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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Lubbock   28 July 1864

High Elms, | Farnborough, | Kent.

28 July 64

My dear Mr. Darwin

You must I fear have thought that I had altogether forgotten your commissions;1 but I was very busy the first two or three days of the week.

Smith & Beck’s microtome seems to be merely a fine pair of scissors.2 Valentine’s knife is the instrument for thin sections.3

As for microscopic spectacles I send you a pair & also a binocular handmicroscope, which I took from Smith & Beck’s on approval, please return them soon if you dont like them.4

After leaving you I came to great grief, smashing my pony carriage to pieces & damaging the poor pony but doing myself no harm. I am sorry to say that the book you lent me got a little damaged, which I hope you will excuse

Was it not odd our falling in with Hooker on his way to you;5 we did not think him looking quite the thing, but very likely his day with you quite set him up.

Hoping to see you again, I remain, dear Mr Darwin | Yours very affectionately | John Lubbock

C Darwin Esq

P.S. Is the book that you recommended me “Cap. Greys Travels in North West & Western Australia.”?6


CD’s requests were apparently communicated when Lubbock came to lunch at Down on 17 July (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Lubbock refers to the London firm of instrument makers, Smith, Beck & Beck, which specialised in microscopes (G. L’E. Turner 1989, p. 121). The microtome was a dissecting instrument, designed like a pair of forceps with scissor-shaped blades (see Quekett 1848, p. 316, and Beck 1865, p. 115).
A Valentine’s knife was a double-bladed knife used for making fine sections of soft substances (see Beck 1865, p. 114, and Quekett 1848, pp. 318–19).
A range of hand microscopes are described in Beck 1865, pp. 109–11. On CD’s microscopes and microscopic methods, see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Isaac Anderson-Henry, 2 May [1863], n. 9, and LL 1: 110 and 145–6.
Joseph Dalton Hooker visited CD on Sunday 24 July (letter from J. D. Hooker to Asa Gray, 29 July 1864, Gray Herbarium of Harvard University). Lubbock may have met Hooker while visiting his family’s estate at High Elms, which bordered on CD’s property. Lubbock resided in Chislehurst, Kent, five miles from Down.
Grey 1841. CD had praised George Grey’s account of Australian aborigines (see Correspondence vol. 3, letter to George Grey, 10 November 1846). Grey’s work is cited in Natural selection, pp. 35–6 n. 2, 195 n. 3, and 492 n. 3, and in Descent 2: 364. See also letter to A. R. Wallace, 28 [May 1864] and n. 12.


Beck, Richard. 1865. A treatise on the construction, proper use, and capabilities of Smith, Beck, and Beck’s achromatic microscopes. London: John Van Voorst.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Grey, George. 1841. Journals of two expeditions of discovery in north-west and western Australia, during the years 1837, 38, and 39. 2 vols. London: T. and W. Boone.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Quekett, John. 1848. Quekett’s practical treatise on the use of the microscope. London: Hippolyte Bailliere. Paris: J. B. Baillere.

Turner, Gerard L’E. 1989. The great age of the microscope: the collection of the Royal Microscopical Society though 150 years. Bristol and New York: Adam Hilger.


Has obtained microscopes for CD.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Lubbock, 4th baronet and 1st Baron Avebury
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
High Elms
Source of text
DAR 170: 46
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4575,” accessed on 20 November 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12