A large portion of Darwin’s correspondence was dedicated to providing advice, encouragement and praise to his fellow scientific “labourers”. What can we learn from this sort of correspondence about perceptions of men and women’s scientific work and, more generally, about the perceived capabilities of Victorian men and women?
Associated selected readings.
1. What sorts of advice, feedback and encouragement did Darwin give to his male and female correspondents?
2. How and why does Darwin’s tone change according to the sex of his correspondent?
3. How did Darwin judge the value of scientific work?
Letter 2234 – Darwin to Unidentified, [5 March 1858]
In this letter, Darwin advises that Professor C. P. Smyth’s observations are not precise enough to warrant publication in Philosophical Transactions. He advises that Prof. Smyth should detail “specific points actually observed” rather than offer sweeping conclusions on insufficient grounds.
Letter 3934 – Darwin to Scott, J., [21 January 1863]
In this letter, Darwin urges John Scott to publish his work on orchid pollen-tubes. He makes suggestions and gives close instructions on how to make the material worthy of publication.
Letter 4185 – Darwin to Scott, J., [25 & 28 May 1863]
In this letter, Darwin praises Scott’s observations and experiments. Darwin draws particular attention to the extent of Scott’s work, his exertion and stamina; “What a wonderful, indefatigable worker you are!”.
Letter 7605 – Darwin to Darwin, H. E., [20 March 1871]
In this letter, Darwin reports booming sales of Descent. He thanks Henrietta, his “fellow labourer” for her encouragement and for the contribution she made to the book’s “lucid vigorous style”. In consultation with Emma, Darwin offers Henrietta “some little memorial” in memory of the book.
Letter 8140 – Darwin to Darwin, W. E., [3 January 1872]
In this letter, Darwin congratulates his son for his work on wormholes. Darwin notes that William’s facts are “quite splendid” and he cannot conceive how he made so many observations without aid.
Letter 8146 – Darwin to Treat, M., [5 January 1872]
In this letter, Darwin praises Mary Treat’s observations and experiments. He gives her advice on subsequent activities and urges Treat to eventually publish her findings “in some well-known scientific journal”.
Letter 8171 – Darwin to Wedgwood, L., [21 January 1872]
In this letter, Darwin thanks his niece for the work she has done measuring the angles of wormholes. He himself has tried stooping over holes for hours which “tried my head”. Darwin notes that Lucy is worth her weight in gold.
Letter 9005b – Darwin to Treat, M., [12 August 1873]
In this letter, Darwin thanks Treat for sending over information on the Drosera filiformis. In her position, he would not publish a statement on the Drosera bending towards flies until he had repeated the experiment.
Letter 9580 – Darwin to Darwin, G. H. D., [1 August 1874]
In this letter, Darwin gives feedback on work produced by his son, George. George’s article is weak and confused and should not yet be submitted to the publisher.
Letter 9613 – Darwin to Hooker, J. D., [30 August 1874]
In this letter, Darwin comments on a “clever” article written by Mary Barber and sent to him by Hooker. He agrees that her work is “curious” and thinks that it ought to be published.
Letter 10523 – Darwin to Treat, M., [1 June 1876]
In this letter, Darwin praises Treat’s work and congratulates her on the publication of her article in Harper’s New Monthly. He wishes her “success of every kind” in the pursuit of her “admirable work”.
Letter 11096 – Darwin to Romanes, G. J., [9 August 1877]
In this letter, Darwin points out a mistake made in one of Romanes’ recent articles. The work to which he referred was, in fact, done by Miss rather than Mr. Lawless. Darwin tells Romanes that Miss Lawless has done some admirable work on the fertilisation of plants; he has recommended that she send her manuscript to Nature for publication.
Letter 13414 – Darwin to Harrison, L., [18 October 1881]
In this letter, Darwin advises his niece’s friend, Mrs Forsyth, on how best to conduct scientific work. In order to produce good work, the observer “must first himself or herself become interested in the subject”. They should also “read, think, speculate” and have strong powers of patience.