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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Coldstream1    28 February 1829

My dear Darwin

I confess I was rather illpleased to receive your letter in place of yourself, as I had been looking for your arrival in Edinburgh every day for some weeks before; Mr Barker having apprised me of your intention to visit us about Christmas. However, as you may guess, even the letter received a hearty welcome. I hope this will find you restored to health, and engaged in planning a descent upon Scotland in the summer holidays. You ask me what I have been doing since I left Paris. I remained in France till June, when I set out for Prussia with the hope of ascending the Rhine, and travelling thro‘ Switzerland & the North of Italy. But I took ill in Westphalia and was obliged to hurry home thro’ Holland. I returned to Leith about the end of July, in a state of health which prevented me from deriving pleasure even from Natural History. I recovered very slowly, but now am quite well.

During the winter, I have been almost entirely engaged in practice, and have persevered in my abjuration of Zoology, with a few reservations in favor of walks along the Seashore & occasional visits to the Black rocks.2 I found these localities, abounding in so many interesting associations, and offering an ever varying succession of animals, to be more powerfully alluring even than the Jardin des Plantes. Perhaps there is no real occasion for the greif which you express, in imagining that I have entirely forsworn Natural History: I am still ready to agree with you in the sentiment ‘that no pursuit is more becoming for a physician than Nat: Hist:’ and I feel myself as much, if not more, inclined than ever, to look into the World of Nature around me, but I feel, that as I must soon enter upon the public & the responsible discharge of the duties of my profession, I owe it as a duty of the highest importance, both to others & to myself, to make up as perfectly as possible, the deficiencies in useful knowledge which, I have too good reason to fear, my devotion to science (unprofitable as it has been) has occasioned. You may depend upon this, at least, that “the good old Cause of Zoology” is not slighted by me; and of course, still less so, the friends in whose company I formerly prosecuted it.—

Glasspoole3 left Paris in May with the intention of going through Switzerland & Germany: I heard of his being in London in September; when I believe Dr Grant4 saw him: and I have since heard that he has settled in Brighton: or, at least, that he is living there. I was happy to receive intelligence regarding Mr Hope: I am greatly indebted to him for a valuable collection of types of the British genera of Coleoptera, which he sent me, probably with the view of stimulating me in the study of Entomology; but I have done very little in it. I am not unmindful of Mr Hope’s kindness, and although my long silence may appear to him a mark of ingratitude, and unpardonable carelessness, I am not without some expectation of being able at some future time to redeem my lost character in his eyes. You will probably have seen Dr Grant by the time you receive this. If you should be in London, be so good as present my kindest regards to him, and say, that I received his letter, and intend answering it shortly. You ask me for Edinburgh news, but truly I know of none worth giving you; excepting, indeed, that the Plinian 5 is flourishing most vigorously.— There are several very industrious young naturalists in it at present; and Brown6 continues to lend his matured experience in the presidency. David Ritchie has succeeded his father as minister of the Parish of Tarbolton in Ayr.7 Your request about the Carabidae I cannot answer. The only entomological information I can give you, is, that I had an excellent opportunity in Westphalia of examining the singular habits of the Bombyx processionaria (larva) described by Reamur.8 I verified most fully all his interesting description. The caterpillars were particularly abundant in the woods of Westphalia last year, and destroyed the leaves of almost all the oaks. You are, of course, aware of the publication of Dr. Fleming’s “British Animals”,9 and Mr Stark’s “elements of Natural History.”10 Dr. F’s is a very valuable work but Mr Stark’s, being more general and more complete, will probably enjoy the larger share of popularity. Dr Grant is engaged in the publication of “Outlines of Zoology & Comparative Anatomy.”—11

Be so good as write me again soon, and tell me something of the present state of Natural History in Cambridge. Have you had any opportunity of studying marine Zoology since you left this?—

With every affectionate wish I remain, | My Dear Darwin, | Yours most truly | John Coldstream


28th. Feb. 1829.


CD’s fellow medical student and friend at the University of Edinburgh. In the Autobiography, p. 48, CD describes him as ‘prim, formal, highly religious and most kind-hearted: he afterwards published some good zoological articles [for Todd’s Cyclopaedia of anatomy and physiology].’ He proposed CD for membership of the Plinian Society (see n. 5 below).
In a notebook in which CD recorded observations during the spring of 1827 there is the following entry: ‘Observed with Mr. Coldstream at the black rocks at Leith an Asterias rubens’ (DAR 118, p. 12).
Robert Edmond Grant, CD’s close associate and mentor in zoology at Edinburgh (see Jespersen 1948–9 and Autobiography, pp. 49, 51). In an article published in July 1827, on ‘the ova of the Pontobdella muricata’ Grant gave CD credit for being the first to identify them: ‘The merit of having first ascertained them [the ova] to belong to that animal is due to my zealous young friend Mr Charles Darwin of Shrewsbury, who kindly presented me with specimens of the ova exhibiting the animal in different stages of maturity’ (Grant 1827; Darwin Library–CUL: ‘Philosophical tracts’). This was the first scientific discovery by CD to be reported in print, though CD was not the first to make it (see Ashworth 1935: 105–6).
The Plinian Natural History Society was founded in 1823 by Robert Jameson. Ashworth 1935 has a detailed account of the Society. For mention of CD’s reports to it, see the letter to Caroline Darwin, 6 January 1826, n. 5.
In December 1826 Ritchie successfully opposed the election of Georges Cuvier and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach to honorary membership of the Plinian Society (Gruber and Barrett 1974, p. 39).
René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur. The Bombyx larva is described in Réaumur 1734–42, 1: 172, pl. V.
Fleming 1828 (Darwin Library–CUL).
No publication with this title has been located.


Ashworth, J. H. 1935. Charles Darwin as a student in Edinburgh, 1825–1827. [Read 28 October 1935.] Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 55 (1934–5): 97–113.

Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

Fleming, John. 1828. A history of British animals. Edinburgh.

Grant, Robert Edmond. 1827. Notice regarding the ova of the Pontobdella muricata, Lam. Edinburgh Journal of Science 7: 160–1.

Gruber, Howard Ernest and Barrett, Paul H. 1974. Darwin on man. A psychological study of scientific creativity … Together with Darwin’s early and unpublished notebooks. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co. London: Wildwood House.

Jesperson, P. Helveg. 1948. Charles Darwin and Dr Grant. Lychnos (1948–9): 159–67. [Vols. 1,9]

Réaumur, René Antoine Ferchault de. 1734–42. Memoires pour servir à l’histoire des insectes. 6 vols. Paris: Imprimerie royale.

Stark, John. 1828. Elements of natural history. 2 vols. Edinburgh and London.

Todd, Robert Bentley, ed. 1835–59. The cyclopaedia of anatomy and physiology. 5 vols. London: Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper.


News of his activities in recent months, of mutual Edinburgh acquaintances, and the Plinian Society.

JC has given up natural history for a time to prepare himself better for medical practice.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Coldstream
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 204: 33
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 58,” accessed on 21 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1