skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Smith, Elder & Co.   6 June [1846]1

Down Farnborough Kent

June 6th.—

Dear Sir

I shall be ready in a week’s time to send the M.S. of my Geolog. Obser. on S. America to press,2 & therefore wish you to be so good as to draw up an agreement & make arrangements. The volume on the type hitherto used, would take up as I roughly calculate, 350 or 360 pages: there are 21 woodcuts—4 large copper-plates of engraved shells & one very large coloured section & a map.3 Hence the expence will be considerable & I must use every possible economy.4 I have already contracted through the Vice-Sec. of Geolog. Soc for all the engraving, printing off & paper for Plates, & cutting of wood-blocks, & these I will pay at once myself, so shall not draw on your funds for this expence.5 You are aware, that I shall give you no trouble going through the press, & that all you will have to do is to superintend sales &c & advance for printing, Paper, & Binding & advertisements.— Under these circumstances, I trust to your liberal kindness (which I have always experienced) to draw up as easy an agreement for me as you can fairly do towards yourselves; if it would make any considerable reduction in the per-centage commission charges &c I would undertake to pay the whole expence on the day of Publication; if not, I presume, at the balance at the end of the year.—6 Please turn this in your mind & let me hear soon: you had better perhaps, at once, send me a single copy of an Agreement for my Approval.

I shd like the paper to be of same price as before (has not the quality improved of late for same price?) namely 16s. 6d per ream.— With respect to type I find that a page of the Geological Journal (of which I send specimen, & please return it sometime) contains on an average 566 words, whereas my Coral & Volcanic vol’s contain only 381 words.; so that by using this type there would be a very great reduction in paper, printing off & cold pressing.7 Therefore with reluctance, I have resolved to sacrifice uniformity, keeping the outsides uniform, & use the type of the Geolog. Journal for text & notes.—

Being on the Council,8 I find Mr. Taylor’s9 charge for 750 copies, per sheet is £3〃8s〃0d, but this includes small type & woodcuts; which are very numerous in the Journal.— Messrs Stewart & Murray10 for my works charges for 500 copies not including small type & woodcuts £2.9s. so that there will be a great saving in using the smaller type in setting up.—

I have asked the Vice-Secretary to make some more exact enquiries what Mr Taylor’s charges are, for 500 copies, & not including small type & woodcuts. I shd. be sorry not to print with Messrs Stewart & Murray, to whose attention & kindness, I am indebted, but I have no choice, & am compelled to be rigidly economical. If they think it worth while to send me in an estimate of their charge for sheet of exactly same size, if the estimate be nearly the same, with Mr Taylor, I will certainly send my M. S. to them & shall much prefer doing so.:— I shd. be glad of an answer soon.

With respect to the number of copies to be struck off, though I know, if more than 250, I must pay for 500, yet seeing that hitherto, only 216 copies of Coral Reef & 143 of Volcanic isld have been sold, I really doubt whether it be worth printing off more than 350 copies,— I shd. like to hear your opinion on this.— I suspect it would answer for you, (as well as me) if you could offer all three Geological Parts bound together at a much reduced price: I am determined to try this Part much cheaper than the others.—11

I am sorry to have troubled you with so long a letter.

Dear Sir | Your’s very faithfully | C. Darwin


The year is established by the publication date of South America, the third volume of the Geology of the ‘Beagle’, late in 1846 (Freeman 1977, p. 57).
The manuscript of one chapter of South America, the last, is in DAR 1.
South America contains 286 pages (including preliminaries), four fold-out plates of shells, a coloured fold-out section and a fold-out map. There are twenty-four woodcuts.
A Treasury grant of £1000 had been intended to defray the cost of the Zoology and of the three parts of the Geology of the ‘Beagle’; however, it was exhausted by the publication cost of the Zoology and of Coral reefs, the first part of the Geology, published in May 1842 (Freeman 1977, pp. 26, 57). The account submitted for the final number of the Zoology, Reptiles no. 2, which was published in October 1843, claimed only a portion of the costs, because the grant had been exhausted (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter to A. Y. Spearman, 9 October 1843 and n. 1). In the preface to South America, CD noted that, in addition to the Treasury grant, a further sum had been advanced by Smith, Elder and by himself to publish the Geology and the Zoology. For correspondence about the grant, see Correspondence vol. 2; for the publication of South America, see Correspondence vol. 3.
No correspondence with David Thomas Ansted, the assistant secretary of the Geological Society of London, about this contract has been found.
According to CD’s Classed accounts (Down House MS), CD paid Smith, Elder £61 8s. on 10 August 1847. Payments are also recorded of £10 2s. on 4 September 1846 to Lovell Reeve & Co. for a lithograph (the large coloured section); of £4 10s. on 15 December 1845 and £10 on 19 August 1846 to George Brettingham Sowerby for work with and engraving shells, respectively; and of £6 7s. on 5 July 1846 for wood-cuts.
CD refers to the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London. The typeface of South America is smaller than that of Coral reefs or Volcanic islands (the first two parts of the Geology of the ‘Beagle’), and the same size as that of the Quarterly Journal.
In 1846, CD was a member of the Council of the Geological Society, as he had been in 1845 (Journal of the Geological Society of London 1 (1845) and 2 (1846)). In 1843 and 1844 he had been vice-president (Proceedings of the Geological Society of London 4 (1843–5): 64, 349), and in 1839 and 1840 he had been secretary (Proceedings of the Geological Society of London 3 (1838–42): 60, 268).
Richard and John E. Taylor, of Red Lion Court, Fleet Street, London, published the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London.
Stewart and Murray were printers with premises at 1 Green Arbour Court, Old Bailey, London (Post Office London directory 1846). They had printed Zoology, Coral reefs, and Volcanic islands, and went on to print South America.
The three parts were not reissued in one volume until 1851; the price was 10s. 6d. The volume was made up of the original sheets bound together of Coral reefs (1838), original price 15s.; Volcanic islands (1844), original price 10s. 6d.; and South America (1846), original price 12s. See Freeman 1977, pp. 58–9.


Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.


Arrangements for publishing [South America].

Letter details

Letter no.
Smith, Elder & Co
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
Natural History Museum, Library and Archives (General Special Collections DC AL 1/3)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 983F,” accessed on 30 November 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13 (Supplement)