skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From S. P. Woodward   14 February 1863

British Museum.

Feby. 14/63

Dear Sir,

I have been unable to find the Review of your ‘Orchids’ which I promised to send—or at least the copy of it just then given me by one of my colleagues— But if you will not mind the trouble of returning it I will send a rough proof—& also (by way of complement) another article contra Scottos—which it is to be hoped they enjoyed, altho’ not nearly equal to their deserts.1

When I first read the ‘Origin’ I made a list of errata & objections—but found them not worth sending.2 I have only seen the first ed. & you must have long since corrected such errata as p. 49 Primula acuulis or p. 29 where “Herefords” were spoken of as if they were “Short-horns”—3 Did you notice when you came to see the Assyrian relics, the little bas-relief of the Tibetan mastiff?4 Its character is well represented—in contrast with ⁠⟨⁠the⁠⟩⁠ Syrian hunting dogs—

There was an obscure expression at p. 429 where you speak of no “single insect of a new order being found in Australia”— If any new order (i.e unknown elsewhere) should be f⁠⟨⁠ound⁠⟩⁠ there, it would surely be represented by many specie⁠⟨⁠s.⁠⟩⁠ The phrase appears to require inversion—5

Respecting that endless problem—the honeycomb! Mr Walter Mitchell objects that if the form of the cell results only from the necessity of the case (as I hold) then the chances are a million to one against the result we get—6 The cell of the humble bee is elliptical—& the chances are that the bottom of the honey bees’ cell will be elliptical—or more or less obtuse than it is now. But I cannot see the force of this objection as the chances are the same against any form you may please to imagine—& not more against the true sphere than the spheroid— The shape & proportions of the honey bee being what they are it must strike a circle—or excavate a segment of a sphere— If it were more acute or more obtuse it would make something different—but I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t just as soon happen to be— what it is—

Mr Mitchell could understand the form of the bees’ cell if wax had a hexagonal cleavage like graphite (which is C’.) But according to the accepted doctrine it must have a cleavage (whether apparent to us or not) at right angles to the incidence of pressure—& that (according to my notion) will be such as to give hexagonal cleavage—

⁠⟨⁠six lines excised⁠⟩⁠

If you come to a — edn. I hope you will erase all mention of Buckman’s expts. at Cirencester—7 it will be better not to mention his name than give it with the admission made in ed. 1. I went to see my old “B.G.” at Cisseter under Buckman’s managemt, & took care to examine it alone8 “What I saw there I will not declare”—9 But it will be sufficient to say that one of the students (who owed the Prof. a grudge) confessed to R. Tomes (vespertilio)10 that he himself had mixed the seeds intended for experiment in the Botanic Garden—

Have you met Mr Lord? the traveller in Oregon—11 He brought up the other day, (just before you came) two varieties of Musk rat— One builds houses out in the water, like the Beaver— the other burrows in the bank & only makes sub-aqueous runs— Yet Waterhouse would not admit any difference in the animals!12

⁠⟨⁠six lines excised⁠⟩⁠ roots chiefly, are not nearly so formidable as described— Whereas the same species on the East flank of the Rocky mtns feeding on Bisons (left by the Indian Hunters) become large & heavy & very savage.13

Yours sincerely | S. P. Woodward

Chas Darwin Esqe

CD annotations

1.1 I have … p. 49 2.3] crossed pencil
2.3 p. 29 … “Short-horns”— 2.4] double scored pencil
3.1 There was … specie⁠⟨⁠s.⁠⟩⁠ 3.3] double scored pencil
6.1 If you … animals! 7.4] scored pencil
8.1 roots … savage. 8.3] scored pencil
Top of first page: ‘Musk Rat | 2 vars in Habits | Bees   different Habits | Buffaloes | W. of Rocky Mountains’ ink


The review and article to which Woodward refers have not been identified. While he was in London between 4 and 14 February 1863, CD visited the British Museum (see n. 4, below), where Woodward worked as an assistant in the department of geology and mineralogy (DNB).
CD sent Woodward a presentation copy of Origin (see Correspondence vol. 8, Appendix III).
In the first edition of Origin (1859), CD referred in error to the primrose and cowslip, respectively, as ‘Primula veris and elatior’ (Origin, p. 49). This should have read ‘Primula vulgaris and veris’. P. acaulis (‘acuulis’ is a misspelling) is English primrose. CD corrected his mistake in the second edition (1860). Concerning the Hereford breed of cattle, CD had written: ‘Ask, as I have asked, a celebrated raiser of Hereford cattle, whether his cattle might not have descended from long-horns, and he will laugh you to scorn’ (Origin, p. 29). The sentence remained unaltered in subsequent editions.
CD visited the British Museum while he was staying in London between 4 and 14 February (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II), and letter from Frederick Smith, 11 February 1863). The reference is to an Assyrian bas-relief, dated circa 640 B.C., taken from the tomb of the son of Esar-haddon, king of Assyria. In Variation, CD stated that he had seen drawings and clay models of the antiquity in the British Museum, adding that there was some doubt as to whether the dog depicted was a ‘Thibetan mastiff’ (Variation 1: 17, n. 4). An illustration of the bas-relief is given in Nott and Gliddon 1854, p. 392, an annotated copy of which is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 603–6). CD used the evidence of the representation of dogs in antiquities to argue that the different breeds existing in modern times were of extreme antiquity and multiple origin (Variation 1: 33).
The phrase referred to occurs in the following sentence (Origin, p. 429): As showing how few the higher groups are in number, and how widely spread they are throughout the world, the fact is striking, that the discovery of Australia has not added a single insect belonging to a new order; and that in the vegetable kingdom … it has added only two or three orders of small size. This sentence was modified in subsequent editions of Origin, but not in the form suggested by Woodward. CD changed ‘order’ to ‘class’ in the second edition, and in the third edition, ‘only two or three orders’ is replaced by ‘only two or three families’. There were further slight changes to the sentence in the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions (see Peckham ed. 1959, p. 670).
Walter Mitchell was a clergyman and natural philosopher with a special interest in crystallography (Alum. Cantab.). CD discussed bee-cell construction in Origin, pp. 224–35. In his discussion, CD sought to demonstrate that the hexagonal geometry of the honeycomb constructed by hive-bees could be explained by reference to simple instincts and natural selection. CD made several minor changes to the text in subsequent editions, but did not discuss the point raised by Mitchell (see Peckham ed. 1959, pp. 402–12).
James Buckman was professor of geology and botany at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester (DNB). In Origin, p. 10, discussing the effect of external conditions as a cause of variation, CD described ‘extremely valuable’ research by Buckman that appeared to show that species of the same genus, differing widely in appearance in their natural habitat, became indistinguishable from one another when grown under the same conditions in experimental plots (Buckman 1857). CD had held the ‘deepest & most lively interest’ in these experiments (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to James Buckman, 4 October [1857]). There is an annotated copy of Buckman’s paper in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. The reference to Buckman’s work was removed from the fourth edition of Origin (Peckham ed. 1959, p. 82).
Between 1845 and 1848, Woodward occupied the chair of geology and natural history at the newly established Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester (Woodward 1881, pp. 286–90). ‘B.G.’ is an abbreviation for botanic garden.
The source of the quotation has not been identified.
Robert Fisher Tomes had published many papers on the Vespertilionidae (Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers); Vespertilio is a genus of bats.
In 1858, John Keast Lord was appointed naturalist to the British North American boundary commission sent to British Columbia and Washington Territory (DNB). Lord travelled through Oregon in May 1860 (Lord 1866).
Lord displayed two specimens of muskrat at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London on 24 March 1863, claiming that although the structural differences were trivial, his new species Fiber osoyooensis differed from the well-known F. zibethecus in habit, size, colour, and distribution, and therefore was a separate species, not a well-marked variety of the same species (Lord 1863). George Robert Waterhouse was keeper of geology in the department of natural history at the British Museum and a vice-president of the Zoological Society (Post Office London directory 1863, British imperial calendar 1863).
This may be a reference to the prairie wolf; in Variation 1: 22, CD states: North America is inhabited by a second kind of wolf, the prairie-wolf (Canis latrans), which is now looked at by all naturalists as specifically distinct from the common wolf; and is, according to Mr. J. K. Lord, in some respects intermediate in habits between a wolf and a fox.


Alum. Cantab.: Alumni Cantabrigienses. A biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900. Compiled by John Venn and J. A. Venn. 10 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1922–54.

British imperial calendar: The British imperial calendar or general register of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and its colonies. London: Winchester & Son [and others]. 1812–1919.

Buckman, James. 1857. Report on the experimental plots in the Botanical Garden of the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester. Report of the 27th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Dublin, pp. 200–15.

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

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Lord, John Keast. 1863. Notes on two new species of mammals. Proceedings of the scientific meetings of the Zoological Society of London (1863): 95–8.

Lord, John Keast. 1866. The naturalist in Vancouver Island and British Columbia. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

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.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.

Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers: Catalogue of scientific papers (1800–1900). Compiled and published by the Royal Society of London. 19 vols. and index (3 vols.). London: Royal Society of London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1867–1925.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

Woodward, Horace B. 1881. A memoir of Dr S. P. Woodward ALS, FGS, &c., with a list of his published papers. [Read 26 April 1881.] Transactions of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society 3 (1879–84): 279–312.


Points out some errata in the Origin.

Discusses the factors producing the shape of the cells of the honeycomb.

Reports case of two varieties of musk-rat that behave very differently but are, according to Waterhouse, the same.

Letter details

Letter no.
Samuel Pickworth Woodward
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 181: 154
Physical description
ALS 4pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3984,” accessed on 7 February 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11