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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Sharpey   9 April [1857]1

Down Bromley Kent

Ap. 9th

My dear Dr. Sharpey

It is very puzzling trying to mark the Catalogues;2 especially the entomological one. There are lots of good Books, but I fancy most are too special; I have marked a few of more general interest.—

I think we ought to have all Agassizs works.—3 You will be surprised at two which I have marked doubtfully, viz Low’s Domestic animals,4 for I believe that the time is coming when all records of domestic variation will be admitted as most very important.— Macgillivrays British Birds (I have it myself) is, also, a special Book, but quite above the common run—5

I am delighted to hear of progress in arrangement of Library.—6 With respect to candidates; Davidson from his Palæontological work & Sorby from that on cleavage & sea-bottom have the highest possible claims.—7 Mr Beckles I think has, also, very strong claims.8 I do not myself know Warrington Smyth’s writings, but I have always heard him spoken of with much respect;—9 I shd. think he might wait, if you are pressed.— Andrew Smith, whose Zoology of S. Africa I know well, has very strong & paramount claims for admission. in my opinion.—10

General Sabine in letter to Sir C. Lyell, forwarded to me, says I am on Government Grant Committee, of which I have never heard;11 & both wish me to attend at next meeting in respect to Mr Beckles grant.—12 This I cannot do, therefore I have written separate note, if you will be so kind as to read it to Committee.—13

Your’s very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the reference to the meeting of the Government Grant Committee of the Royal Society of London at which a grant to Samuel Husband Beckles was approved. See n. 12, below.
CD had evidently been asked by Sharpey, the secretary of the Royal Society, to recommend, probably from publishers’ catalogues, books to be purchased for the Royal Society Library. See also n. 6, below.
CD refers to the zoologist Louis Agassiz.
Low 1845. There is an annotated copy in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 506–10).
Macgillivray 1837–52. CD’s heavily annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 551–7).
The Royal Society Library was being augmented and rearranged following the removal of the society to Burlington House (Royal Society, council minutes, 5 March 1857).
Thomas Davidson and Henry Clifton Sorby were both elected fellows of the Royal Society in June 1857 (Record of the Royal Society of London, p. 476). Sorby pioneered the use of the polarising microscope in geology and established the cause of slaty cleavage in sedimentary rock (DSB). For CD’s favourable assessment of Sorby 1856, see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to J. D. Hooker, 8 September [1856].
Beckles was not elected a fellow of the Royal Society until 1859 (Record of the Royal Society of London, p. 477).
CD refers to Warington Wilkinson Smyth. Smyth was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1858 (Record of the Royal Society of London, p. 476).
CD refers to Andrew Smith. Smith was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1857 (Record of the Royal Society of London, p. 476). There is an annotated copy of A. Smith 1849 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 759).
The letter from Edward Sabine to Charles Lyell has not been found. Sabine was treasurer of the Royal Society. Although the grant voted by Parliament to be distributed by the Royal Society was only formally established as an annual payment in 1856, the Government Grant Committee of the Royal Society had been in existence since 1850, and CD had served as a member of the sub-committee that recommended a grant to Richard Owen in that year (MacLeod 1971b). In January 1857, CD had solicited a grant from the committee on behalf of William Freeman Daniell (Correspondence vol. 6, letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 January [1857] and n. 2). See also n. 12, below.
The Government Grant Committee of the Royal Society recommended at a meeting held on 3 July 1857 that the Council approve an award to Beckles of £150 ‘for further prosecuting the search for fossil remains in the Purbeck Strata’ (Royal Society, Council minutes, 4 July 1857). Lyell had encouraged Beckles in this work and had reported the initial finds to a meeting of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society on 18 January 1857 (Bonney 1919, p. 134; see also Correspondence vol. 6, letter from Charles Lyell, [16 January 1857] and n. 2.)
CD’s note has not been found.


Bonney, T. G. 1919. Annals of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society written from its minute books. London: Macmillan.

Low, David. 1845. On the domesticated animals of the British Islands: comprehending the natural and economical history of species and varieties; the description of the properties of external form; and observations on the principles and practice of breeding. London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans.

Macgillivray, William. 1837–52. History of British birds, indigenous and migratory. 5 vols. London: Scott, Webster, and Geary; William S. Orr and Co.

Smith, Andrew. 1849. Illustrations of the zoology of South Africa … collected … in the years 1834, 1835, and 1836. 5 pts. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

Sorby, Henry Clifton. 1856. On the microscopical structure of mica-schist. Report of the 26th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Cheltenham, Transactions of the sections, p. 78.


Recommendations of books of general interest [for the Royal Society library]. These include [Louis] Agassiz’s works, [William] McGillivray’s [History of] British birds, and David Low’s [On the domesticated animals of the British Islands].

Comments on current candidates for the Royal Society.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Sharpey
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 249: 128 (photocopy)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2073F,” accessed on 1 October 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13 (Supplement)