A new look – and hundreds of new letters

Our site looks a bit different, but we have more than just a new skin: we have added some significant new material, and – we hope – made everything easier to find. We would appreciate feedback so please contact us if you have queries or comments.

Three areas of the site in particular are being actively developed: the Schools pages, the Darwin & Gender pages, and the Darwin & Human Nature pages. And we will be writing an Editors’ blog with all those snippets that usually hit the cutting room floor – or just spark animated discussion over tea – as we research letters for publication.

And we have added the full texts of nearly 800  letters from the year 1868 which were originally published in volume 16 of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin.

Here are some highlights:


My book is horribly delayed …

In January 1868, Darwin’s Variation under domestication was published; it had first been advertised in 1865. The first printing of 1500 rapidly sold out and the publisher, John Murray, ordered a second printing. Responses to the new book, added to Darwin’s continuing research into sexual selection and the expression of the emotions, increased the quantity of Darwin’s correspondence to such an extent that the letters for 1868 filled two print volumes.

I am bothered with heaps of foolish letters …

But not all the letters were so foolish. The year 1868 saw much correspondence with entomologists and animal breeders on the subject of the proportion of the sexes, sexual dimorphism, and the age at which the differences between the sexes arose. Farmers, scholars, and others all over the country were mobilised:

It was … almost heroic, in you to sacrifice your hair and pay 3d in the cause of science …

–Darwin wrote to John Jenner Weir, who had submitted to an unnecessary haircut in order to get information from one of the foremost canary experts in London, a hairdresser.

by patiently collecting facts … a dim ray of light may be gained

Darwin also continued with his work on the expression of the emotions, requesting zoo-keepers and new mothers to send observations on the weeping of elephants and infants. His son Francis was also pressed into service, to simulate screams as Darwin observed the musculature of his head and neck.

I am not sure whether it wd not be wisest for scientific men quite to ignore the whole subject of religion.

With Darwin’s friend and ally J. D. Hooker acting as president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1868, the subject of the moral and social impact of the theory of natural selection was guaranteed a thorough airing. Hooker’s pro-Darwinian address at the association’s annual meeting in August drew both approving and condemnatory reviews from the press. Thomas Huxley commented on the ‘terrible Darwinismus’ that had broken out at the meeting, influencing even a discussion of Buddhist temples, and jokingly threatened to ‘go into opposition’.

How about Photographs?

While Hooker and Huxley were happily setting the cat among the pigeons, Darwin was holidaying on the Isle of Wight at a house owned by Julia Margaret Cameron, a gifted photographer with an energetic personality. Cameron took photographs of Darwin and some of his family and of Hooker; these photographs are included as plates in this volume.

a complete and premeditated swindler …

Sadly, Darwin returned home to difficult parish business. Earlier in the year, the curate, Samuel Horsman, had departed, disappointed with the parish, and apparently taking with him the organ fund. His replacement, John Robinson, also swiftly absented himself, and when he was in the parish, was suspected of walking with young women at night. Darwin liaised with the absentee vicar, John Brodie Innes, reluctantly passing on village gossip. By December, he was urging Innes in the strongest terms to make some permanent settlement: if the church continued to fall into disrepute, he wrote, ‘great injury will be done here, which it will take years to repair.’

I shall burst with pleasure …

Darwin’s family gave him great cause for satisfaction in 1868. In January, George gained second place in the mathematical examinations at Cambridge University; and in July, Leonard came second in the entrance examinations for the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.

At the end of the year, Darwin sat to the sculptor Thomas Woolner, who had been commissioned to make a bust of him. Uncomfortable as he was with the process, Darwin wrote,

I tell my wife she will be proud of her old husband.


Our thanks to our colleagues at CARET who have worked with us on the design and on a lot of behind the scenes improvements.  We are grateful to our publishers, Cambridge University Press for allowing us to bring forward the date of online publication for the letters from 1868, and to the Parasol Foundation, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the National Science Foundation, and John Templeton Foundation who have supported the online work.



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