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Darwin Correspondence Project

To E. W. V. Harcourt1   19 August [1856]2

Down Farnborough Kent

Augt 19th

My dear Sir

I think you told me long ago that you had Brehm’s Book on German ornithology.3 If this be so, & you can spare it, will you be so kind as to lend it me for a fortnight.— In this case will you put on enclosed address & send it by Parcels Deliv. Coy.—

If you have it not, or cannot spare it, tear up the address & I shall understand why it does not come.—4

I want to see how far Brehm goes in splitting species.—5

I have been thinking over the many curious facts which you told me,6 & wish more than ever that you would publish a paper on the subject.—7

I took some of the little finches from Madeira to Brit Mus. & found the Goldfinch, Linnet & greenfinch rather smaller than the British specimens; but not the Blackbird,—nor, as you saw the Swift.—

I wish I had taken more for comparison.—

My dear Sir | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The recipient is identified by CD’s reference to Madeiran birds (see n. 7, below).
Dated from the reference to Brehm 1831. CD recorded having read this book on 30 August 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 20). CD’s notes on the volume are in DAR 71: 162–3.
Brehm 1831. CD had skimmed Christian Ludwig Brehm’s work ten years earlier and was aware of his tendency to split species (Correspondence vol. 3, letter to Leonard Jenyns, 17 October [1846]).
CD referred to Brehm 1831 in relation to taxonomic practice in Natural selection, p. 114. Brehm was cited as having added 576 species of birds to the German avifauna.
See the concluding paragraphs of the letter from E. W. V. Harvourt, 31 May 1856.
CD probably refers to Harcourt’s remarks about the peculiarities of distribution in the letter from E. W. V. Harcourt, 31 May 1856. Harcourt had already published two works on Madeiran ornithology, both of which CD read. CD’s notes on Harcourt 1851 are in DAR 71: 87–8, and an annotated copy of Harcourt 1855 is in DAR 196.4.


Brehm, Christian Ludwig. 1831. Handbuch der Naturgeschichte aller Vögel Deutschlands. Ilmenau: Bernh. Friedr. Voigt.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Harcourt, Edward Vernon. 1851. A sketch of Madeira; containing information for the traveller or invalid visitor. London: John Murray.

Harcourt, Edward William Vernon. 1855. Notes on the ornithology of Madeira. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 2d ser. 15: 430–8.


Asks to borrow C. L. Brehm’s book [Handbuch der Naturgeschichte aller Vögel Deutschlands (1831)]. Wants to see how far Brehm went in splitting species.

Took finches from Madeira to British Museum.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Edward William Vernon Harcourt
Sent from
Source of text
Houghton Library, Harvard University (Autograph File, D)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1451,” accessed on 30 November 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6