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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Albert Günther   23 September 1869

British Museum


My dear Sir

In order to show you how much pleasure I have in answering your queries, I express a hope that this is merely the first batch of questions1

I am glad to say that Mr Ford will be able to complete your drawings within 2 months, & he has been at work at them today.2 With regard to the heads of Salmon, a figure of a male S. lycaodon can be copied from Richardson,3 but then we have no female of this species. Therefore I should advise you to take a British Salmonoid which will answer your purpose perfectly.4 Again, you require the figures of males & females of exactly the same size, but then one sex is sometimes the larger, as in Callion. draco,5 & therefore your figures would be faulty in this respect. I wait for your instructions.

It is but a short time ago that you told me that a good wife is the greatest blessing for a man.6 How often did I remember these words, when I hurried away from trouble & work home where peace & happiness awaited me. Alas! it was a short dream in life’s long night—my wife who was the greatest blessing to me every day of our married life, has been taken away from me. Last month she gave birth to a strong & healthy child, a boy; all appeared to go well, when the excessive heat came, & with it a fever which hurried her off into an early grave.7

A time & a trial like this make a man think of affairs beyond the grave; and that men must be strong who can rest satisfied with the glimpses or the semblance of truth gained by man’s speculation. I confess I am weak enough to require better comfort, & this I can only find in faith into truth revealed

Yours ever faithfully | A Günther


CD had enclosed a list of queries in his letter to Albert Günther of 21 September 1869.
Günther refers to George Henry Ford. See letter to Albert Günther, 21 September 1869.
Salmo lycaodon is now Oncorhynchus nerka, the sockeye salmon. It is described in J. Richardson 1829–37, 3: 222–3 as S. paucidens but not figured. John Richardson describes it as being similar to S. scouleri (now Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, the pink salmon) and refers to the plate for that species (pl. 93), which includes a figure of the head of a male.
Illustrations of the heads of male and female common salmon (Salmo salar, the Atlantic salmon) appear in Descent 2: 4 and 5. They were drawn by Ford from specimens at the British Museum. CD discussed the change in colour and jaw shape in male salmon during the breeding season, remarking that these changes were thought to be permanent in Salmo lycaodon, native to western North America. CD’s source for this information, John Keast Lord, was evidently unaware that unlike Atlantic salmon, sockeye salmon die shortly after spawning (for more on salmon breeding systems, see Fleming and Reynolds 2004).
Günther probably refers to Callionymus dracunculus, which had been recognised as the female of C. lyra, the dragonet. In Descent 2: 7–8, CD discussed sexual dimorphism in C. lyra and included illustrations of both sexes.
CD may have said this to Günther in person. They met in London in March 1868 (see letter to Albert Günther, 21 September 1869 and n. 2).
Günther’s wife, Roberta, died on 2 September 1869. Their son, Robert William Theodore Gunther, was born on 23 August 1869. (ODNB s.v. Günther, Albert Charles Lewis Gotthilf, and Gunther, Robert William Theodore.)


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

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Richardson, John. 1829–37. Fauna Boreali-Americana; or, the zoology of the northern parts of British America. Assisted by William Swainson and William Kirby. 4 vols. London and Norwich: John Murray; Richard Bentley; J. Fletcher.


Mr Ford is attending to CD’s drawings [for Descent].

Death of AG’s wife.

Letter details

Letter no.
Albrecht Carl Ludwig Gotthilf (Albert) Günther
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 165: 243
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6906,” accessed on 23 September 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17