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A ‘scurrilous libel’
Letters revealing a unprecedented episode of incandescent anger on Darwin’s part will be published for the first time in the next volume of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin, out next month. The volume contains more than 600 letters from 1874. The target of Darwin’s fury was the Catholic zoologist St George Jackson Mivart who had accused Darwin’s son, George, of supporting prostitution as a legitimate means of population control, and by implication had branded Darwin’s own theories as immoral. Darwin had previously tried to break off communication with Mivart, who had written a series of hostile reviews of Descent of Man while privately professing friendship. Increasingly acrimonious letters exchanged by the two men in 1871 and 1872, are being made available for the first time online by the Darwin Correspondence Project and Cambridge University Press ahead of schedule (see the links below). They are also published in volumes 19 and 20 of the Correspondence.
During the row over George’s views, and following advice from friends, Darwin did not write directly to Mivart, who he described as a ‘lying scoundrel’, but in January 1875 he drafted a letter condemning Mivart’s actions and icily cutting all further communication. He could not, he told Joseph Hooker, forgive a man for malicious lying ‘merely because he says he is sorry’. Assuming this was sent, it is the last known contact between them. The draft letter, which will be published in volume 23 of the Correspondence, due out next year, is reproduced in full below.
If you want to know more, check back. As soon as volume 22 is published, we’ll make a full account of the row and its causes available here when we put up the introduction and the Darwin–Mivart appendix. In the meantime, you can read about their earlier row in the introductions to volumes 19 and 20.
Mivart continued to profess friendship for Darwin and to excuse his actions but a number of Darwin’s supporters shunned him. Although critical of the theory of natural selection, especially as applied to humans, Mivart did support broadly evolutionary views and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church shortly before his death in 1900.
To St G. J. Mivart 12 January 1875
Jan 12th 1875
Your article in the Q. R. for July 1874 contains a wholly false & malicious accusation against my son, Mr G. Darwin. You had a fair opportunity in the following number of retracting your infamous & explicit accusation, & you did not make even this small reparation.— Your article also includes deliberate misrepresentations of what I have published.
Therefore I refuse to hold for the future any communication with
Sir | Your obedt. servt. | Ch. Darwin
To | St. G. Mivart Esq
Cambridge University Library (DAR 97: C36).
Published by permission of the Darwin family and the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.
You can now read the letters between Darwin and Mivart from 1871 and 1872 online here, made available ahead of schedule with the permission of our colleagues at Cambridge University Press:
7447: Mivart to Darwin, 19 Jan 1871
7450A: Darwin to Mivart, 21 Jan 
7451: Mivart to Darwin, 22 Jan 1871
7453: Darwin to Mivart, [23 Jan 1871]
7453A: Darwin to Mivart, 23 Jan 
7454: Mivart to Darwin, 24 Jan 1871
7458: Mivart to Darwin, 26 Jan 1871
7459A: Darwin to Mivart, 26 Jan 
7462A: Darwin to Mivart, 28 Jan 
7467: Mivart to Darwin, 31 Jan 1871
5926: Mivart to Darwin, 24 Feb 
7703A: Darwin to Mivart, 21 Apr 
7710: Mivart to Darwin, 23 Apr 1871
7971: Mivart to Darwin, 26 Sept 1871
7972: Darwin to Mivart, 27 Sept 
7986: Mivart to Darwin, 4 Oct 1971
8143: Mivart to Darwin, 4 Jan 1872
8145: Darwin to Mivart, 5 Jan 1872
8148: Mivart to Darwin, 6 Jan 1872
8149: Darwin to Mivart, 8 Jan 
8154: Mivart to Darwin, 10 Jan 1872
8156A: Darwin to Mivart, 11 Jan 
Congratulations, Wedgwood Museum
It is very good news that the Wedgwood archive and pottery collection has been bought for the nation. The Darwins and Wedgwoods were so intermarried, it was a Wedgwood family joke that the Darwins were more Wedgwood than Darwin. Charles thought he and his wife, Emma Wedgwood (also his cousin) were rather ‘degenerate descendants of old Josiah W.’, however, because they didn’t particularly like Wedgwood ware, and he teased his friend Joseph Hooker about his passion for collecting it. Darwin hunted out some pieces for him but they had been casualties of family life: ‘I had a whole Box of small Wedgwood medallions; but drat the children everything in this house gets lost & wasted; I can find only about a dozen little things as big as shillings, & I presume worth nothing; but you shall look at them when here & take them if worth pocketing.’
It was Josiah Wedgwood II (Emma’s father – and Charles’s uncle), who set the course of history by pursuading Robert Darwin to let his son go off on HMS Beagle – countering a list of objections to what seemed to an understandably nervous father to be a ‘wild scheme’, and ‘useless undertaking’ – and most disreputable to the character of a future clergyman.
Darwin was proud of his family connections and sent some letters exchanged between his two famous grandfathers to Eliza Meteyard for her biography of Josiah Wedgwood I. And the connections continued strongly into younger generations: Darwin’s Wedgwood neices often did field work and made observations on his behalf, in particular Lucy Wedgwood, who did so much to collect plants, poke knitting needles down wormholes, and observe everything from horses to babies, that she assumed the title of ‘lieutenant’.
Blistering Barnacles – by post!
The Natural History Museum of Denmark has just discovered a collection of barnacles sent by Charles Darwin to Japetus Steenstrup in 1854 as a thank you gift – a “very inadequate return” (Letter 1589, 7 Sept ) – for the many cirripede specimens that Steenstrup had sent him. Among these was one which turned out to be of the highest significance from an evolutionary viewpoint.
How important was Steenstrup’s gift to Darwin? Important enough that when he thought the parcel might be lost in the post, Darwin was ready to put an advertisement in the Times newspaper and offer a “large reward” for its recovery, for he had been told it contained a specimen of Alepas squalicola, “the cirripede of all others in the world,” he wrote “I wish most to dissect”. (Letter 1273, 1 Dec ) All was not lost, however. It turned out the parcel had been packed within another box sent to a dealer in minerals and was merely delayed. A relieved and happy Darwin reported its arrival to Steenstrup: he was particularly pleased, he said, “to see the Alepas” (Letter 1297, 25 Jan ).
What Darwin found when he was finally able to to investigate this “curious cirripede” was an anatomy that seemed to show the process of evolution in progress. He renamed the species, giving it its own new genus, Anelasma squalicola, and only just stopped short of giving it its own family (it was more than fifty years later when that happened). Among many anomalies, Darwin observed a few key points. Adult barnacles fix themselves to a substrate (anything from a rock to a ship to a turtle or a whale) using cement produced by specialised glands. Anelasma attaches itself to small sharks (dogfish), but Darwin couldn’t find any cement or cement glands. A further anomaly was the fact that its stomach was completely empty. What he did find was a network of filaments branching out from the peduncle – the flexible stalk by which it was attached. Of these filaments he observed, “it is particularly difficult to understand their growth, for it is not possible, after examining them, to doubt that they continue to increase, and send off sub-branches, which it would appear probable, penetrate the shark’s flesh like roots” (LC 1851, p. 173). Darwin didn’t speculate too much in his official description, beyond noting the features that clearly intrigued him.
Fourteen years later, having read a description of an even more bizarre parasitic barnacle, Darwin wrote to Fritz Müller, “Until reading your book I knew nothing of the Rhizocephala; pray look at my account & figures of Anelasma for it seems to me that this latter Cirrepede is a beautiful connecting link with the Rhizocephala.” (Letter 4881, 10 Aug ). Anelasma appeared to be mid-way between a traditional filter feeder and a true parasite, retaining organs of the former, but adapting to a new parasitic way of feeding with its modified peduncle.
None of these observations would have been possible without the single, rare specimen sent by Steenstrup that almost got lost along the way!
- The Barnacle That Eats Glowing Sharks, National Geographic
- On the Origin of a Novel Parasitic-Feeding Mode within Suspension-Feeding Barnacles, Current Biology
- A monograph on the sub-class Cirripedia, Charles Darwin (Biodiversity Heritage Library/MBLWHOI Library)
- Danish museum finds lost Charles Darwin treasure, The Copenhagen Post
Featured Correspondent: Thomas Rivers
The Project was recently contacted by the owner of an important Darwin letter that contains a rare instance of the key expressions “natural selection” and “struggle for existence” in correspondence. The letter was addressed to Thomas Rivers, a nurseryman in Hertfordshire and a leading authority on roses and fruit trees. Darwin initiated the correspondence in 1862 in a typically modest and apologetic manner: “My name may possibly be known to you …” “several times I thought I would write … but did not know whether you would think me too intrusive” (23 and 28 December ). Darwin was always conscious of the pressure of time upon his correspondents who were in trades or professions, and who lacked the independent means that he possessed as a wealthy gentleman. He was extremely grateful for the contact, remarking that he had read “every scrap” that Rivers had written. Darwin quickly grew bolder with his inquiries:
I have little compunction for being so troublesome,—not more than a grand Inquisitor has in torturing a Heretic—for am I not doing a real good public service in screwing crumbs of knowledge out of your wealth of information? (11 January )
Rivers and Darwin eventually exchanged around 30 letters, most falling in 1863, when Darwin was hard at work on the manuscript of Variation of plants and animals under domestication, the lengthy and detailed sequel to Origin of species. Rivers, an experienced plant breeder and hybridist, supplied Darwin with detailed information about bud variation in fruit trees, strawberries, roses, and laburnum, and the effects of grafts upon root stock. When he first read Origin, Rivers was led to consider the growth of trees over several years: how a patch of young seedlings began all equal, but in succeeding years was dominated by a few that grew taller or rooted more deeply, outstripping the others. “You should live near a large nursery & your mind would find abundance of food”, Rivers wrote ([3 February 1863]). Darwin thought the example illustrated his evolutionary principles perfectly:
What you say of seedlings conquering each other well illustrates the “struggle for existence” & “natural selection”. I have often & often looked at a crowd of natural seedlings with just such feelings & reflexions as yours.— ([14 February 1863])
Darwin’s letter also thanks Rivers for information on the transmission of characters in weeping ash and thorn trees: “it is Capital for my Purpose”. When this letter was first published in volume 11 of the Correspondence, our transcription was based on the entry in an auctioneer’s catalogue. The Project is very grateful to the owner for making images of this important letter available to us so that we can confirm the accuracy of the transcription against the original. A number of Darwin letters remain in private hands, and we are indebted to these individuals, some of whom wish to remain anonymous, for appreciating the public value of this material and making it accessible through our complete edition.
When Darwin eventually finished Variation in 1868, he acknowledged Rivers many contributions and powers of observation. Rivers, then in his 70s, had turned the nursery business over to his son. In his last letter to Darwin he confesses himself “an idle man”, though retaining his interest in experimental horticulture: “I am thankful for the prosperity I have long enjoyed” (29 March 1872).
Darwin’s injury time in Brazil
When the US football team lost to Belgium in the stadium in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, they could have consoled themselves with the reflection that Darwin didn’t altogether enjoy it either. Bahia was the place where he first set foot on South American soil when HMS Beagle landed there in February 1832, but a knee injury (not believed to be football related) confined him mostly to the ship. He had to wait until Botofogo Bay, near Rio de Janeiro, to make his first real expedition on land, but it was worth it: the views were gorgeous, the forests glorious, and he delighted in their sublime solitude. It was also at Rio that Darwin got his first letters from home – he had been away for four months.
Bahia was also Darwin’s last landfall in South America: the Beagle was on a naval surveying expedition and the captain, worried about discrepancies in their earlier measurements of longitude off the coast of Brazil, decided to recross the Atlantic in August 1836 when they should have been heading home. Darwin was distraught: “ I loathe, I abhor the sea, & all ships which sail on it” he wrote to his sister, “I little thought ever to have put my foot on a S. American coast again.— It has been almost painful to find how much, good enthusiasm has been evaporated during the last four years. I can now walk soberly through a Brazilian forest; not but what it is exquisitely beautiful, but now, instead of seeking for splendid contrasts; I compare the stately Mango trees with the Horse Chesnuts of England.” Sentiments perhaps not shared by Roy Hodgson.
All of Darwin’s letters from the Beagle are available to read on this site. Read more about the voyage and find links here and here, and see contemporary drawings from the voyage by the Beagle’s artist, Conrad Martens, together with extracts from Darwin’s letters, here. High resolution images of Conrad Martens’ sketches and watercolours are also available through the Cambridge Digital Library.
Darwin, sex, and gender
We are very pleased to be able to feature four new student projects created using our ‘Darwin and Gender’ university teaching resources. The resources were developed in collaboration with Prof. Sarah Richardson at Harvard who has used them for the past three years in her ‘Gender, Sex, and Evolution’ course, and bring together Darwin’s fascinating correspondence on the biology of sex and gender, and on the roles of males and females in humans and other animals. Among other things, this year’s inventive set of projects explore why Darwin thought women were inherently moral, what influence his daughter Henrietta had on the composition of the Descent of Man, and the fuss over women’s smaller skull size.
So congratulations to Sarah Amanaullah, Miranda Morrison, Amalia Salcedo-Marx, and Vanessa Tan – we hope you enjoy their creative, entertaining, and thought-provoking work. And thank you also to Myrna Perez Sheldon, a former colleague at the Darwin Correspondence Project who helped teach the course again this year.
Hockey night in…Shrewsbury?
This week, a bombshell rocked the world of winter sports – hockey is, apparently, not from Canada. What drew our attention to this revelation is a letter from Charles Darwin used as evidence for the game’s roots in England. With several Canadians working on the Darwin Correspondence project, we were intrigued by the notion that Darwin had been an early participant in a much-beloved sport.
The letter in question is to Darwin’s eldest son William, who was then about fourteen years old and away at school. It would have been a very late spring, because Darwin mentions hockey in reference to William’s younger brother George “sliding”: “Georgy has learnt to slide & enjoys it very much, & goes down by himself to the village-pond: but this day’s heavy snow will stop sliding & your skating. Have you got a pretty good pond to skate on? I used to be very fond of playing at Hocky on the ice in skates.” In 1840, Leigh Hunt included hockey in his description of a typical winter day: “as you approach the scene of action (pond or canal) you hear the dull grinding noise of the skaits to and fro, and see tumbles, and Banbury cake-men and blackguard boys playing “hockey,” and ladies standing shivering on the banks” (Leigh Hunt, The indicator and the companion (London: 1840) part 2, p. 19). By the middle of the nineteenth century hockey was a common enough occurrence in England to produce a rant in an article for London Society 3: 14 (1863) against the dangers of it being played on thin ice. Even Charles Kingsley, author of The water babies, referred to ice hockey in Madame How and Lady Why (1870).
As an adult, Darwin generally preferred more sedentary activities, and although he enjoyed playing Billiards with his sons, he tended to leave more vigorous physical activity to the younger crowd. Finding gems like these, about the day to day activities of Darwin and his family, is one of the benefits of having access to such a complete archive of correspondence. The letters obviously provide important access to the formation of Darwin’s scientific thought, but they also enable us to snatch domestic glimpses into something as simple as a child’s favourite winter pastime.
Casting about: Darwin on worms
This week Darwin and earthworms featured in the news announcement that a citizen science project has been launched to map the distribution of earthworms across Britain (BBC Today programme, 26 May 2014). The general understanding of the role earthworms play in improving soils and providing nutrients for plants to flourish can be traced back to the last book Darwin wrote, snappily-titled The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms, with observations on their habits, which was published in 1881. Despite Darwin’s fears that a book on earthworms might prove a failure, it became a best seller.
Earthworms had not always been popular. In the late eighteenth-century they were regarded as pests, and were viewed with suspicion. They were first championed as the friend of gardeners and farmers by the naturalist Gilbert White, who pointed out in his Natural History of Selborne of 1789 (a book Darwin claimed had ‘much influence on my mind’ (letter to W. T. Preyer, 17 February )) that without earthworms aerating the soil and producing casts (excrement) the earth would become cold, hard-bound, and sterile. White believed that a monograph on worms would open up a new field in natural history, and almost a century later Darwin argued that all fields had passed through the intestines of earthworms. Although his monograph was not published until 1881, he had long been interested in earthworms, and they were the subject of one of his earliest scientific papers presented to the Geological Society of London in 1837. He had been inspired by observations made by his uncle, Josiah Wedgwood of the uniform structure of the superficial layer of earth.
In the Victorian equivalent of crowd sourcing, CD called on family, friends, and scientific colleagues to help with his research over the next 44 years, as he went about calculating the volume of earth raised to the surface by earthworms (a stonking 161 tons per acre annually); exploring the disintegration of rocks by their digestive juices; discovering the depth to which they burrow; determining the altitudes to which they can be found; observing their feeding mechanisms and how they drag leaves into their burrows; and considering whether they might be intelligent. Finding the answers to these questions involved some unusual equipment and situations. His correspondence reveals the inventive methods he devised for studying the habits of earthworms, and the variety of strange things he persuaded people to do.
Darwin concluded that worms had no sense of hearing when they failed to react not only to the shrill notes of a metal whistle and to being shouted at, but also to Francis Darwin playing the bassoon, and to Emma Darwin’s piano playing. From 1872, few members of the family were not involved. William, armed with a skewer and trowel, investigated traces of earthworm activity at Stonehenge, and Horace was later charged with making sure that 18 inch holes were dug at the foundations of the Roman antiquities at Chedworth and Cirencester to investigate whether worms possessed the power to lift a pavement. Leonard and George made calculations about larger castings on poorer soils, and Francis helped with calculations relating to the obliteration of ridges and furrows through the action of worms. Meanwhile Amy Ruck, Francis’s future wife, was in despair at not finding casts in Wales, not realising that this negative evidence was also valuable to Darwin. Thomas Henry Farrer, permanent secretary of the Board of Trade and husband of Darwin’s niece Katherine Euphemia Wedgwood, so entered into the spirit of things that he kept a worm journal. Darwin instructed another niece Lucy Wedgwood to probe worm holes to measure their angle relative to the surface of the ground. He suggested using knitting needles, but, perhaps thinking this too big a sacrifice, when Lucy reported her results she referred to having used a blunt wire. After a while, looking for earthworm casts became a habit; Francis noticed worm casts in fir woods near Zermatt, when on holiday in the Swiss Alps, and reported that his guide confirmed the existence of worms at that altitude.
By the 1870s, Darwin was also drawing on the work of other naturalists, and as his research gathered momentum he began to ask colleagues and correspondents around the world to make observations for him. Soon worm excrement was trusted to postal services, and Darwin acquired casts from India and Australia. His interest in earthworms never waned, but it was not until 1880 that he began to draw together the observations he had gathered to write a book on the subject. Darwin brought to the topic the sustained attention that characterised all his work, and by the end of the year admitted that ‘My whole soul is absorbed with worms just at present!’ (letter to W. T. Thiselton Dyer, 23 November  (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)). In the end, however, as he told his son William, what he hoped his book would reveal is that ‘worms have much bigger souls than anyone wd suppose’ (letter to W. E. Darwin, 31 January  (CUL DAR 210.6: 173)).
Who is this correspondent? Charlotte Papé
Who is this correspondent?
Charlotte was literate and articulate; her use of English was idiomatic. She may not have been young in 1875: she wrote that ‘of course, like all women, I have had no scientific training, and know nothing except from random reading; neither could I attain any now’. She referred to friends and family, but made no specific reference to husband or children.
She had read works by Francis Galton and Darwin, and was unhappy with the opinion that female intellect was inferior to male:
The point which naturally has the greatest interest for me, about which I am most anxious to find out something certain, is, how far heredity is limited by sex in the human race, especially whether mental qualities are at all limited by it. I am well aware that your own, I think, provisional view is, that even mental qualities are thus limited; I myself know so comparatively many striking instances to the contrary, among my friends and my own family, that it seems highly improbable to me.
She wished to collect data to test her idea, and sought Darwin’s opinion on a table she had designed; but this enclosure is missing. For more on Darwin’s correspondence concerning gender, particularly with other women, see our Darwin and Gender content.
She wrote from Lark Hill House, Edgeley, Stockport, Cheshire, the home of John Hope Clarke, cotton broker and agent (1826-1905), his wife Mary Cheetham Clarke née Owen (1831/2-84), and their surviving children, four sons and two daughters. The parents were living there with their eldest son in both the 1871 and 1881 censuses; in 1871 the younger children were at the seaside in Lytham with their governess, Eliza Ann Younghusband (1850-1924). John Hope Clark and Mary Cheetham Owen had married on 19 February 1851 at St Thomas’s church, Ardwick, Lancashire.
There is nothing in the letter to tell us whether Charlotte is on a visit to Lark Hill House, or was perhaps employed there; but she presumably expected to stay long enough to receive a reply.
She was the same Charlotte Papé who wrote on 9 June 1879 from 12 Nordstrasse, Leipzig, to Helen Taylor, a tireless worker for women’s suffrage and step-daughter of the philosopher John Stuart Mill, who was himself an advocate of women’s rights. In the letter Papé, who described herself as a great admirer of J. S. Mill, explained that she wished to write an article to be published in a German women’s journal about Mill on the anniversary of his death (he died 7 May 1873). The letter is in the Women’s Library archive collection at the London School of Economics (Mill-Taylor/8/26 ff. 56-7).
The editors of a German reference work (Stephan Meder et al., eds. 2010. Die Rechtsstellung der Frau um 1900: Eine kommentierte Quellensammlung. Köln, Weimar, Wien: Böhlau Verlag, pp. 668–74) reckoned that the writer of the two letters mentioned above was the same person as Charlotte Pape, who delivered a lecture in Gotha in 1875; it was published as ‘Die Rechte der Mutter über ihre Kinder’ in a journal called Neue Bahnen (1876, 9-12). This was the mouthpiece of the Allgemeine deutsche Frauenverein, founded by Louise Otto after the first women’s conference in Leipzig in 1865.
So who was our letter writer? Where did she live, how old was she, who were her friends and family? Surely a woman with the audacity to seek advice from Charles Darwin does not deserve to be completely invisible!