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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Lubbock   15 December [1874]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Dec. 15th

My dear Sir John

I am sorry to trouble you, but will you be so good as to send me 10s for Down Friendly Club, before the year closes, so that I may keep accounts square.—2

I have just read with greatest interest your most laborious & valuable experiments on Bees & Wasps in Linn. Journal.— I am astonished at their stupidity. Especially good, as it seems to me, are the experiments on colour.—3

You ought to examine their retina—see enclosed on eyes of Reptiles & Birds; but perhaps it wd. be impossible4

Yours sincerely | 〈Ch Darwin5


The year is established by the reference to Lubbock 1874–7 (see n. 3, below).
CD had founded the Down Friendly Club, a local savings and insurance society to which Lubbock was a regular donor (Moore 1985, p. 466; Correspondence vol. 7, letter to John Lubbock, 14 December [1859]).
The first part of Lubbock’s four-part paper on his observations of ants, bees, and wasps (Lubbock 1874–7) was published in the issue of the Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Zoology) for 3 November 1874. CD underlined and scored the passage about bees and wasps seeming to have a preference for orange and yellow on page 29 of his copy, which is now in the collection of his unbound journals in the Darwin Archive–CUL. Lubbock’s observations suggested that bees were not so good as finding a dish of honey as had been supposed, were not likely to communicate a find to other bees, and could not follow an indirect route home without repeated coaching. Wasps seemed slightly cleverer.
The enclosure has not been identified. Lubbock did not report observations on bees’ retinas in the second, third, or fourth parts of Lubbock 1874–7.
The signature has been excised, and another hand has written ‘signed Ch Darwin’ under the gap.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Lubbock, John. 1874–7. Observations on the habits of ants, bees, and wasps. [Read 19 March and 17 December 1874, 4 November 1875, and 1 February 1877.] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Zoology) 12 (1876): 110–39, 227–51, 445–514; 13 (1878): 217–58.

Moore, James Richard. 1985. Darwin of Down: the evolutionist as squarson-naturalist. In The Darwinian heritage, edited by David Kohn. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press in association with Nova Pacifica (Wellington, NZ).

Zoology: The zoology of the voyage of HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. Edited and superintended by Charles Darwin. 5 pts. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1838–43.


Asks JL to send ten shillings for the Down Friendly Club.

Has just read JL’s paper on bees and wasps [J. Linn. Soc. Lond. (Zool.) 12 (1876): 110–39]. Is astonished by their stupidity. The experiments on colour are especially good. Suggests JL examine their retinas; sends enclosure [missing] on eyes of reptiles and birds.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9760,” accessed on 22 November 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22