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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Rudolf Oldenbourg   28 October 1866

Munich | Bavaria

28th. October 1866.

Dear Sir!

I hope you will excuse the liberty I take in writing this letter to you, which, I am afraid, will come too late reach its purpose.

I read in the papers, that your work “domesticated animals and cultivated plants” is just out,1 and I wish to publish a german translation of it through my house (firm: Cotta & Coy. in Stuttgart, and Munich),2 if you have not allready disposed of such a translation, what I allmost must guess through a letter, which you wrote in June to my friend Professor Nägeli.3

I thought, to have the translation to be done by Dr. Peschel, the author of some works of best repute (Geschichte der Erdkunde),4 if you would give your consent to such a plan.

Being for many years a personal admirer of your studies, I had reason to regret, that the german translations of your works, untill now, allways fell into hands, which were not quite fit for it, though the translators were respectable men.

I recollect, that when 12 years ago I read your journey in South America, translated by Dieffenbach, I could not help smiling at the remarquable awkwardness of poor Mr. Dieffenbach’s translation, who in a life of travel-toil had forgot his german.5 More serious are the insufficiencies of Mr. Bronn’s translation of your “origin” because they have actually caused misunderstandings and doubts, which could be removed only by those, who were able to recur to the English original6

Your friend Prof Huxley was much better introduced into the german world, and my sincere wish would be to give your eminent productions a german garment equally worthy of their great merits.7

As to the respectability of my house you will easily get information in any of the foreign bookselling-houses in London, Messrs Williams and Norgate or Duleau.8

I am, dear Sir, | your most obedt. servant | R. Oldenbourg

Prof Nägeli told me yesterday that he was going to write to you in a few days9

Charles Darwin Esqr. | Down | Bromley | Kent S.E.

CD annotations

On verso: ‘Oldenbourg on Translation of Domestic Animals’ ink


The reference is to Variation, which was not published until January 1868. CD’s publisher had advertised the book as forthcoming as early as April 1865 (Reader, 15 April 1865, p. 427). The book was also advertised in the 1 August 1865 issue of the Publishers’ Circular, p. 386, under the title: ‘Domesticated Animals and Cultivated Plants, or the Principles of Variation, Inheritance, Reversion, Crossing, Interbreeding, and Selection under Domestication’.
Oldenbourg was the business manager for the Munich branch of the firm J. G. Cotta’schen Buchhandlung (Bosl ed. 1983). The German edition of Variation (Carus trans. 1868) was published by E. Schweizerbart’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung.
The reference is to Carl Wilhelm von Nägeli, who was professor of botany at Munich. CD had written to Nägeli on 12 June [1866] to praise his paper on the origin and concept of species (Nägeli 1865). He told Nägeli that the fourth edition of Origin would be translated into German but did not mention Variation.
Oldenbourg refers to Oscar Ferdinand Peschel and Peschel 1865.
The reference is to Ernst Dieffenbach and Dieffenbach trans. 1844.
For more criticisms of Heinrich Georg Bronn’s translations of Origin (Bronn trans. 1860 and Bronn trans. 1863), see the letters from Rudolf Suchsland, 16 March 1866 and 2 April 1866.
Thomas Henry Huxley’s book, Evidence as to man’s place in nature (T. H. Huxley 1863a) had been translated into German by Julius Victor Carus (Carus trans. 1863). Carl Vogt translated On our knowledge of the causes of the phenomena of organic nature (T. H. Huxley 1863b; Vogt trans. 1865).
The booksellers and publishers Williams & Norgate specialised in foreign scientific literature, with premises at Covent Garden, London, and South Frederick Street, Edinburgh. Dulau & Co., who specialised in foreign language books, had premises at 37 Soho Square, London (Publishers’ Circular 1866).
No letter from Nägeli to CD from this period has been found.


Nägeli, Carl Wilhelm von. 1865. Entstehung und Begriff der naturhistorischen Art. 2d edition. Munich: Verlag der königl. Akademie.

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.

Peschel, Oscar Ferdinand. 1865. Geschichte der Erdkunde bis auf A. v. Humboldt und Carl Ritter. Vol. 4 of Geschichte der Wissenschaften in Deutschland. Neuere Zeit. Munich: J. G. Cotta’schen Buchhandlung.

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


Proposes O. F. Peschel as a German translator of Variation, which his firm would like to publish.

Letter details

Letter no.
Rudolf Oldenbourg
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 173: 12
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5258,” accessed on 21 January 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14