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Darwin Correspondence Project

Evolution: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin 1860-1870

This selection of Charles Darwin’s letters includes correspondence with his friends and scientific colleagues around the world; letters by the critics who tried to stamp out his ideas, and by admirers who helped them to spread. It takes up the story of Darwin’s life in 1860, in the immediate aftermath of the publication of On the Origin of Species, and carries it through one of the most intense and productive decades of his career, to the eve of publication of Descent of Man in 1871. In this period Darwin became a public figure, and the number and the social and geographical range of his correspondents increased accordingly. Letters conveyed public reaction to Darwin, as people who were often complete strangers to him wrote offering their own minute observations on plants and animals, their own theories, sometime elaborately worked up, or their religious doubts and concerns for Darwin’s own soul. Darwin himself used letters as a research tool, building up networks of animal and plant breeders, and distributing throughout the non-European world a questionnaire on the expression of the emotions. Darwin also continued to confide in his closest friends and associates by letter. The letters in this volume speak directly to modern controversies over evolution, intelligent design, and the conduct of science, as well as providing a portrait of a humane and thoughtful man, fascinated by the natural world and deeply embedded in a many-layered and complex society.

Quotations from some of the letters featured:

I am surprised, considering how ignorant we are on very many points, that the weak parts of my book have not been as yet been pointed out to me. No doubt many will be.

Darwin to Huxley, 1860.

I cannot tell you the compassion I have felt for all your sufferings for these weeks past that you have had so many drawbacks. Nor the gratitude I have felt for the cheerful & affectionate looks you have given me when I know you have been miserably uncomfortable.

Emma to Charles Darwin, 1861.

I am constitutionally slow of adopting any theory that I must need stick by when I have once gone in for it – but for these two years I have been gravitating towards your doctrines …

Huxley to Darwin, 1862.

I cannot bear the thought of the Slave-holders being triumphant …

Darwin to Asa Gray, in Boston, Mass., 1862.

I have been greatly disappointed that you have not given judgment & spoken fairly out what you think about the derivation of Species …

Darwin to Charles Lyell, 1863.

Permit me again to assure you that I feel very sorry that I should have occasion to ask you for further pecuniary assistance here: and I will only add that whatever you have already laid out on my account will be fully & pleasently repaid so soon as I am fairly settled & succeeding in India.

John Scott to Darwin, 1864.

I was astounded at news about FitzRoy; but I ought not to have been, for I remember once thinking it likely; poor fellow his mind was quite out of balance once during our voyage …

Darwin to Hooker (on hearing of Robert FitzRoy’s suicide), 1865.

As you are now so little on your Farm, you may not be aware that the necks of your horses are badly galled …

Darwin to a local landowner, 1866.

Science must take her path and Theology hers, and they will meet when & where & how God pleases, & you are in no sense responsible for it, if the meeting-point should be still very far off.

Mary Boole to Darwin, 1866.

Never, for God’s sake, conceal debts from me, & tell me now, whether you owe any more …

Darwin to his son Francis, 1870.