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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John William Salter   31 December 1866

8 Bolton Road | St. Johns Wood.

Dec 31/66

Dear Mr Darwin.

I think you know how badly off I have been these last 〈    〉 years—struggling with the most adverse circumstances—as well as frequent nervous prostration which takes more than half the life & sense out of me when I want it most.1

This last year I have broken down for 4 months—and have been pressed beyond measure in circumstances, in consequence.

Are you rich enough to aid me at all—and make me your debtor for any help I can give in looking over the paleozoic part of your reasonings in your great book.2 I do not know how else to help you.

Everything I have tried has failed more or less—but I have work to do of various kinds—which will keep me just afloat if the pressure of anxiety is taken off my mind.3

We have retrenched & retrenched, & wife & daughters keep school,4 & in spite of all they & I can do I cannot get rid of £200 debt.

Of course you will understand how hard it is for me thus to speak but my unfortunate relations with the Survey prevents Murchison from doing anything to aid me.5

I have a work, the only property now left me, which I have tried to sell & cannot except at ruinous loss., nor can I since the money crisis, borrow at all.6

I am trying to get aid from the Roy. Soc. fund (as Hawkins did)7 but all this is uncertain & unlikely too I fear. Can I do any literary work for you? I know you will forgive my asking you—for I have tried to be independent & failed— And I do not justify my faults of temper, which now I think have had a large share in pulling me down—

It is hard to establish a new business when one is 46— So few channels are open— the British Museum is closed against all but young men.8 Lecturing failed with me—& I lost money by it— Engraving I still do, but want of capital of any kind obliges me to do all the mechanical part as well, and even a young unmarried man finds that a badly paying affair.

Thank God, my family are all well now, & one at least is off my hands.9

Yours truly | J. W. Salter.

I trust you will burn my letter— I had hoped for so different a career—& even yet I trust to get on—if I can once get over the pressure which keeps £.s.d. in letters of fire before me—


Salter had resigned his post as palaeontologist to the Geological Survey of the United Kingdom in 1863, after which he was unable to find permanent employment (Secord 1985, pp. 68–9).
The reference is to Origin. Salter was recognised as the leading expert on Palaeozoic palaeontology in Great Britain and had contributed information on the subject to the works of notable geologists such as Roderick Impey Murchison and Charles Lyell (Secord 1985, pp. 65–6).
Salter supported himself through lecturing and writing, arranging the palaeontological cabinets of museums and individuals, and engraving and woodcutting (Secord 1985, p. 68).
Sarah Salter, Salter’s wife, had started a school shortly after Salter left the Geological Survey (Secord 1985, p. 68).
Salter had left the Geological Survey after disputes with other employees at all levels. Thomas Henry Huxley, naturalist to the survey, had even threatened to step down if Salter did not leave (Secord 1985, p. 67). Murchison was director-general of the Geological Survey.
Salter refers to the Supplement to the English Botany of the late Sir J. E. Smith and Mr. Sowerby (W. J. Hooker, Sowerby, [et al.] 1831–63). This was published in quarterly instalments, the last of which appeared in May 1865. Salter had been the proprietor of the work since 1849, when it had been passed on to him by his father-in-law, James de Carle Sowerby. On the inside cover of the last instalment, Salter warned that publication would cease if new subscribers could not be found.
The Royal Society of London established a Scientific Relief Fund in 1859 (Record of the Royal Society of London, p. 111). Payments from the fund were recorded in the Royal Society Council minutes, but the recipients were not named. Salter received a £50 grant from the fund (Secord 1985, p. 68). Salter probably refers to Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins.
On Salter’s attempts to get employment at the British Museum, see Secord 1985, p. 69.
Salter had seven children, none of whom has been identified (Secord 1985, p. 68).


Record of the Royal Society of London: The record of the Royal Society of London for the promotion of natural knowledge. 4th edition. London: Royal Society. 1940.


JWS is seeking financial help. He is in debt and struggling and wonders if there is any paid service he might perform for CD.

Letter details

Letter no.
John William Salter
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
St John’s Wood
Source of text
DAR 177: 12
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5329,” accessed on 18 October 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14