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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. E. Gray   18 December 18471

Down Farnborough Kent

December 18th 1847

My dear Gray

You are aware that I have been attending for the last 14 months to the anatomy of the various genera of Cirripedia. Having, as I hope, now acquired a fair knowledge of their fundamental structure, it is my intention to publish a monograph on this difficult order.2 The object of this letter is to ask you to request the permission of the Trustees to describe the Public collection of the Museum. This, however, involves the absolute necessity of my having the collection, not all at once, but in groups at my house here. I find by experience that each species takes me between 2 & 3 days, & each new genus, as many weeks. Every portion requires examination under the microscope & all the minuter organs under a high compound power: the shells also, require soaking & cleaning. I have resolved not to describe any species, without I can do it thoroughily. I am well aware that my request in an unusual one; but I would most respectfully beg to call the attention of the Trustees to the fact that specimens are sent out to be mounted, & that one specimen of every species of Cirripede must be disarticulated for the characters to be ascertained, & the parts of the mouth dissected. The portions thus dissected I prepare in spirits between two plates of glass. If the Trustees think me worthy of their confidence I will give to the Museum all such preparations, (whether made from my own or the Public collection) & all my entire shells (including many new species), as soon as my work is completed. I would further beg to call the attention of the Trustees to the fact, that their entire collection, (contained in 8 or 10 drawers) will thus be named & arranged without the loss of the valuable time of the Officers: though I fully believe that you could do the work in half the time I could, yet I am convinced that to examine & classify the public collection in the Order, as it should be done, would take a year.

In case the Trustees are inclined to do me the honour of acceding to my request,3 I pledge myself to take the utmost care of the Collection & to do nothing whatever to the specimens, without your express permission.—

I will only further add that Mr Cuming & Stutchbury4 & yourself have placed their most valuable collections at my disposal for description, & that I have a fair collection of my own.—

How much a monograph of this Order is wanted, you, who know it far better than any man in England, are well aware. In fact the whole of the species are in almost a compte state of chaos: as Agassiz has remarked, a “Monograph of the Cirripedia is now a pressing desideratum in Zoology”.5 How far I am capable of this undertaking you must decide; if I fail it shall not be for want of labour.

I apologise for the length of this letter, & beg to thank you for the kind assistance you have already given me.

I remain | Yours very faithfully | Charles R. Darwin To J. E. Gray Esqe


This letter was enclosed in the letter to John Edward Gray, [18 December 1847. It was intended to be submitted to the trustees of the British Museum by Gray, who was keeper of the zoological department.
This is the first mention of CD’s intention to undertake a monograph of the Cirripedia. In his letter to J. G. Forchhammer, 12 November [1849], CD stated that at the time of the British Association meeting in Oxford (July 1847) he had no intention of describing all the species of Cirripedia. He also made no reference to this undertaking in his letter to Henri Milne-Edwards, 18 November [1847].
Gray submitted CD’s request to the trustees of the British Museum at the meeting of 29 January 1848. The following extract from the minute is reproduced in Gunther 1979, p. 56: Mr. Gray would at once have granted Mr. Darwin’s request, for there can be no doubt of his high scientific and general character; that great increase in the knowledge of these very anomalous animals will be derived from his examination, but that Mr. Darwin states that “it involves the absolute necessity of having the collection (not all at once but in groups)” at his own house: and the collection much increased in value and interest by the labour he will bestow upon it. For though it is in fact a preparation of the collection for exhibition, yet Mr. Gray did not feel that it exactly came under the permission of the Trustees by which he is allowed [to] send out the Mammals, Birds and fishes etc. to be preserved or Insects to be set.
CD acknowledged his indebtedness to both Hugh Cuming and Samuel Stutchbury in Living Cirripedia (1851): vi.
Possibly a comment made by Louis Agassiz in his address to the Ray Society at the society’s anniversary meeting held in Southampton, 15 September 1846, during the British Association meeting attended by CD. The Athenæum reported: ‘Prof. Agassiz … spoke strongly in favour of the value of the works already published by the Society’ (26 September, p. 989). Agassiz strongly recommended a re-evaluation of the three classes of Articulata, including Crustacea, based upon an analysis of their developmental history (see Agassiz 1851, p. 20).


Gunther, A. E. 1979. J. E. Gray, Charles Darwin, and the cirripedes, 1846–1851. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 34: 53–63.

Living Cirripedia (1851): A monograph of the sub-class Cirripedia, with figures of all the species. The Lepadidæ; or, pedunculated cirripedes. By Charles Darwin. London: Ray Society. 1851.


Seeks permission from the Trustees of the British Museum to borrow the cirripede specimens in the public collection. Explains his intention to produce a monograph of the Cirripedia.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Edward Gray
Sent from
Source of text
British Museum (Central Archive ‘Original Papers’, vol. XXXVIII)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1139,” accessed on 2 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4