and individual are indexed; for example, From Robert Cooke (John Murray). If the individual’s name is the same as the company name, the duplication has been considered unnecessary; for example From John Murray. If a letter was sent from an officer of a learned society or some institution and was restricted to the business of that society or institution, the name of the officer is not usually given. An officer personally known to Darwin whose letter has some personal content, or whose identity is considered to have some relevance, is named, and his office is given; for example, From Edward Sabine, Pres. Royal Society. A similar policy is followed with respect to editors of magazines, periodicals, and newspapers.

The names of societies and journals, if they contain three or more words, have been abbreviated according to British Standard rules for the abbreviation of periodical titles. For the sake of concision and to avoid excessive abbreviations the word ‘London’ has been dropped from the names of London societies; for example, Royal Society and Linnean Society are used instead of R. Soc. Lond. and Linn. Soc. Lond.

2. The date. Darwin rarely gave the year when dating his letters, and frequently he wrote only the day of the month or simply the day of the week. This practice has made the establishment of firm dates one of the most difficult problems confronting the editors. As with the identification of the recipients, the problem of dating begins in the 1840s with the use of envelopes. When these were discarded, as they almost always were, the direct physical evidence that the postmarks usually provided was lost. Consequently a substantial number of letters have had to be dated only approximately. If a letter is in a series which contains a dated reply, the task is relatively easy. The content also can provide good clues, although subjects like earthworms and the expression of the emotions occupied Darwin over long spans of years, as did subjects that recurred as his works were revised for new editions. A helpful technique devised by Thaddeus Trenn and P. Thomas Carroll (described in Carroll, ed., An annotated calendar of the letters of Charles Darwin in the library of the American Philosophical Society, Wilmington, Del.: 1976, pp. xxii-xxiii) makes use of the changes in the post office address of Darwin’s home, Down House. However, the periods of time during which these addresses were in effect were, except when the postal district was Beckenham (1869-72), from four to eight years long, and in some cases they overlapped, so additional information is needed if the approximation is to be refined. As noted above, the editors have fixed on a period of three years as a practical limit of approximation for letters to be placed in the chronological sequence and have listed separately the letters with longer approximate date ranges. Letters that have been given a range of dates within a three-year period are placed in chronological order on the basis of the earliest date in the range.

The size, colour, weave of paper, and the watermarks, if any, are sometimes useful in dating Darwin letters, and mourning borders also provide help; but the writing medium, except for the months of January-March 1853, when Darwin used bright blue ink, is usually the same colour (brownish-black) and shade throughout long periods. Different styles of writing and signature occur within certain periods of time and help to narrow the possible time range. The best clues are in the texts themselves, in references to dated letters of the correspondents, in references to publications or events, and in endorsements made by the recipients at the time the letters were received. It has not been possible in the space available to provide detailed reasons for the dates supplied by the editors. This information will be supplied in the forthcoming edition of the correspondence.

As is the case with all information supplied by the editors, square brackets enclose dates not in the orginal. Uncertain dates or elements of dates are indicated by question marks. The terms ‘before’ and ‘after’ are used in a strict sense. Thus a letter dated ‘after 8 July 54’ is judged to have been written very soon after 8 July 1854, and is probably a reply to a letter of that date. One dated ‘8 July 54 or later’ could not have been written before that date.

Some letters bear both Gregorian and Julian calendar dates. Only the Gregorian has been used in the entries.

3. The address. For London, only the street name and house number, or, occasionally, the name of the district or the name of an institution is given; for example, 12 Upper Gower St; Blackheath; British Museum. Any addresses of these types, standing alone, can be assumed to be in London.

For the British Isles outside London, usually only the village, town, or city is given. House names only are given for those houses that appear in Bartholomew’s Gazetteer (9th edition). If two or more British towns or villages have the same name, as entered in Bartholomew’s, the Calendar address can be assumed to refer to the main town of that name unless further information is supplied. Letters sent from provincial or foreign institutions, learned societies, universities, etc., have the name of the institution as well as that of the town recorded if it is of any relevance.

For U.S. addresses, the state is usually added to avoid any possible confusion with British place-names. If the town or city is well known and its name is unique, it is given alone.

For other foreign addresses, only the town or city is usually given. If there is more than one town or city of the same name, as entered in the Times World Gazetteer, then the entry can be assumed to refer to the British town of that name, or, if there is no British town, then to the main town of that name, unless some indication to the contrary is given. Cities with common Anglicised names, for example, Florence, are identified by those names unless the city name forms part of an institutional address.

Villages and small towns not listed in the Times Gazetteer, if they could be located, have their region or the nearest recorded town added. Similarly, the editors have tried to supply current names for obsolete ones, except when the old name or spelling is considered unambiguous or sufficiently well known; St Petersburg, Monte Video, and Buenos Ayres are examples of such exceptions.

During the 1850s the Post Office officially changed the spelling of the village name to Downe, but Darwin never adopted this form. The editors have followed his practice throughout.

If there is no address on a letter from Darwin, but there is some internal evidence for the place of writing, the editors have supplied the address, enclosed in brackets. They have also supplied correct addresses, in brackets, for those letters known to have been written away from home, but headed ‘Down’ for the benefit of Darwin’s correspondents, or because he wrote them on his printed stationery without changing the address. Missing addresses on letters to Darwin are not supplied unless good evidence is at hand.

4. The letter summaries. The summaries are highly condensed restatements of the originals. Passages from the letters are rarely quoted; when they are, the style and spelling of the original are preserved, but punctuation is altered if literal reproduction would be misleading. An effort has been made to make the summaries as readable as possible within the contraints of the form, but their prime objective is to provide readers with enough information about the contents of the original to guide them to those full texts relevant to their interests. In the space available, this can be done adequately for short letters on single subjects, but a five or six-line summary of a ten or twelve-page letter is bound to fall short of conveying the full contents. In these cases the entry may be a summary of one or two points and simply a list of some of the others.  The summaries on the website are derived from those in the second edition of the printed Calendar; where the full text of a letter is also given and there are discrepancies between the information in the summary and in the transcription, the transcription can be taken to be the more reliable.  We will correct the summaries in light of later transcriptions in due course.

Bibliographical references, when they have been located, are inserted in summaries of letters that discuss books and articles, but citations are not always repeated when references to a publication occur in letters that are close chronologically. In the case of Darwin’s books, short titles have been used in the summaries and references are always to the first edition unless otherwise noted. The titles are listed in full form in a separate bibliography in the printed Calendar (Appendix I, Part 1). Darwin’s articles are also cited by short titles, with references to Paul H. Barrett, editor, Collected papers of Charles Darwin, in which they are reprinted. In the case of ‘Climbing plants’, an article which was later printed and sold separately, the article form has been used when the reference is to the paper in the Journal of the Linnean Society or to the off-print issued to Darwin and Fellows of the Society. The full titles and locations of original printings are given in Appendix I, Part 2.

5. Physical description. The abbreviations, descriptive terms, and symbols used in the physical descriptions are listed below

  • L – letter
  • pc – post card
  • mem – memorandum
  • T – telegram
  • D – document (other than above)
  • draft – draft of letter
  • C – copy of letter
  • CC – contemporary copy of letter (e.g., copy kept by sender)
  • trans – translation of letter (into or from English)
  • A – autograph (½ or more of text in sender’s hand)
  • (A) – part autograph (any portion less than ½ in sender’s hand)
  • S – signed by sender
  • (S) – signed with sender’s name by amanuensis
  • ALS – autograph letter signed by sender
  • LS – letter in hand of amanuensis, signed by sender
  • LS(A) – LS with additions or emendations in sender’s hand
  • ACCS – contemporary copy in sender’s hand, signed by him
  • CCS(A) – contemporary copy signed, with additions by sender in his own hand
  • (French) – language of described item
  • inc – incomplete (part(s) of the original document missing)
  • damaged – part(s) of original document destroyed
  • † – annotations by recipient
  • †(by Lyell) – annotations by a specified person
  • †† – lengthy, numerous, or particularly important annotations by recipient
  • CD note – separate note by Darwin relating directly to described item and usually physically associated with it
  • Lyell note – separate note by a specified person relating directly to described item and usually physically associated with it
  • encl – enclosure
  • cov – cover or envelope

In addition to ‘encl’, the general term denoting an enclosure, some specific terms to describe particular enclosures are used, for example: list, sketch, diag, table. The nature of an ‘encl’ is described in the Calendar summary when it is necessary, but details are also usually given in the physical description, following the term ‘encl’. For example a two-page autograph letter signed, containing a two-page enclosure, is described as ALS 2pp, encl 2pp. If the enclosure is a third-party letter forwarded to Darwin, a fuller description of that letter is given, thus: ALS 4pp, encl ALS 7pp. In such cases the details of sender and recipient of the enclosed letter are given in the summary.

For complex physical descriptions, such as the above, involving descriptions of more than one item, the descriptions of the different items are separated by commas. Any description directly following a term denoting an enclosure applies to that enclosure. A hypothetical entry shows the order in which descriptive terms are given: ALS 5pp (French) inc & damaged ††, encl memS 6pp †. The entry indicates a five-page autograph letter signed by the sender and written in French. The letter is incomplete and damaged and has numerous, lengthy, or important annotations by the recipient (Darwin); enclosed are six pages of notes, signed by the sender and annotated by the recipient. Unless otherwise indicated in the summary, the sender and recipient of the notes can be assumed to be the same as the sender and recipient of the letter in which they were enclosed.

Occasionally an enclosure has been calendared separately from its enclosing letter. This has been done if an enclosure is considered by the editors to be of sufficient importance to stand alone. For example, when important information intended for Darwin has been directed to and forwarded by a third person, the enclosed information and forwarding letter may be given separate entries in the Calendar. In such cases the original relationship between the calendared items is clearly indicated in the summaries.

Normally the presence or absence of a cover is not recorded in the physical description of the letter; however, any folio numbers given in the provenance of the letter will include any covers that exist with the letter. Similarly the page numbers given in the description do not include pages that were blank in the original letter, although the folio numbers given do include them. Readers are urged, when ordering copies of specific letters described in the Calendar, to give all the provenance details supplied and to specifiy that they want copies of the recto and verso of all folios and any cover that may exist. Without such specifications they may miss covers and the dating and address information thereon, and any pages of a letter that were originally blank but subsequently annotated by the recipient or other later users of the manuscript.

Physical descriptions are given for all original manuscripts located by the editors. If an original has not been found but a photocopy or some other facsimile of it is known, the physical description is followed by ‘(photocopy)

Drafts and contemporary copies of letters are always described. If these alone have survived they form the basis of the Calendar entry. If the letter itself has also survived, or, in the case of drafts, some version of the letter that can be assumed to be based on its final form, then that letter or version forms the basis of the entry, but the provenance and physical description of the draft or contemporary copy are also given, for example: APS 444 & DAR 52:8-9 and LS 4pp & AdraftS 2pp. In many cases Darwin’s drafts or notes for his reply are found on the verso of letters to him. In such cases the description of the letter will be followed by ‘†’ to indicate the presence of CD annotations and the summary will indicate that the notes are for his reply. If the notes form a coherent draft reply, then a separate calendar entry will be given for it with a physical description in this form: Adraft 1p (on 12123). This indicates that the draft was written on a letter for which there is a separate entry.

Physical descriptions of published letters or letters summarised in dealers’ catalogues are those supplied by the source.

6. References to publications containing Darwin correspondence.  The largest number of previously published letters appear in Francis Darwin’s Life and letters of Charles Darwin (LL) and its sequel, More letters of Charles Darwin (ML). Other substantial series are published in Nora Barlow’s Darwin and Henslow, her Charles Darwin and the voyage of the ‘Beagle’ (Voyage), and Henrietta E. Litchfield’s Emma Darwin. References to these collections are in short title form. The full titles are listed in Appendix I, Part 1.  References to other publications containing letters are given in author-date form, along with the first page on which the letter occurs. The full titles of the publications are listed in Appendix II. Some letters are printed in more than one publication; for these the entries refer only to the more accessible works, provided the versions are equally complete and accurate. In some cases there are multiple references to works in which different parts of the same letter are printed.

In the provenance citations of letters in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, the numbers APS 1 through APS 625 correspond to the numbers used in P. Thomas Carroll’s Calendar of that Society’s collection of Darwin letters (Wilmington, Del.: 1976). This work contains summaries and quotations from unpublished letters, corrections in published versions, and, in the editor’s annotations, much other useful information about the letters.

Publication references have been provided because the edition of the correspondence will take years to complete, and for many readers a convenient published text will be useful. Readers are again forewarned that identifications, dates, and other details in the published sources will sometimes be different from those in the Calendar. The editors cannot, of course, guarantee that their versions are in all cases the accurate ones, and, since lack of space prevents them from giving their reasons for making the changes, they can only assure readers that the differences have been decided upon in full awareness of the published versions.

7. Provenance. All material in the Darwin Archive is assigned a provenance with the prefix ‘DAR’, followed by a volume and sometimes a folio or letter number, thus: DAR 96:27. A colon is used to separate volume numbers, collection names, or titles of volumes from folio, letter, or page numbers. In many DAR volumes the folio numbers are divided into two or more series. If the second or subsequent series of folios is referred to, the series number is given in parentheses immediately after the volume number, for example, DAR 96(ser.2):53. If no series number if given, the first or only series of folio numbers is implied. If no folio or page number follows the volume number, the letter is located in a box, bundle, or envelope in which the items are arranged without numbers, usually in alpha-chronological order. DAR 166, for example, contains letters from correspondents with surnames beginning with ‘G’. To locate a specific letter, its date or Calendar number is required.

Locations of letters other than those in the Darwin Archive are given in abbreviated form. The full names of the libraries and institutions are listed immediately following this Introduction.

When a letter has been reconstructed from parts found in different locations, the provenance of each part is given. Many letters in the Darwin Archive were cut up by Darwin and filed in separate portfolios, and the parts were subsequently mounted in different volumes. Thus, provenances like ‘DAR 85:27, DAR 166’ are common.

If more than one version of a letter has survived, for example, a final version and a draft, the provenances of both versions are given, separated by ‘&’, for example, APS 444 & DAR 52:8-9.

When only a copy of a letter was available to the editors for preparation of an entry, the provenance of the copy is given as for an original letter. The physical description indicates that it is a copy. When only a published text is available, the publication is given as the provenance. Similarly, when an original has not been located but some indication of its existence and content has been found from which an entry could be prepared, as for example a listing in a dealer’s catalogue, the source of the information used to prepare the entry is given as the provenance. The details given are as precise, accurate, and full as the editors could make them, but it should be noted that in some sources, such as dealers’ catalogues, the information supplied is limited and many details have had to be taken on trust.