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Darwin Correspondence Project

To H. W. Bates   25 September [1861]

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Sept. 25th

My dear Sir

Your letter, like every one that I have received from you, has been a mine of wealth & has interested me greatly.1 But first for the most important point, viz your Book of Travels, & I hearily rejoice that you intend publishing.2 I shd. think that you could not have a more respectable or pleasanter publisher than Mr Van Voorst.—3 At the same time, I apprehend, there can be no doubt that Murray has much greater power of getting large distribution. Murray has the character of being a very liberal paymaster & I am sure I have found him most liberal & pleasant to deal with. Of course every publisher will be cautious with a new author. If your Book should turn out popular (& there is some little mere luck in this) it would be a thousand pities that it shd. not be in hands that could press its sale. I cannot remember that Mr V. Voorst has ever had very large sale for any of his Books.— On other hand Mr V. V. would better appreciate your scientific character than Mr Murray.—4 This is all the advice I can give; except that I rejoice I went to Murray with the Origin.—5

By the way here is case in point! Colburn did not value my Journal of Researches & would never, I am sure, have published a second Edit. I took it from Colburn & sold it to Murray & it has long & great sale up to present day.—6 — If you shd. decide on Mr Murray, & if you would so like I shall be most happy to write to Mr. Murray & can most truly tell him how much I appreciate the force of intellect & knowledge & style of your letters to me.—7 What terms he would offer you I cannot conjecture: he would, no doubt, wish to see some M.S.— As an old hackneyed author let me give you a bit of advice, viz to strike out every word, which is not quite necessary to connect subjects & which would not interest a stranger. I constantly asked myself, would a stranger care for this? & struck out or left in accordingly.— I think too much pains cannot be taken in making style transparently clear & throwing eloquence to the dogs. I hope that you will not think these few words impertinent.— (I would sell only 1st. Edition.)—8

Now for a few words on Science.— Many thanks for facts on Neuters. You cannot tell how I rejoice that you do not think what I have said on subject absurd.—9 Only 2 persons have ever noticed it to me!— Viz the bitter sneers of Owen in Eding. Review, & my good friend & supporter Sir C. Lyell, who could only screw up courage to say “well you have manfully faced the difficulty”.—10

What a wonderful case of Volucella, of which I had never heard; I had no idea such a case occurred in nature: I must get & see specimens in Brit. Museum.—11 I hope & suppose you will give a good deal of Nat. History in your Travels; everyone cares about Ants— more notice has been taken of Slave Ants in the Origin that of any other passage.—

I fully expect to delight in your Travels. Keep to simple style as in your excellent letters,—but I beg pardon   I am again advising.

What a capital paper yours will be on mimetic resemblances.—12 You will make quite a new subject of it.— I had thought of such cases as a difficulty. & once when corresponding with Dr. Collingwood, I thought of your explanation; but I drove it from my mind, for I felt that I had not knowledge to judge one way or the other. Dr. C., I think, states that the mimetic forms inhabit same country; but I did not know whether to believe him.—13 What wonderful cases yours seem to be.— Could you not give a few woodcuts in your Travels to illustrate this?— I am tired with hard’s day’s work—so no more, except to give my sincere thanks & hearty wishes for the success of your Travels.—

My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin


CD had encouraged Bates to write an account of his eleven-year-long travels in the Amazon basin in South America (see letter to H. W. Bates, 4 April [1861]).
John Van Voorst, the owner of Van Voorst publishing house in Paternoster Row, London, was a major publisher of works on natural history.
Bates’s work, The naturalist on the river Amazons, was published by John Murray in 1863.
Charles Lyell had served as an intermediary in CD’s negotiations with John Murray over the publication of Origin. See Correspondence vol. 7, especially the letters to Charles Lyell, 28 March [1859] and 30 March [1859], and to John Murray, 31 March [1859].
The publishing firm of Henry Colburn, of Great Marlborough Street, London, had published CD’s account of the Beagle voyage (Journal and remarks) in 1839 as volume 3 of Robert FitzRoy’s Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle. Later in the same year, Colburn reissued the work separately under a new title, Journal of researches (see Correspondence vol. 2). For CD’s displeasure with Colburn over the handling of the publishing of Journal of researches, see Correspondence vol. 3, letters to John Murray, 17 March [1845] and 12 April [1845]. Murray had issued a new printing of the work, the tenth thousand, in 1860 (see Freeman 1977, pp. 31–40).
Bates was unaware of the practice of selling the publication rights for a specific edition (see letter from H. W. Bates, 30 September 1861).
The reference is to the discussion in Origin of how natural selection could account for the existence of neuter insects, a problem that CD admitted had at first seemed ‘insuperable, and actually fatal to my whole theory’ (Origin, p. 236). Using the sterile worker ants as his model, CD suggested that even though they were unable to propagate their own kind, ‘selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual, and may thus gain the desired end.’ (ibid., p. 237).
The reference is to Richard Owen’s review of Origin ([R. Owen] 1860b, pp. 524–6). For a reference by Charles Lyell to the discussion in Origin of ‘working ants’, see Correspondence vol. 7, letter from Charles Lyell, 3 October 1859.
The information on Volucella, commonly known as the hover-fly, was included in the letter from H. W. Bates, [before 25 September 1861]. See also letter from H. W. Bates, 30 September 1861. In November 1861, CD visited the British Museum and examined the exhibition of South American insects collected by Bates (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 November [1861]).
A paper by Bates on mimetic butterflies was read before the Linnean Society of London on 21 November 1861 (Bates 1861b).
The reference may be to Cuthbert Collingwood’s paper on what he called ‘homomorphism’ or ‘representative form’ (Collingwood 1860a). Collingwood had sent CD a copy of the work, which is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. See letter to Cuthbert Collingwood, 14 March [1861]. CD may also have read another of Collingwood’s papers on this topic (Collingwood 1860c).


Bates, Henry Walter. 1861. Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley. Lepidoptera: Heliconidæ. [Read 21 November 1861.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 23 (1860–2): 495–566.

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Journal and remarks: Journal and remarks. 1832–1836. By Charles Darwin. Vol. 3 of Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle’s circumnavigation of the globe. London: Henry Colburn. 1839. [Separately published as Journal of researches.]

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

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.


Recommends publisher for HWB; admires J. van Voorst but suggests Murray.

In reply to HWB’s letter [missing], comments on neuters and mimicry.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Henry Walter Bates
Sent from
Source of text
Cleveland Health Sciences Library (Robert M. Stecher collection)
Physical description
ALS 10pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3266,” accessed on 13 April 2024,

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