'I hear that Ladies think it delightful reading, but that it does not do to talk about it, which no doubt promotes the sale.' For the first time online you can now read the full texts of nearly 800 letters Darwin wrote and received during 1871, the year in which his controversial first public statement on human evolution was published. The extraordinary number of letters reflects the excitement the book – Descent of man and selection in relation to sex – caused. All 2500 copies of the first printing sold immediately, and 5000 more copies were published during the year.
From a quiet rural existence at Down in Kent, filled with steady work on his ‘big book’ on the transmutation of species, Darwin was jolted into action in 1858 by the arrival of an unexpected letter (no longer extant) from Alfred Russel Wallace outlining a remarkably similar mechanism for species change. This letter led to the first announcement of Darwin’s and Wallace’s respective theories of organic change at the Linnean Society of London in July 1858 and prompted the composition and publication, in November 1859, of Darwin’s major treatise On the origin of species by means of natural selection.
Darwin was a photography enthusiast. This is evident not only in his use of photography for the study of Expression and Emotions in Man and Animal, but can be witnessed in his many photographic portraits and in the extensive portrait correspondence that Darwin undertook throughout his lifetime. His close friend and botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker would come to call Darwin’s epistolary exchange of photographic images as his “carte correspondence”.
Charles and Emma Darwin’s eldest daughter, Annie, died at the age of ten in 1851. Emma was heavily pregnant with their fifth son, Horace, at the time and could not go with Charles when he took Annie to Malvern to consult the hydrotherapist, Dr Gully. Darwin wrote a memorial of his daughter just one week after her death, and Emma Darwin kept a poignant set of notes about the reaction to her death of Annie’s younger sister, Henrietta.
Read and search the full texts of more than 8,500 of Charles Darwin’s letters, and ﬁnd information on 6,500 more. Discover complete transcripts of all known letters Darwin wrote and received up to the year 1871.