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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Crick   23 March 1882

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | (Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.)

March 23d 1882.

Dear Sir

I have had a most unfortunate & extraordinary accident with your shell.— I sent it by Post in a strong box to Mr Gwyn Jeffreys to be named, & heard 2 days afterwards that he had started for Italy.—1 I then wrote to the servant in charge of his house to open the parcel (within which was a cover stamped & directed to myself) & return it to me.— This servant I suppose opened the box, & dropped the glass tube on a stone floor, & perhaps put his foot on it, for the tube & shell were broken into quite small fragments. These were returned to me with no explanation; the box being quite uninjured. I suppose that you wd not care for the fragments to be returned or the Dytiscus; but if you wish for them they shall be returned.2

I am very sorry, but it has not been my fault.—

It seems to me almost useless to send the fragments of the shell to the B. Museum to be named, more especially as the umbo has been lost.3 It is many years since I have looked at a fresh-water shells, but I shd. have said that this shell was Cyclas cornea. Is Sphærium corneum a synonym of Cyclas? Perhaps you cd. tell by looking to Mr G. Jeffreys book.4 If so may we venture to call it so, or shall I put an (?) to the name.?—

As soon as I hear from you I will send my letter to Nature.5 Do you take in Nature or shall I send you a copy?—

Dear Sir | with much regret | Yours faithfully | Ch. Darwin


Crick had sent CD a large beetle with a fingernail clam (Sphaerium corneum) attached to its leg (see letter from W. D. Crick, 24 February 1882). John Gwyn Jeffreys was an expert conchologist.
The beetle to which the shell was attached was identified by Crick as Dytiscus marginalis (great diving beetle; see letter from W. D. Crick, 18 February 1882).
CD had originally planned to send the shell to the British Museum (see letter to W. D. Crick, 10 March [1882]). The umbo or beak (the raised portion of the dorsal margin of a bivalve shell), is an important diagnostic feature in the identification of species. In Sphaerium corneum, the umbo is central and low with straight edges on either side.
Cyclas cornea is a synonym of Sphaerium corneum; Jeffreys had noted the synonymy in Jeffreys 1862–9, 1: 5, where he used the latter designation.
CD’s article, ‘Dispersal of freshwater bivalves’, was published in Nature, 6 April 1882, pp. 529–30.


‘Dispersal of freshwater bivalves’: On the dispersal of freshwater bivalves. By Charles Darwin. Nature, 6 April 1882, pp. 529–30.

Jeffreys, John Gwyn. 1862–9. British conchology, or an account of the mollusca which now inhabit the British Isles and the surrounding seas. 5 vols. London: John van Voorst.


Shell smashed by careless servant. May have been Cyclas cornea. Will send letter to Nature.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Walter Drawbridge Crick
Sent from
Source of text
The Huntington Library (HM 36228)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13734,” accessed on 7 June 2023,