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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Emma Darwin   5 July 1844


July 5th.—1844

My. Dear. Emma.

I have just finished my sketch of my species theory.1 If, as I believe that my theory is true & if it be accepted even by one competent judge, it will be a considerable step in science.

I therefore write this, in case of my sudden death, as my most solemn & last request, which I am sure you will consider the same as if legally entered in my will, that you will devote 400£ to its publication & further will yourself, or through Hensleigh,2 take trouble in promoting it.— I wish that my sketch be given to some competent person, with this sum to induce him to take trouble in its improvement. & enlargement.— I give to him all my Books on Natural History, which are either scored or have references at end to the pages, begging him carefully to look over & consider such passages, as actually bearing or by possibility bearing on this subject.—3 I wish you to make a list of all such books, as some temptation to an Editor. I also request that you hand over him all those scraps roughly divided in eight or ten brown paper Portfolios:— The scraps with copied quotations from various works are those which may aid my Editor.—4 I also request that you (or some amanuensis) will aid in deciphering any of the scraps which the Editor may think possibly of use.— I leave to the Editor’s judgment whether to interpolate these facts in the text, or as notes, or under appendices. As the looking over the references & scraps will be a long labour, & as the correcting & enlarging & altering my sketch will also take considerable time, I leave this sum of 400£ as some remuneration & any profits from the work.— I consider that for this the Editor is bound to get the sketch published either at a Publishers or his own risk. Many of the scraps in the Portfolios contains mere rude suggestions & early views now useless, & many of the facts will probably turn out as having no bearing on my theory.

With respect to Editors.— Mr. Lyell would be the best if he would undertake it: I believe he wd find the work pleasant & he wd learn some facts new to him. As the Editor must be a geologist, as well as Naturalist. The next best Editor would be Professor Forbes of London.5 The next best (& quite best in many respects) would be Professor Henslow??. Dr. Hooker would perhaps correct the Botanical Part probably——he would do as Editor——6 Dr Hooker would be very good7 The next, Mr Strickland.—8 If no⁠⟨⁠ne⁠⟩⁠ of these would undertake it, I would request you to consult with Mr Lyell, or some other capable man, for some Editor, a geologist & naturalist.

Should one other hundred Pounds, make the difference of procuring a good Editor, I request earnestly that you will raise 500£.

My remaining collection in Natural History, may be given to anyone or any Museum, where it wd be accepted:—

My dear Wife | Yours affect | C. R. Darwin

If there shd be any difficulty in getting an editor who would go thoroughily into the subject & think of the bearing of the passages marked in the Books & copied out on scraps of Paper, then let my sketch be published as it is, stating that it was done several years ago9 & from memory, without consulting any works & with no intention of publication in its present form—

PS | Lyell, especially with the aid of Hooker (& of any good zoological aid) would be best of all

Without an Editor will pledge himself to give up time to it, it would be of no use paying such a sum.—10


Usually known as the essay of 1844, the name given to it by Francis Darwin, who published it with the pencil sketch of 1842 (Foundations; republished in de Beer ed. 1958).
The Cambridge University Library handlist entitled ‘Darwin Library: List of books received in the University Library Cambridge March–May, 1961’ records which works in the collection have CD annotations. A complete listing of CD’s marginalia in these books is being prepared by Mario di Gregorio. An earlier catalogue compiled at Francis Darwin’s request by H. W. Rutherford lists the books from CD’s library as they were in 1908 (Rutherford 1908).
After 1839, CD began the practice of filing his notes in separate classified portfolios. Many of the ‘scraps’ are still preserved together in various DAR volumes, e.g., DAR 46.1 has the notes assembled for writing ‘Struggle for existence’, chapter five of Natural selection, later chapter three of the Origin; other loose notes are in DAR 205.1 to DAR 205.11.
After this sentence CD wrote ‘or Mr Lonsdale (if his health wd permit).’ These words were deleted by CD, possibly at the same time as other alterations made to the letter, see nn. 6, 7, and 8, below.
The passage ‘Dr. Hooker … Editor——’ was written in the margin next to paragraph three; the intended position in the letter is unclear. CD at first wrote ‘——possibly he would do as Editor——’ and then, perhaps at a later date, altered it to read ‘probably——he’.
The sentence ‘Dr Hooker would be very good’ was added by CD, probably at the same time as he changed his previous remarks about Hooker (see n. 6, above) and queried Henslow’s name (see Manuscript alterations and comments).
After this sentence CD wrote and later deleted ‘Professor Owen wd be very good, but I presume he wd not undertake such a work.’
Francis Darwin (LL 2: 18) suggested that the words ‘several years ago’ were added later, but there is no evidence for this.
Ten years later, CD made the following note in pencil on the cover: ‘Hooker by far best man to edit my Species volume | Aug. 1854’. Another note in pencil on the cover, which has been crossed out, apparently by CD, reads: ‘NB When new Will made make Trusts open.’ CD also made pencil notes and markings inside the letter, presumably at the same time: the first page has been crossed out (ending with the sentence ‘I wish you to make a list of all such books, as some temptation to an Editor.’ 2.10) and at the top of the first page, the instruction ‘Read Enclosure’ was added. The enclosure has not been found. The pencil notes were undoubtedly connected with CD’s intention to write his ‘big book’ (Natural selection). On 9 September 1854 he began sorting his species notes in preparation (see CD’s ‘Journal’ (DAR 158); de Beer 1959, p. 13).


Foundations: The foundations of the Origin of Species. Two essays written in 1842 and 1844 by Charles Darwin. Edited by Francis Darwin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1909. [Reprint edition. New York: Kraus Reprint Co. 1969. Also reprinted in De Beer ed. 1958.]

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.

Rutherford, H. W. 1908. Catalogue of the library of Charles Darwin now in the Botany School, Cambridge … with an introduction by Francis Darwin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Asks that in the event of his death, Emma should have the sketch of his species theory edited and published. Suggests possible editors, among them Lyell, Edward Forbes, and J. D. Hooker. [CD annotation on cover: "Hooker by far best man to edit my species volume Aug 1854".]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Emma Wedgwood/Emma Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
Natural History Museum, Library and Archives (General Special Collections MSS DAR A4)
Physical description
ALS 4pp †† (by CD)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 761,” accessed on 13 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 3