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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Frederick William Herschel   4 February 1848

Down Farnborough Kent

Feb. 4th /48/

My dear Sir

As you have thought the superintendence of the Admiralty Instructions worthy of the sacrifice of your time, I cannot hesitate a moment in undertaking the Geological part.—1 I will do my utmost to make them worthy of your approval, though I confess that I feel great doubts how far I shall succeed. Should I fail, I hope you will get some one else to undertake the task, & any part of mine which was serviceable might be worked in without my name. It is a great relief to me, that you have the superintendence of the whole, for then I shall feel safe that nothing very unwise will left in, though I assure you that I shall be very far from taking less pains on this account. Unfortunately I am at present in the midst of a difficult dissection, which if I neglect, the labour of some weeks will be almost thrown away,2 so that I fear that I cannot commence for about a week, but when I do I will do nothing else till I have finished.

I have already drawn up for Prof. Owen some remarks on Coral Reefs, & these, I think, ought now to come into the Geological part, of which I did not know when I wrote them.3 I fear my instructions will make rather a short Chapter.

I am extremely much obliged for your kind thought of my health, which is never now strong & which prevents me from working but a very short time each day;— I mention this, as you might suppose I could draw up the instructions in the intervals of other pursuits; but this I cannot do.—

Will you be so good as to present my respectful & kinds compliments to Lady Herschel, & believe me, my dear Sir, with the most sincere respect. | Yours very faithfully | C. Darwin To | Sir J. W. Herschel Bart.—


Herschel had been asked to edit a proposed Manual of scientific enquiry (Herschel ed. 1849). In a memorandum prefixed to the Manual the lords commissioners of the Admiralty explained their belief that previous instructions for scientific observations and collections had been too voluminous and over-specialised. Their intention in providing new instructions was to enable ‘men merely of good intelligence and fair acquirement’ to produce ‘eminently useful results’. They wished to obtain ‘the assistance of some of our most eminent men of Science in the composing, by each, of a plain and concise chapter upon the head of enquiry with which he might be most conversant’ (Herschel ed. 1849, pp. iii–iv). There were fifteen contributors to the book.
CD was at work on the anatomy of pedunculated cirripedes (‘Journal’; Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix I).
See letter to Richard Owen, [4 February 1848]. The section on coral reefs did appear in CD’s chapter on geology (Herschel ed. 1849, pp. 190–4; Collected papers 1: 246–8).


Undertakes to write geological part of Admiralty Instructions [A manual of scientific enquiry (1849), Collected papers 1: 227–50]. Has doubts as to his success.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Frederick William Herschel (1st baronet)
Sent from
Source of text
The Royal Society (HS6: 11)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1151,” accessed on 22 August 2017,

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