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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Murray   28 January [1867]1

Albemarle St

Jany 28

My Dear Sir

Pray put yourself at ease about the publication of your new book.2 I will publish it for you coute qui coute provided you will be content that I pay you one half the profits of the edition instead of a sum down at first—3 This I ask because—no doubt there is considerably greater risque in this than in the publication of your former works.—4

This work is not intended nor likely to become generally popular but I think after the sale of 6000 of your “Origins” I can count upon 500 purchasers of these new volumes—the “Pièces Justificatives” on wch that work is founded & I wd propose to print an Edition of 750 copies5—in the size type & page of Lyells Principles— like wch it will make 2 volumes 8vo.6

I have heard from my literary friend—but have not yet got back the MS.S from him— He certainly finds it difficult of digestion but he is not a man of science so his opinion is not a fair test altogether—7 Still in the face of it, I venture to submit to you the above proposal.

I am My Dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | John Murray

I hope to return the MS. this week | JM

Charles Darwin Esq


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to John Murray, 27 January [1867].
For CD’s concern regarding whether Murray would publish Variation, see the letter to John Murray, 27 January [1867] and n. 3. Murray had also assured CD he would publish the work in his letter of 9 January [1867].
When Murray published the fourth edition of Origin in 1866, he agreed to pay CD two-thirds of the profits when half of the copies had been sold; for earlier editions of Origin, CD had received that sum on publication (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter from John Murray, 24 February [1866]). On CD’s astute management of royalty payments for his books, see Browne 2002, pp. 97, 461. Murray misspelled coûte que coûte (‘at all costs’).
CD had also expressed concern that Variation might not appeal to the public (see Correspondence vol. 13, Correspondence vol. 14, especially letters to John Murray, 22 February [1866] and 21 and 22 December [1866], and this volume, letter to John Murray, 3 January [1867]).
According to Freeman 1977, pp. 122–3, Murray published 1500 copies of Variation in January 1868, but these sold out in one week, most to booksellers; another 1250 copies (with some changes inserted by CD) were issued in February 1868.
Murray refers to the tenth edition of Charles Lyell’s Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1867–8; see letter from John Murray, 2 January [1867]).
Murray refers to John Milton. See letter to John Murray, 27 January [1867] and n. 1.


Browne, Janet. 2002. Charles Darwin. The power of place. Volume II of a biography. London: Pimlico.

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.

Lyell, Charles. 1867–8. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 10th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

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.

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


JM will publish [Variation] "coute qui coute", paying CD half the profits.

Thinks he can count on 500 purchases of what he calls the "Pièces Justificatives" of the Origin and will print 750 copies.

His literary friend found it "difficult of digestion".

Letter details

Letter no.
John Murray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Albemarle St
Source of text
DAR 171: 344
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5380,” accessed on 22 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15