skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Ernst Dieffenbach    4 July [1843]

Down | near Bromley | Kent

July 4th.—

Dear Sir

I have only this morning received your very obliging communication.—1 I assure you I have seldom been more gratified than at the distinction you have conferred on my Journal by translating it. I have some fears whether Mr Colburn will permit the use of the Plate & I am sure he will not gratis, but I have asked him to affix some price to it, & if that price be moderate, I will willingly pay it & transmit the plate for your use.—2

I will commence looking through my Journal & will send you on thin paper a few corrections.—3 I transmit for your acceptance a copy of a small work on Coral-Reefs;4 perhaps you will be good enough to insert a note to the effect that the chapter in my Journal is only a rough sketch of the facts & details given in full in this work.— Would you like to have the use of the woodcuts, from my Coral-volume to illustrate that chapter; I could lend them you for no charge.— I also transmit copies of some papers; perhaps you will be so good as just to refer to the existence of two of them in notes—one to the account of the Concepcion earthquake5 —& the other to the chapter, in which I treat of erratic boulders & glaciers.— 6

Will you inform me pretty soon, whether you would like some of the woodcuts out of my coral-volume—& whether you intend to print any part of the Appendix.— I would in that case wish the manner I speak of Agassiz altered, as I am ashamed of it, though convinced that his extension of the glacier-theory is preposterous, though now fully aware what good service he has done in this department of Geology.—7 Would it be worth while for you to refer to Prof. Owens descriptions of the extraordinary fossils which I discovered in S. America.—8 I daresay there is a copy of the Zoology of the Beagle’s Voyage in Berlin & the first Part contains descriptions of these fossils— I do not think it would take you long just to give a short sketch of these monsters, & I think such a sketch would have some general interest.— I will endeavour not to make my corrections more bulky than I can help, & I daresay if put in the form of a few notes, they would be the least trouble to yourself.— I hope that you as editor, with your extensive knowledge will add some criticisms or notes, which would add value & interest to the work.

I have not yet read your work on New Zealand, though I have had it for some time on my list, having ⁠⟨⁠been⁠⟩⁠ exceedingly interested by some extracts which ap⁠⟨⁠peared⁠⟩⁠ in the Gardeners Chronicle;—9 I regret I saw ⁠⟨⁠so⁠⟩⁠ little of you before your long voyage:10 I ⁠⟨⁠was⁠⟩⁠ at that time much out of health, which is yet so far from reestablished & has interrupted the prospects of my life, which I had anxiously hoped in a humble way to have devoted to science.—

It is most gratifying to me that your eminent countrymen Liebig & the great Humboldt (to whose works I am indebted for my first wish to travel) should approve of my volume.—11

You will see my address at the head of this letter—& when you have leisure, I hope you will answer the foregoing queries: I will inform you of the result of my application to Colburn immediately that I receive his answer.—

Pray believe me dear Sir with much respect. | Yours very faithfully | C. Darwin

P.S. I have been for some years employed in collecting facts in connection with the question of the difference between varieties or races & species. This led me to print two or three years since some rather crude “Questions”—12 Should you have an unoccupied half hour at any time, would you oblige me by reading them over, & make any remarks or answers (if such occur to you) on the margin & return the paper to me. I shd feel greatly indebted, as “Species” is a subject, which I intend sometime to publish on.—


Dieffenbach’s letter has not been found. CD mentioned it in a letter to Henry Colburn, 4 July [1843] (Correspondence vol. 2). Dieffenbach had apparently informed CD of his intention to publish a German translation of CD’s Journal of researches. The translation appeared in 1844. A few pages of the translation, annotated by CD, are in the Darwin Library–CUL.
See Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Henry Colburn, 4 July [1843]. The publishing firm of Henry Colburn had issued both Journal and remarks (1839) and the retitled version, Journal of researches, also published in 1839. The work contained two plates; CD refers to the map of South America, which was included in the German edition. See Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Ernst Dieffenbach, 19 July [1843].
See Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Ernst Dieffenbach, 15 August [1843]. The corrections were incorporated into the German edition.
Coral reefs had been published by Smith, Elder, and Company in 1842. The woodcuts to which CD refers, illustrating the ring-forming atolls, are on pp. 2 and 3. Dieffenbach included them in the translator’s remarks at the end of the second part of the German edition (Dieffenbach trans. 1844, pt 2: 300).
‘On the connexion of certain volcanic phenomena in South America’ (1840) (Collected papers 1: 53–86). This paper was not cited in the German edition.
‘On the distribution of the erratic boulders and on the contemporaneous unstratified deposits of South America’ (1842) (Collected papers 1: 145–63). Dieffenbach cited this paper in his translator’s preface (Dieffenbach trans. 1844, p. x).
CD refers to his criticism in the addendum of Journal of researches, pp. 617–8, of the views published by Louis Agassiz. See also Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Louis Agassiz, 1 March [1841]. Dieffenbach did not include the addendum in the German translation.
Richard Owen described the fossil mammals from the Beagle voyage (Fossil Mammalia). Dieffenbach cited Owen’s identification of several specimens in the remarks he appended to part one of the German edition (Dieffenbach trans. 1844, pt 1: 311, 312). An advertisement for Zoology was also included at the back of the volume.
Dieffenbach 1843. The extracts were published in the Gardener’s Magazine 19 (1843): 126–30. CD had entered the work into the ‘Books to be read’ section of his reading notebook and later recorded having read it on 30 November 1843 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, *119: 17v.; 119: 13a).
Dieffenbach had lived in New Zealand between 1839 and 1841, acting as surgeon and naturalist to the New Zealand Company.
For Alexander von Humboldt’s praise of CD’s Journal and remarks, see Correspondence vol. 2, letter from Alexander von Humboldt, 18 September 1839. See also Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [3–17 February 1844], in which CD told Joseph Dalton Hooker that Dieffenbach translated his Journal of researches ‘at the instigation of Liebig & Humboldt’. Justus von Liebig was a patron of Dieffenbach.
For a transcription of CD’s ‘Questions about the breeding of animals’, drawn up in 1839, see Correspondence vol. 3, Appendix IV. There is no record of any reply from Dieffenbach.


Dieffenbach, Ernst. 1843. Travels in New Zealand; with contributions to the geography, geology, botany, and natural history of that country. 2 vols. London.


CD gratified that ED wants to translate his Journal. Will send a copy of Coral reefs, which contains a fuller treatment of topic. Perhaps ED would insert a note to this effect. Can lend woodcuts from Coral reefs if ED wants. CD will send a few corrections; he wants to amend way he criticised Agassiz’s glacier theory.

He is also enclosing a questionnaire concerning differences between races or varieties and species, about which he intends to publish sometime.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Ernst Dieffenbach
Sent from
Hamburg 21 7 43
Source of text
Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt (Nachlass Künzel Br./3/VII/1)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 680A,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7 (Supplement)