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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Edward Cresy   28 May [1861]1

Down, Bromley, Kent

May 28th.

Dear Cresy

Many thanks for your pleasant note and enquiries about rats, and for your splendid present of the Railway Map, which I am very glad to possess.— I have never seen du Chaillu and am puzzled what to think.2

I am surprised to hear about Owen:3 I thought his courage was as indomitable as his malignity.

I am very glad to hear that you like Asa Gray.4 A correspondent (Lieut. Hutton who wrote good article on Nat. Selection in Geologist)5 sent me enclosed Extract (need not be returned) and as you seem to care so much for subject I enclose it, as Sir J. Herschel sent me the book.6

Dear Cresy | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

We are off in 10 days or so.7 In Autumn we hope we shall see you here.


Dated by the reference to ‘Asa Gray’ (see n. 4, below).
The reference is to the recently published Explorations & adventures in equatorial Africa by the French-born American explorer Paul Belloni Du Chaillu (Du Chaillu 1861). Upon his arrival in London, Du Chaillu, who had become a celebrity in the United States through his lectures and through newspaper accounts of his adventures, was invited by Roderick Impey Murchison to give a lecture at the annual meeting of the Royal Geographical Society on 25 February 1861. Du Chaillu spoke before a large and distinguished audience, attracted by the first public exhibition of the gorilla skins and skulls he had collected. Du Chaillu offered a first-hand account of the fierce nature of the beasts themselves and of the tribes of cannibals he had encountered. See Vaucaire 1930, pp. 125–30. However, the accuracy of Du Chaillu’s account of his travels and the identification and description of the animals he collected was challenged by John Edward Gray, keeper of the zoological department of the British Museum, and several others in a series of letters published in the Athenæum late in May and in June 1861. This exchange sparked a public controversy that spilled over into the pages of The Times and other periodicals.
Du Chaillu’s lecture at the Geographical Society was preceded by remarks by Richard Owen, who gave a brief account of the anatomical structure of the gorilla and pointed out its similarity to human skeletons (see R. S. Owen ed. 1894, 2: 115–16). On 18 March, Du Chaillu spoke before the Royal Institution of Great Britain, followed the next day by a formal lecture by Owen, who gave a more detailed description of the anatomical structure of the skulls and brains of gorillas. Owen maintained that the skeleton of gorillas more nearly approximated that of humans than did those of orang-utans or chimpanzees. Nevertheless he stated that the structure of their brain was strikingly dissimilar to that of man. See Athenæum, 11 May 1861, pp. 621–3, and 23 March 1861, pp. 395–6; and Du Chaillu 1861, pp. 363–82. See also letter to T. H. Huxley, 1 April [1861].
A. Gray 1861a. CD had recommended Asa Gray’s articles on Origin to Cresy as by far ‘the best Review’ of the book (Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Edward Cresy, 12 December [1860]).
The reference is to Hutton 1861. See letter to F. W. Hutton, 20 April 1861.
John Frederick William Herschel had recently sent CD a copy of Herschel 1861 (see letter to J. F. W. Herschel, 23 May [1861]).
The Darwins did not actually leave for Torquay until 1 July 1861 (‘Journal’; Appendix II).


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

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

Du Chaillu, Paul Belloni. 1861. Explorations & adventures in equatorial Africa; with accounts of the manners and customs of the people, and of the chace of the gorilla, crocodile, leopard, elephant, hippopotamus, and other animals. 2d edition. London: John Murray.

Herschel, John Frederick William. 1861. Physical geography. From the Encyclopædia Britannica. Edinburgh.

Hutton, Frederick Wollaston. 1861. Some remarks on Mr Darwin’s theory. Geologist 4: 132–6, 183–8.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Vaucaire, Michel. 1930. Paul du Chaillu: gorilla hunter. Being the extraordinary life and adventures of Paul du Chaillu. New York and London: Harper & Brothers. [Vols. 9,10]


Thanks for railway map.

Surprised about Richard Owen: "I thought his courage was as indomitable as his malignity."

Sends extract [Sir John Herschel, "Physical geography", from the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1861)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Edward Cresy, Jr
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3165,” accessed on 19 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9