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Darwin Correspondence Project

To James Dwight Dana   14 July [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

July 14th

My dear Sir

I want to beg one more favour to the many which formerly you have conferred on me.2 I am extremely much interested in regard to the blind cave animals, described some time since in your Journal by Prof. Silliman Junr.,3 as the subject is connected with a work of somewhat general nature, which I am endeavouring to draw up on variation & the origin of species, classification &c.—

Are the specimens at Newhaven? and if so could you get any good entomologist to look at the insects— What I want to know is, whether any of the Crustacea, spiders, insects (flies beetles, crickets &c) & Fish belong to the American type4 (Has not Agassiz noticed the Fish?)5 ie to genera or sections of genera, found only on the American continent.— I shd. be most grateful for any, the least, information on this head.— All the American mice have a peculiar character in their teeth by which they can be recognised.—

Secondly I have been rereading with renewed interest your memoir on geograph. Distrib. of Crustacea6 & I want to ask a question on this head: Botanists have remarked on several cases in which northern temperate & arctic genera have sent the same or representative species into corresponding zones of S. hemisphere.— You give several similar & striking cases; but I do not feel sure from my ignorance that these genera can be called from their general affinities & range strictly northern genera. How is this? Might they not be called southern genera, which have sent species to the North: I ask this because in plants, it is very remarkable as observed by Dr. Hooker & A. Decandolle, that southern genera have not their represetatives or identical species in the north, though there are so many cases of northern genera which have their congeners & same individual species in the south.— Will you be so very kind as to reflect on this, & take the trouble to inform me.7

Lastly can you remember whether any author (I think Mr Eights whose writings I have never seen) has described fossil trees in the S. Shetland islands.—8

Now I am sure I have put your kindness to a severe proof, & can only beg to be forgiven.— If you have a few minutes to spare, I shd. very much like to hear a little news of yourself, & whether all things go well with you. Are you at work at any particular great subject? I should expect so, though no one whatever in the world has a better right to rest on his oars than you have. I never cease being fairly astounded at the amount of labour which you have performed.— But the other day I was sitting at dinner by Prof. Miller of (our) Cambridge,9 & he was speaking warmly on your mineralogical work.—

As for myself I live a very quiet & retired life, with a large set of very happy & good children round me, & do daily 3 or 4 hours work at Natural History; for more than which I have not, & shall never have, strength.— Our neighbour J. Lubbock, has married a young & pretty wife, & a very young couple they are reckoned in this country, & I think & hope he will be as happy as he deserves: he works away during the very little leisure which he has, at his Entomostraca, & if he could give himself up to Nat. History, he would make a capital Naturalist.10

Pray believe me, my dear Sir, with every good wish & sincere respect. | Yours very truly | Ch. Darwin

I have directed this to care of Prof. Silliman; as I heard some time since that you were Professor of Geology at some new place.11


Dated from Dana’s reply (see letter from J. D. Dana, 8 September 1856).
CD and Dana had corresponded since 1849 about Cirripedia and the geological observations they had made on coral islands and Australia.
Silliman 1851. Benjamin Silliman Jr, Dana’s brother-in-law, was co-editor with Dana of the American Journal of Science and Arts, usually called ‘Silliman’s Journal’ after its founder, the elder Benjamin Silliman.
CD had previously asked Dana much the same question about the cave fauna (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to J. D. Dana, 8 May [1852]). For Dana’s opinion, see letter from J. D. Dana, 8 September 1856. See also letter from J. O. Westwood, 23 November 1856, in which John Obadiah Westwood discussed the insect genera found in the cave.
Agassiz 1851. Louis Agassiz had written to Benjamin Silliman that he considered the fish ‘an aberrant type of my family of Cyprinodonts’ (Agassiz 1851, p. 127).
Dana 1853. CD’s copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
See the letter from J. D. Dana, 8 September 1856. James Eights had collected in the Antarctic and published several papers on the marine Crustacea of the South Shetland Islands. He was primarily a palaeontologist. There is a note made by CD, along with a reference to Eights 1856, in the manuscript of his species book (see Natural selection, p. 579 n. 3) reminding him to look at ‘Dana’s letter on Mr. Eights’.
William Hallowes Miller was professor of mineralogy at Cambridge University. CD may be referring to the Philosophical Club dinner of 19 June that both he and Miller attended (Royal Society Philosophical Club minutes).
CD had previously told Dana about John Lubbock’s work on Entomostraca (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to J. D. Dana, 27 September [1853]). Lubbock had married on 10 April 1856 (see letter to John Lubbock, 24 April [1856]).
Dana had not become professor of geology at any ‘new place’ but had, in 1855, finally taken up the duties of the Yale professorship in natural history to which he had been appointed in 1849 when the elder Benjamin Silliman retired (DAB).


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

DAB: Dictionary of American biography. Under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies. 20 vols., index, and 10 supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons; Simon & Schuster Macmillan. London: Oxford University Press; Humphrey Milford. 1928–95.

Eights, James. 1856. Description of an Isopod crustacean from the Antarctic seas, with observations on the New South Shetlands. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 22: 391–7.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Silliman, Benjamin, Jr. 1851. On the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 11: 332–9.


Asks whether the blind cave animals described by B. Silliman Jr [Am. J. Sci. 2d ser. 11 (1851): 332–9] belong to genera found only on the American continent.

On geographical distribution of Crustacea, CD asks whether northern genera sent species to the Southern Hemisphere or did southern genera send species north?

Does he know of any author who has described fossil trees in South Shetland Islands?

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
James Dwight Dana
Sent from
Source of text
Yale University Library: Manuscripts and Archives (Dana Family Papers (MS 164) Series 1, Box 2, folder 44)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1925,” accessed on 15 July 2024,

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