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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Richard Owen   [2 April 1848]1

Down Farnborough Kent


My dear Owen

My notes have run out quite into a little treatise. There is not, however, a word which I should not have been most deeply grateful for, when I started on my voyage.2

If too long, there is no harm done, for you can cut it about as much as you like. I really felt it a relief of gratitude to my dear microscope praising it, after having worked for years with one, such as is generally sold. Hooker gave me many hints & he is a really beautiful dissector, as I have seen. Both he & R. Brown have praised to me beyond measure the Adies lenses, which I have recommended, as I have, also, found them excellent.—3 I do not think there can be any objection, though that of course is for your decision, to the note I have put, that the kind of microscope, recommended can be seen at Smith; for this is really the best advice that can be given.—4

I sent in my M.S a fortnight ago & it has been lost, I believe at the Admiralty: is it not an accursed bore.—5

I will call on you, rather early on Wednesday morning, as I want much to have 14 of an hour’s talk,6 & likewise I want to look at Thompson’s Zoolog. Researches. & Goadby’s preparations of the Lepas, especially that of the nervous system:— could you let me look at it, through a simple or weak compound microscope? If you shd. be going out, wd you be so very kind as to leave the Book & preparations out for me.7

Thanks for your Synopsis: it is quite instructive to read the mere Headings; how glad I shall be to see it in type.8

Ever yours | C. Darwin


The date is established by two weeks having elapsed since CD sent off his chapter for the Admiralty manual and by CD’s visit to London (see nn. 5 and 6, below). The second Sunday after 21 March 1848, the day CD sent off the chapter, was 2 April.
CD provided notes based on his experience during the Beagle voyage for the section ‘On the use of the microscope on board ship’ in Owen’s chapter on zoology in the Admiralty manual (Herschel ed. 1849, pp. 389–95). CD had emphasised the importance of such a section in his letter to Owen of [26 March 1848] (Correspondence vol. 4).
CD’s strength of feeling about his new simple microscope, which he had been using since January, and his ‘hatred’ for his old one were expressed in his letter to Owen of [26 March 1848] (Correspondence vol. 4). Joseph Dalton Hooker’s dissecting skills were apparent from the drawings of barnacles he had sent to CD in 1846, when he not only recommended the lenses sold by the Edinburgh optician and instrument maker Alexander James Adie but also lent CD such a lens (see Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [26 October 1846]). Robert Brown was a highly skilled microscopist. For the relative merits of CD’s microscopes and an assessment of CD’s skill in microscopy, see Jardine 2009.
Owen retained CD’s note informing readers that the microscope could be viewed at ‘Messrs. Smith and Beck’s, opticians, of Colman Street, London’ (Herschel ed. 1849, p. 393 n.); James Smith and Richard Beck ran their business from 6 Coleman Street from 1847 to 1856.
CD had completed his chapter on geology for the Admiralty manual (Herschel ed. 1849, pp. 156–95) on 20 March 1848, and sent it to John Frederick William Herschel on 21 March (see Correspondence vol. 7, Supplement, letter to W. A. B. Hamilton, 28 March [1848] and nn. 2, 3 and 5.
CD had mentioned going to London on Monday (presumably 3 April 1848) in his letter to J. S. Henslow, [1 April 1848] (Correspondence vol. 4); although there is no evidence that CD stayed in London from Monday 3 April to Wednesday 5 April, his request to meet Owen early on Wednesday morning suggests that he would already be there. CD had expressed his wish for the meeting in his letter to Owen, [26 March 1848] (Correspondence vol. 4). He probably wanted to report his discovery of separate sexes in cirripedes of the genus Ibla (see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to J. S. Henslow, [1 April 1848] and n. 7).
CD probably wanted to read the third part, on the cirripedes, of John Vaughan Thompson’s Zoological researches (Thompson 1828–34). Henry Goadby was highly praised for his dissections; he was an anatomical assistant at the Royal College of Surgeons, where he dissected Lepas vitrea to show its nervous system (Owen 1843, pp. 157 and 173). In Living Cirripedia (1851), p. xi, CD stated that both pedunculated cirripedes (which included the genus Lepas) and sessile ones could be identified only by investigating their internal structures. By May 1848, CD himself had become adept enough at dissection to have determined the nervous systems of several genera of cirripedes (see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to J. D. Hooker, 10 May 1848 and n. 10).
Owen may have sent CD a copy of his ‘Synopsis of the Hunterian lectures on the comparative anatomy and physiology of the vertebrated animals with warm blood’; he had commenced the lectures in March 1848 (Rupke 1985, pp. 240 and 243).


Apologises for length of notes of advice for microscopic work.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Richard Owen
Sent from
Source of text
Houghton Library, Harvard (MS Hyde 77: 2. 82. 1)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1167F,” accessed on 17 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24 (Supplement)