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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Darwin   [28 February 1871]1

6 Q. A. St


My dear Backy.

As you are interested about my book, you will like to hear that it is selling like mad.— Murray chuckles that Longmans wants twice as many copies as he bought at the auction. Murray says he is “torn to pieces” by people wanting copies. He has settled to print 1500 or perhaps 2000 more—2 Lastly I have received £630 for the 2500—so this is all v. good.3 On the other there have been detected for me several horrid blunders. I went & saw Mivart on Monday morning—4 He is really a charming man & we were the best of friends. I mentioned some of the points v. briefly which I wrote to you & as far as I could judge they had never occurred to him. When I alluded to the larynx point & asked how the adult animals cd. exert their voices he seemed taken quite aback & said meekly perhaps through their noses.5 With respect to the giraffe it was evidently quite a new idea to him that the biggest animal with a somewhat elongated neck wd. make it impossible for any smaller animal to acquire an elongated neck. Nor had it occurred to him that in thick forests the trees do not bear branches low down & animals must become arboreal. I alluded to some other points but not to the whale & I think not to the mammary glands.6 If I did he had nothing to say in answer

He seemed to have entirely forgotten my argument from the formation of the greyhound that there is no necessity for a number of coadapted variations to arise simultaneously7   by the way I must just add with respect to the larynx that he seemed still more taken aback when I asked him whether the silence of the Cetaceans did not agree well with the structure of the larynx8  

If you mentioned anything in this note to Pryor9 beg him not to tell any one else, as it is perhaps rather a breach of confidence to repeat even to friends private conversation. I am tired & so no more—

Yours affectly | Ch Darwin


The date is established by the reference to Descent (see n. 2, below), and by the address. The Darwins were at 6 Queen Anne’s Street, London, from 23 February to 2 March 1871 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)); the only Tuesday in this period was 28 February.
In his letter of 27 February [1871], John Murray had written that the first printing of Descent was sold out and that he was thinking of printing at least 1000 more copies. No letter has been found containing the comments CD mentions; the two men may have met in person on 27 or 28 February. Two thousand copies were printed for the second issue (Freeman 1977).
See letter from John Murray, 23 February [1871].
CD refers to St George Jackson Mivart (see letter from St G. J. Mivart, 24 February [1871].
See letter to Francis Darwin, [after 21 January 1871] and n. 8. The animals were kangaroos.
See letter to Francis Darwin, [after 21 January 1871] and n. 5 (on the whale), n. 6 (on mammary glands), and n. 7 (on the giraffe).
In Variation 2: 221–2, CD discussed improvements in the greyhound, noting that different breeders had concentrated on improving different features so that gradually the modern breed developed.
Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) have elongated larynxes owing to the structure of their breathing apparatus. All cetaceans can produce sounds using the larynx and various structures that modify sound (Thomas and Kastelein eds. 1990, p. 152).
Marlborough Robert Pryor may have been planning to write a review of Mivart 1871a (see letter to Francis Darwin, 21 May [1871]). See also letter to Francis Darwin, [after 21 January 1871].


Says Descent is "selling like Mad.––" Murray will print another 1500 or 2000 copies. Has received £630 for the 2500.

On Monday he visited Mivart, who is a charming man.

He seemed to be taken aback by CD’s points about the larynx and giraffe.

[See 7507 and 7519.]

He seemed to have forgotten CD’s argument regarding the formation of the greyhound.

Discussed the larynx and the silence of the Cetaceans.

If FD mentions any of this to [Marlborough Robert] Pryor, ask him not to mention it to anyone else "as it is perhaps rather a breach of confidence to repeat even to friends private conversation."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Darwin
Sent from
London, Queen Anne St, 6
Source of text
DAR 271.4: 2, 4 (Ursula Mommens Deposit)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7520A,” accessed on 29 April 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19