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Darwin Correspondence Project

From S. P. Woodward   15 July 1856

Brit. M.

July 15th 1856.

Dear Sir

Your question was answd. almost by express anticipation in my paper at the Zool. Socy. last week,1 —on the L. & Fr. water shells of Tibet & Kashmir,2 but as that will not be printed just yet I will endeavour to make out the list when I return home to-night. 3

I proposed to consider 20 of M. Deshayes4 Cyrenæ (Corbiculæ) as geographical varieties of one species. (C. fluminalis, Müll) Since after examining Mr Cuming’s collection & ours I can find no characters by which a miscellaneous mixture could be sorted.5 Philip Carpenter also glanced at them—& said it was like the case he was investigating (Calyptræa) in which varieties of the same species were rated as members of distinct “sub-genera” by H & A. Adams.6

The “species” which may be most safely referred to Cyrena fluminalis, are diag C. ambigua, Desh. Euphrates

Euphratica, Bronn.

Cor, Lam. Nile

consobrina, Caillaud. Alexandrian Canal

Sea of Tiberius

triangularis, Desh. (no locality but exactly like

specimens from Alex. Canal)

Panormitana, Bivon Sicily.

Gemmellarii Phil. Fossil, Sicily.

trigonula, Searles Wood—Brit.

Cashmiriensis, Desh. Kashmir—


radiata, Phi. Nile—Indiaramme

The C. occidens (Benson) Sikkim, & C Bengalensis Desh. C. striatella, Desh. Pondicherry are only specimens a little more “transverse”.

The same shell when found in China (which was not so far from Noah’s Ark as ultima Thule) has another set of names— diag C. fluviatilis, Müll

Largillierti, Phi

Woodiana, Lea &cramme

In the Peninsula it becomes C. Malaccensis, Desh. in Java C. compressa (Mousson)7

Sir Chas. Lyell was at the Meeting & said that Dr Hooker would reduce the reduce the reputed Indian Flora at the rate of 19 to 1—; and made some sharp remarks on species-making & the “present state of Conchology”—8

Gray,9 who was in the chair, went still further & (Cuming being present!) denounced the greater part of the reputed shells as “dealers’ species”.

In the last number of the “Annals” my friend Mr Benson has drawn a very fine distinction between Clausilia Rolphii of Charlton & a specimen of the so-called Cl. Mortilleti from Charing—10 I told him before-hand I didn’t believe or understand it—& now I have sent him down a lot of the Charlton Shell which are all Cl. Mortilleti!! so that “species” is annihilated, at least for a while. However Mr Benson is a gentleman & a philosopher—& will acknowledge his error!

Lastly, have you the most admirable book in which the great question of “creative action” is treated— Dr Harvey’s “Seaside Book” (Van Voorst)11 Because if not, you ought to get it immediately—& having read the first & last chapters—give it to that young lady of your family who has most sympathy with “the sunshine & the calm of mute, insensate things”.

I presume you are acquainted with Dr Pickering’s “Races of Man”12 —& with that chapter in which, when discussing the probable scene of the Creation of man, he speaks more respectfully of the Orang & Gorilla than Agassiz does of “our black brethren”.13 It is fortunate for those of us who respect our ancestors & repudiate even the contamination of Negro blood—that Agassiz remains, to do battle with the transmutationists

Yours sincerely | S. P. Woodward Chas Darwin Esq.

CD annotations

crossed pencil
double scored pencil
3.1 The species … are] scored pencil
‘What a range’added pencil
3.2 Euphrates] double underl pencil
3.4 Nile] double underl pencil
3.8 Alex. Canal] double underl pencil
3.9 Sicily.] double underl pencil
3.10 Sicily.] underl pencil
3.11 Brit.] double underl pencil
3.12 Kashmir.] double underl pencil
5.1 China] double underl pencil
6.1 Java] double underl pencil
crossed pencil
Top of first page: ‘19’14 brown crayon; ‘F. W. Shells’brown crayon


CD’s question was evidently similar to that posed in the letters to H. C. Watson, [after 10 June 1856], and to J. D. Hooker, 22 June [1856], in which he asked whether species common to both Europe and North America were also found in the Arctic or sub-Arctic zone. The range of shells was discussed by CD in Natural selection, p. 539, but the information in this letter was not cited.
Woodward 1856b was read at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London on 8 July 1856. Woodward had attempted to ascertain which of the Kashmir and Tibetan species were also found in Europe.
Hugh Cuming owned one of the largest scientific collections of shells in Britain. Although part of his collection was already in the possession of the British Museum, the bulk of it was not purchased until after his death (British Museum (Natural History) 1904–6, 2: 727). Woodward had been on the staff of the department of geology and mineralogy in the British Museum since 1848.
Philip Pearsall Carpenter had bought a valuable and extensive collection of shells known as the Mazatlan collection in 1855; it was purchased from him by the British Museum in 1857. Henry and Arthur Adams were the co-authors of Genera of recent Mollusca (Adams and Adams [1853–] 1858).
The list given by Woodward corresponds to information given in Woodward 1856b, p. 186 n.
The shells described by Woodward in Woodward 1856b had been collected in India by Thomas Thomson in 1847 and 1848 and given to the British Museum by Charles Lyell and Joseph Dalton Hooker.
William Henry Benson was cited in Woodward 1856b. The notice referred to was a letter from Benson on the ‘Occurrence of Clausilia Mortilleti, Dumont, in Kent’ printed in Annals and Magazine of Natural History 2d ser. 18 (1856): 74–5.
Harvey 1854, published by John Van Voorst, in which William Henry Harvey attempted to demonstrate the majesty of God’s design in nature. In the conclusion, he stated (Harvey 1854, p. 313): For though we may admit that physical laws suffice to explain the mutations of the mineral world,—the regular succession of seasons, and the irregular action of the earthquake and the storm, we cannot attribute to physical agency the existence of organic life—itself the clearest witness to a supernatural power. CD owned a copy of the first edition of this work (Harvey 1849).
Pickering [1848], subsequently published in several editions. CD owned a copy of Pickering 1850, which is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The passage referred to occurs in Pickering 1850, p. 314, where Charles Pickering stated that orangs, ‘of all animals, in physical conformation and even in moral temperament, make the nearest approach to humanity’. According to a page of notes made by CD and inserted in the back of his copy, CD reread the work in October 1856.
Louis Agassiz believed in the multiple origin of the human race. See Lurie 1954.
The number of CD’s portfolio of notes on the geographical distribution of animals.


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.

Harvey, William Henry. 1854. The sea-side book; being an introduction to the natural history of the British coasts. 3d ed. London. [vols. 6,8]

Lurie, Edward. 1954. Louis Agassiz and the races of man. Isis 45: 227–42.

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.

Pickering, Charles. [1848.] The races of man: and their geographical distribution. Vol. 9 of the United States Exploring Expedition during the years 1838–42 under the command of Charles Wilkes, U.S.N. London.

Pickering, Charles. 1850. The races of man; and their geographical distribution. New edition. To which is prefixed, an analytical synopsis of the natural history of man, by John Charles Hall. London. [Vols. 6,9]


Has reduced 20 Cyrena species to geographical varieties of one species, Cyrena fluminalis. Hooker is reducing Indian flora at the rate of 19 to 1.

Recommends W. H. Harvey’s Seaside book [1849] and Charles Pickering’s Races of man [1850].

Letter details

Letter no.
Samuel Pickworth Woodward
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 205.3: 304
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1927,” accessed on 31 January 2023,

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