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Darwin Correspondence Project

To E. S. Morse   3 December 1871

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Dec 3rd. 1871

Dear Sir,

I am much obliged to you for having sent me your two interesting papers and for the kind writing on the cover.1

I am very glad to have my error corrected about the protective colouring of shells.2 It is no excuse for my broad statement, but I had in my mind the species which are brightly or beautifully coloured, & I can as yet hardly think that the colouring in such cases is protective.3

With my best thanks I remain | My dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Charles Darwin


One of the papers to which CD refers is Morse’s ‘On adaptive coloration of the Mollusca’ (Morse 1871). There is an annotated copy in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL with a note on the cover that reads, ‘Charles Darwin | with the profound regards of | Edw S Morse.’ The only other pre-1872 paper by Morse in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection is ‘A classification of Mollusca, based on the principle of cephalization’ (Morse 1865).
In Morse 1871, p. 4, Morse countered CD’s assertion in Descent 1: 316 that the coloration of molluscs was not protective, offering examples from New England of land and sea molluscs whose shell colours appeared to be adaptations that served to make them less conspicuous in their habitats.
On page 5 of his copy of Morse 1871, CD wrote, ‘I was thinking of the bright-coloured kinds[.] I have seen dark-colored shells.’


Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Morse, Edward Sylvester. 1865. A classification of mollusca, based on the principle of cephalization. Proceedings of the Essex Institute 4: 162–80.

Morse, Edward Sylvester. 1871. Remarks on the adaptive coloration of mollusca. Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History 14: 141–5.


Obliged for ESM’s article ["On adaptive coloration of the Mollusca", Proc. Boston Soc. Nat. Hist. 14 (1870–1): 141–5]. Glad to have error corrected about protective colouring of shells.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Edward Sylvester Morse
Sent from
Source of text
Peabody Essex Museum: Phillips Library (E. S. Morse Papers, E 2, Box 3, Folder 11)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8092,” accessed on 21 January 2020,

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