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Darwin Correspondence Project

Darwin's scientific network

Darwin used letter-writing to establish networks of collectors, informers, and what was in effect a virtual thinktank. His correspondents, many of whom he never met, were his research assistants, his critics and his scientific colleagues.   The other side of the coin is that they used him as a patron and a source of authority. And as a result, his correspondence allows us not only to study his scientific methods and the development of his ideas but to look much more widely at the practice of science by a very broad range of people, and to look at them both individually and collectively.  


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William Yarrell
http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw194286/William-Yarrell?
William Yarrell by Thomas Herbert Maguire, printed by M & N Hanhart lithograph, 1849, NPG D36232
mw194286
© National Portrait Gallery, London

William Yarrell

William Yarrell was a London businessman, a stationer and bookseller, who became an expert on British birds and fish, writing standard reference works on both.  He was a member of several science and natural history societies, including the Linnean Society, and was a founder member of both the Zoological Society of London and the Entomological Society of London. 

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Hermann Müller
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHermann_M%C3%BCller_01.jpg
Heinrich Ludwig Hermann (Hermann) Müller
Gundolf Barenthin/Reinhart Müller

Hermann Müller

Hermann (Heinrich Ludwig Hermann) Müller, was born in Mühlberg near Erfurt in 1829. He was the younger brother of Fritz Müller (1822–97). Following the completion of his secondary education at Erfurt in 1848, he studied natural sciences at Halle and Berlin, focusing on botany, zoology, and geology. In 1852, he qualified as a teacher, but returned home to recover from illness before making his first of many trips to the Alps in the summer of 1853. He spent a probationary year teaching at a secondary school in Berlin and then half a year as a substitute teacher in Schwerin.

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Adam Sedgwick
http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw40351/Adam-Sedgwick?
Adam Sedgwick by Samuel Cousins, after Thomas Phillips mezzotint, published 1833, NPG D5929Adam Sedgwick by Samuel Cousins, after Thomas Phillips mezzotint, published 1833, NPG D5929
mw40351
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Adam Sedgwick

One of the early leaders of geology in Britain, Adam Sedgwick  was born in the Yorkshire village of Dent in 1785. Attending Trinity College Cambridge, he was ordained as clergyman and in 1818 was appointed to the Woodwardian Chair of Geology, which offered a small stipend. Despite having little prior knowledge of the subject, Sedgwick soon commenced fieldwork, offered regular annual lectures, and joined with John Stevens Henslow, William Whewell and others to build up the University's reputation in the sciences.

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Johann Friedrich Theodor (Fritz) Müller
Johann Friedrich Theodor (Fritz) Müller
Cambridge University Library

Fritz Müller

Fritz Müller, a German who spent most of his life in political exile in Brazil, described Darwin as his second father, and Darwin's son, Francis, wrote that, although they never met 'the correspondence with Müller, which continued to the close of my father's life, was a source of very great pleasure to him. My impression is that of all his unseen friends Fritz Müller was the one for whom he had the strongest regard.'

 

 

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John Beddoe
http://www.archive.org/stream/shortbiographies00brow#page/n31/mode/2up
John Beddoe
Image from archive.org. Digitised by Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center

John Beddoe

In 1869, when gathering data on sexual selection in humans, Darwin exchanged a short series of letters with John Beddoe, a doctor in Bristol. He was looking for evidence that racial differences that appear to have no benefit in terms of survival - and therefore could not be explained by natural selection - could instead have been acquired through choices in sexual partner. Darwin was fascinated by Beddoe's analysis of married and single women patients in Bristol Royal Infirmary by hair colour.

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Mary Everest Boole
Mary Everest Boole
CUL 300:2.c.95.12
Cambridge University Library

Mary Everest Boole

Mary Everest was born in 1832 in Wickwar, Gloucestershire, daughter of Reverend Thomas Everest. Her uncle was George Everest, Surveyor General of India, after whom Mount Everest is named. Her family moved to France seeking to improve her father’s ill health through homeopathic cures. She was educated at home and received arithmetic lessons from Monsieur Déplace, whom she idolised as the ‘hero’ of her childhood.

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Sir James Crichton Browne
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Sir James Crichton Browne, Photograph, ICV No 29012
V0028544
Wellcome Library, London

James Crichton-Browne

James Crichton-Browne became one of the most distinguished psychiatrists of the late nineteenth-century, but the letters he exchanged with Charles Darwin as the young and overworked superintendent of the largest mental asylum in England, are almost the only personal papers to survive from this stage of his career.  They are an extraordinary glimpse not only into Crichton-Browne's research and the development of Darwin's thinking, but into the everyday lives of the patients whose records Crichton-Browne sent on.

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George Busk
http://wellcomeimages.org/
George Busk
V0026123
Wellcome Library, London

George Busk

After the Beagle voyage, Darwin’s collection of bryozoans disappears from the records until the material was sent, in 1852, for study by George Busk, one of the foremost workers on the group of his day. In 1863, on the way down to Malvern Wells, Darwin had cause to consult Busk on quite another matter: a former Hunterian Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons, Busk was asked to prescribe for Darwin’s ‘stomach symptoms’ following a recommendation from Darwin’s friend Joseph Hooker, who reportedly described Busk as ‘the most fertile brain of any man I know in regard of all such matters as your stomach’. (Busk duly prescribed, but the famous symptoms continued.)

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Leonard Jenyns
Leonard Jenyns, aged 85
CUL Q479.c.8.8
Cambridge University Library

Leonard Jenyns

When Darwin returned from the Beagle voyage there was no-one available to describe the fish that he had collected. At Darwin’s request Jenyns, a friend from Cambridge days, took on the challenge. It was not an easy one: at that time Jenyns had only worked on fish from the British Isles. He started from first principles and made detailed scientific measurements and descriptions of each new fish on his regular visits to Cambridge. He humorously commented that just the mention of Darwin’s name brought on a fishy smell. They saw one another ‘only at intervals’ but they remained in regular correspondence. Darwin’s letters to Jenyns still survive in Bath, where Jenyns moved in 1850.

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Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell
https://archive.org/stream/historyofwomansu01stan#page/n465/mode/2up
Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell
Image from archive.org. Digitised by Wellesley College Library, Boston Library Consortium

Antoinette Brown Blackwell

Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825–1921) was born in Henrietta, New York. In early life she began to preach in her local Congregational Church and went on to teach. Throughout her life she was a renowned public speaker, a vociferous social reformer and promoter of women’s rights. She was the first woman to be ordained as a minister in the United States. Brown later became a Unitarian and remained committed to the idea of that women’s participation in religion could improve their status in society.

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