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Darwin Correspondence Project

To James Smith1   28 January [1848]

Down Farnborough Kent

Jan 28th

My dear Sir

I hope that you will excuse the liberty I take in asking you a great favour. I have been employed for the last year & shall be for, I suppose, the next two years on a Monograph, anatomical & systematic on the whole class of Cirripedia. In the last number of the Geolog. Journal I see that you found in Portugal at least six species of Balanus.2 Will you entrust me with your specimens to describe,3 that is if I find I can make any hand at the fossil species of which I have already got some, Mr Lyell, & Mr Stutchbury having placed their collections at my disposal. I shall, however, require to keep them sometime & it is absolutely indispensable for me to break up or make section of at least one specimen of each. The characters, hitherto generally used from external aspect, I find, are usually quite valueless; & the internal structure of shell must be in each case examined. In some genera, as far as I yet see, the included animal alone offers distinguishable characters; so that I have some fears about the fossil species, but I mean to try at them.

My friends have been most generous in placing collections at my disposal. Mr Stutchbury has sent me the whole of his magnificent collection & Mr Cuming has placed his at my disposal. Did you collect any recent species on the coast of Portugal & especially at Madeira; if you have any from these quarters or elsewhere (especially if in Spirits) & would entrust them to me, I should feel very grateful.—

I wish to see the species from as many quarters as possible on account of their Geographical Range. I shd be much obliged for any information, on habits frequency &c depths, abundance at bottom of sea in dead state &c, which you would kindly take the trouble to supply me with.

Pray believe me, my dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | C. Darwin

I must express to you, how delighted I was with y〈ou〉r paper on Malta;4 if I was asked for the most striking fact ever discovered, exhibiting the changes of level between land & water & the power of denudation, I should certainly refer to your old roads leading under the sea & over the brink of precipices:5 such facts seize the imagination with astonishment. It is my belief that if you were confined a prisoner in a Square in London, you would find some demonstrative proof of the level having changed!


The cover is addressed to ‘James Smith Esq. | Jordan Hill | Glasgow’.
Smith’s paper, originally read on 30 June 1841, was not published in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society until 1847 (J. Smith 1847b). The six species of Balanus are mentioned on p. 412 but are not identified by Smith.
CD used Smith’s collection from a Tertiary bed near Lisbon as one of several sources of specimens of fossil Balanus concavus (Fossil Cirripedia (1854): 17). In Living Cirripedia (1854): 237–40, CD described how he had to use both living and fossil specimens to make out the species of this difficult genus (p. 277). Despite considerable variation in the characters of the shell, he made all of these into one species.
J. Smith 1847a.
The reference is to the evidence of very recent subsidence at Malta (J. Smith 1847a, p. 240): A great part of the surface of the island of Malta is composed of a soft stone (miocene tertiary); across it may be observed the tracks of wheels, about 4 feet apart and very deeply marked on the rocks, the depth being rarely less than 18 inches. They cross the island in every direction, but have no connexion with any of the existing lines of communication, neither is there any tradition concerning them. On the south side of Malta they terminate in the mural escarpments which skirt that part of the coast.


CD asks if he may have the use of the cirripedes JS collected in Portugal. He will need to break up or make a section of at least one of each species.

Expresses admiration for JS’s paper on Malta ["On recent depressions in the land", Q. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 3 (1847): 234–40], with its striking demonstration of the change of level between land and water there discovered.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
James Smith
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1148,” accessed on 24 February 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4