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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow   [21 January 1838]

[36 Great Marlborough Street]


My dear Henslow

Will you be good enough to forward the accompanying parcel to Professor Miller.— It is a curious rock, which has been pitched out of a volcano & may possibly interest him; as thanks be to the powers of crystallization, it has a definite form.—

The next time you go the Public Library,1 & the weather becomes a little less cold, so that you can venture into the cellar, will you just turn over the pages of Webb & —— on the Canary Isld:2 —a grand French work, which I believe I saw there,—and just look and see if there is any geology in it? I am particularly interested about Teneriffe, and I want to know, supposing all methods fail (as is not improbable) of getting to read it in London, would it be possible to persuade Mr Lodge to allow the text part to be sent for a short time here to me.? I of course taking the responsibility of any accident to the work.—

The second point I wanted to ask you about: is, I find my geology, nolens volens, is covering so much paper, & will take so much time, that it has occurred to me of late, that it would be better to publish one volume separately, as I find it will not possibly be all contained in one Vol: Octavo: and the subject will bear division.— Now what I want to know, is whether, on the supposition that the Syndic would aid me in publication (which of ⁠⟨⁠course⁠⟩⁠ is the merest chance) laying the MS of one ⁠⟨⁠volume⁠⟩⁠ only before them would throw any difficulty in obtaining their assistance so far.? Will you think over it? It would I think be a pity if I had the MS of a volume ready by the middle of summer, to delay that for another year in order to wait for a second volume, with which it would have little connection.— But on the other hand, by waiting the first might no doubt be rendered more complete.—3

I have accepted the Secret of G. Soc.; as Whewell asked me again in a very pleasant manner, & as the duties are lessened, I could not refuse with fairness, although it is an office, which I do not relish.—

I have sent a copy of my journal, as far as complete, to Mr Whewell, for him to review the Geolog: part, in his anniversary speech.—4

I send this letter &c &c by Mr Babbage.—

I saw Leonard J: for an hour, the day before he returned, he was looking, I thought, very well.

MrsHenslow has asked me to pay Cambridge a visit. I should much like it, but, as long as I continue well, I cannot bear to leave my work even for half a day.— In the early spring, I will, however, pay you a flying visit, & we will have a good walk in pure air, instead of in this abominable murky atmosphere of London.—

Dear Henslow, goodbye | Yours C. D


Webb and Berthelot 1836–50. The work was published in 106 ‘livraisons’ which contained matter belonging to several volumes, to be collated before being bound. The geology of the islands is described in Tome 2, Partie 1, published in 1839, but according to Stearn 1937 some parts were available as early as 1836.
Early in 1838, Smith, Elder & Co., the publishers, advertised a single octavo volume for that year, entitled Geological observations on volcanic islands and coral formations. This plan was given up; Coral reefs was published in 1842, Volcanic islands appeared in 1844, and South America in 1846 (Freeman 1977, p. 57). From the reference to the Syndics it is clear that CD anticipated that the Treasury grant would not be sufficient to pay for publishing the geology of the voyage. The Syndics have not been identified. It is possible that Henslow and CD thought of changing publishers for the geological volumes if the Cambridge University Press Syndics would provide support, but no evidence of such a request has been found. In May 1842, when Coral islands was published, CD wrote to his wife, ‘the government money has gone much quicker than I thought’ (letter to Emma Darwin, [9 May 1842]). In order to complete publication of the three-part work, CD and Smith, Elder & Co. advanced an unspecified sum (see South America, p. iii).
In his Anniversary Address (16 February 1838) Whewell discussed CD’s contributions to geology and summed up his opinion of his work as follows: ‘Looking at the general mass of his results, the account of which he has been kind enough to place in my hands, I cannot help considering his voyage round the world as one of the most important events for geology which has occurred for many years.’ (Whewell 1838, p. 643).


Coral reefs: The structure and distribution of coral reefs. Being the first part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1842.

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.

South America: Geological observations on South America. Being the third part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1846.

Stearn, William T. 1937. On the dates of publication of Webb and Berthelot’s "Histoire naturelle des Îles Canaries’. Journal of the Society for the

Volcanic islands: Geological observations on the volcanic islands, visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle, together with some brief notices on the geology of Australia and the Cape of Good Hope. Being the second part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1844.

Whewell, William. 1838. Address to the Geological Society, delivered at the anniversary, on the 16th of February, 1838. Proceedings of the Geological Society of London 2 (1833–8): 624-49.


Sends rock specimen for W. H. Miller. Asks JSH to see whether there is any geology in P. B. Webb and Sabin Berthelot, Histoire naturelle des Îles Canaries [1835–50]. Finds his work on geology growing so large that it will take more than one volume and asks whether this will make publication aid more difficult.

Has accepted Secretaryship of the Geological Society.

Will not come to Cambridge because "as long as I continue well I cannot bear to leave my work for half a day".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
London, Gt Marlborough St, 36
Source of text
Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Dreer collection)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 400,” accessed on 2 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2