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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Katharine Murray Lyell   26 January [1856]

Down Bromley Kent

Jany 26th

My dear Mrs. Lyell

I shall be very glad to be of any sort of use to you in regard to the Beetles. But first let me thank you for your kind note, & offer of specimens to my children: my Boys are all butterfly-hunters, & all young & ardent lepidopterists despise from the bottom of their souls coleopterists.—1

The simplest plan for your end & for the good of entomology, I should think, would be to offer the collection to Dr. J. E. Gray for British Museum, on condition that a perfect set was made out for you. If the collection was at all valuable I should think he would be very glad to have this done.—2 Whether any third set would be worth making out, would depend on value of collection: I do not suppose that you expect the insects to be named for that would be a most serious labour.— If you do not approve of this scheme, I shd. think it very likely that Mr. Waterhouse would think it worth his while to set a series for you, retaining duplicates for himself, but I say this only on a venture.3 You might trust Mr Waterhouse implicitly, which I fear, as rumour goes, is more than can be said for all entomologists.—

I presume, if you thought of either scheme, Sir Charles Lyell could easily see the gentlemen & arrange it; but if not, I could do so when next I come to town, which however will not be for 3 or 4 weeks.—

With respect to giving your children a taste for Natural History, I will venture one remark, viz that giving them specimens, in my opinion, would tend to destroy such taste. Youngsters must be themselves collectors to acquire a taste; & if I had a collection of English Lepidoptera, I would be systematically most miserly & not give my Boys half-a-dozen butterflies in the year. Your eldest Boy4 has the brow of an observer, if there be the least truth in phrenology.—

We are all better, but we have been of late, a poor household.—

Pray give my kind remembrances to Colonel Lyell5 & believe me, my dear Mrs. Lyell | Yours truly obliged | Charles Darwin


For William and George Darwin’s interest in Lepidoptera, see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to G. R. Waterhouse, 8 July [1855]. In 1859, Francis, Leonard, and Horace Darwin, aged 7, 5, and 4, respectively, reported their collecting activities in the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer (see LL 2: 140).
The accessions list of the British Museum (Natural History) does not record any donation by Katharine Murray Lyell (British Museum (Natural History) 1904–6, vol. 2).
George Robert Waterhouse was preparing a monograph on the Coleoptera (Waterhouse 1858).
Katharine Murray Lyell, Mary Lyell’s sister, was the wife of Colonel Henry Lyell, the brother of Charles Lyell.


British Museum (Natural History). 1904–6. The history of the collections contained in the natural history departments of the British Museum. 2 vols. London: the Trustees.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

Waterhouse, George Robert. 1858. Catalogue of British Coleoptera. London.


Suggests that J. E. Gray and/or G. R. Waterhouse might be willing to set her butterfly collection. Recommends that her children should collect their own butterflies.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Katharine Murray Horner/Katharine Murray Lyell
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.124)
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1827,” accessed on 30 September 2023,

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