A year in Darwin’s life – in (dirty) pictures

Work in progress: 1873 visuals during preparation

Work in progress: 1873 visuals during preparation

Behind every great website…. lies a lot of research, and quite often, a printed book. Or several.


Some of you may not be aware that in addition to appearing on this website, all of Charles Darwin’s letters are being published by Cambridge University Press in a series of large, green hardcover volumes as The correspondence of Charles Darwin . The first seven volumes each cover several years, but from volume 8 (which covers 1860) each volume contains the correspondence of just one year of Darwin’s life. We sent the most recent, volume 21, to press this week (and yes, we did celebrate), and when it is published, you will be able to read all the letters Darwin wrote and received in 1873.


For a great snapshot of Darwin’s life and work that year you just have to look at the many visuals contained in the letters. Darwin’s correspondents that year sent him delicate watercolours of sprouting seeds from France, tracings of ancient Egyptian pictures of dogs and oxen, ink drawings of a hairy ear and a frightened lemming, a photograph of two Dutch students – clutching their very own Darwin letter – not to mention lots of botanical illustrations and sketches of pieces of experimental apparatus. There is even a pencil drawing of a pair of lacy knickers sent by an Australian museum curator along with an English translation of a dirty poem by a German physiologist! It’s an unusually large and varied set, and has provided hours of entertainment for our technical experts who prepared all these for publication, often from high quality digital images taken by the Library’s Imaging Services Department, before being inserted into the letter texts.


Watch this space to find out the publication date of volume 21, and in the meantime we hope very soon to announce the publication of volume 20!

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