To W. T. Preyer 17 February 1
Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.
My dear Sir
I am very much obliged for your extremely kind letter & for your several presents.2 Although your appreciation of my work is certainly too high, yet it is very encouraging to me, especially as yesterday I read two pamphets, just published in England, in which every form of abuse is heaped on me.3 I am called, for instance, a “filthy dreamer”.— You seem to be doing splendid work in physiology, the noblest of sciences, as I have long thought it. What you say about the differences of the blood-crystals is truly astonishing.4 I am also much interested by what you say of the different effect of Prussic acid on different individuals of the same species: I remember some years ago wishing in vain for information on this head. I think it arose from observing how differently in quickness (whether due to rate of respiration or to direct action of the poison I could not tell) the vapour acted on different insects. I remember Bees died instantly, but (I think,) it was a Longicorn beetle which resisted all effects for an astonishing time.—5
R. W. Darwin is my Father, but I believe he was greatly aided in his paper on optics by his Father Erasmus D.6
I have really nothing of interest about myself, but as you desire it, I will scribble whatever occurs to me.— I derived no advantage from the Lectures at Edinburgh, for they were infinitely dull & cured me of any taste for Geology for 3 years. Dr Grant7 was not a Professor, but worked at zoology out of pure love, & his Society was a great encouragement. I used to amuse myself with examining marine animals, but I did so solely for amusement. I believe I was the first person who ever saw the earliest locomotive egg-like state of a Bryozoon: I showed it to Grant, who stated so at the meeting of the Wernerian Nat. Hist. Soc. & this little discovery was an immense encouragement.—8 I was disgusted at anatomy & attended only 2 or 3 Lectures & this has been ever since an irreparable loss to me.— When I went to Cambridge, I became a most enthusiastic collector of Coleoptera; but again only for amusement. If any one told me the name of a Beetle, I thought I knew all that anyone could desire; & I believe I never ever looked even at the oral organs of any insect! Yet I worked like a slave at collecting. Henslow’s Society was a great charm & benefit to me, & I liked much his Lecture on Botany.9 All my early life I was mad for collecting, minerals, shells, plants, Bird-skins have all had their turn. Near the end of my Cambridge life Henslow persuaded me to begin Geology. I was always very fond of observing the habits of Birds, & White’s Nat. Hist. of Selborne,10 thus had much influence on my mind. But of all books, Humboldt’s Travels had by far the greatest influence—11 I read large parts over & over again.— I had nearly managed to get a party to go to the Canary Islds, when the offer of joining the Beagle was made to me & joyfully accepted.12 I suppose, however, no ever started worse prepared than I was except as a mere collector. I knew nothing of anatomy, & had never read any systematic work on Zoology— I had never touched a compound microscope & had begun Geology for only about 6 months. But I took out plenty of Books13 & worked as hard as I could & dissected roughly all sorts of the lower marine animals. Here I felt fearfully the want of practice & knowledge. My education in fact began on board the Beagle. I remember nothing previously which deserved to be called education except some experimental work at chemistry when a school-boy with my Brother.—14 No doubt collecting largely in so many branches had improved my powers of observation.—
I never wrote so much about myself in my life, & I hope it may be worth your reading, but I doubt.—
Believe me, my dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin
I do not know whether you will care to see extracts from my letters printed by Prof. Henslow, but I send a copy by this Post.—15
Comments on effects of prussic acid on different individuals of the same species and other physiological research by WP.
Provides information about his studies in Edinburgh and Cambridge and qualifications he had for Beagle voyage. Describes influence of R. E. Grant and J. S. Henslow.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7112,” accessed on 26 February 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-7112