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Darwin Correspondence Project

The hunt for new letters


DAR 88: 126

Think you know of a letter we haven’t found? Let us know! Although we already know of more than 15,000 letters that Darwin exchanged with nearly 2000 correspondents around the world, letters continue to come to light and we rely on the goodwill and support of repositories and collectors around the world to make the corpus as complete as possible. The letters inform and are informed by one another, and our ability to understand the whole is increased with every letter we are able to add.

This one almost didn't make it:

A stamp collector in Michigan, Spike Tyson, found a letter from Charles Darwin when he was throwing away the contents of old envelopes he had bought for their stamps alone. He had tossed the letter, unread, onto a pile to be discarded when a neighbour’s child opened it up by chance and asked about the location of ‘Down, Beckenham, Kent’ — Darwin’s home. He told her it was in England and when he looked at the letter he realised that the signature was Darwin’s. He contacted the Correspondence Project and sent us a facsimile. The editors established that the letter was written by Darwin in 1880 to a pharmacist in Chicago, Mr H. Harrison, and were able to tell Mr Tyson that it had been sent in reply to a letter they already had on file in which Harrison gave Darwin some information on a case of inheritance. Darwin thanked him for the information, but politely replied that he was unlikely to publish anything further on the subject. The exchange is typical of ones that Darwin had with correspondents around the world, and illustrates how engaged members of the general public were with Darwin’s work.

If you are a manuscript or stamp collector or dealer, or you have a family connection to one of Darwin’s correspondents, please search your collections, attics and basements to check for letters to or from Darwin.  If you can help, please contact us.