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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow   [30–1 October 1836]

43. Great Marlborough St


My dear Henslow

I have delayed writing, as I daily expected the Beagle would arrive, and I should be better able to tell you how my prospects go on.— I spent yesterday on board at Greenwich, & brought back with me the Galapagos plants; they do not appear numerous, but are I hope in tolerable preservation.— Tomorrow I will procure a box & will send them to Cambridge.— I will keep this letter till I do so.— I called on your brother, but he was not at home, I left a card asking him to send anything he might happen to have, to my brothers, where I am now staying.— I have not made much progress with the great men, I find, as you told me, that they are all overwhelmed, with their own business. Mr Lyell, has entered in the most goodnatured manner, & almost without being asked, into all my plans. He tells me, however, the same story, namely that I must do all myself.— Mr Owen seems anxious to dissect some of the animals in spirits;1 & besides these two I have scarcely met anyone who seems to wish to possess any of my specimens.— I must except Dr Grant, who is willing to examine some of the corallines.— I see it is quite unreasonable to hope for a minute, that any man will undertake the examination of an whole order.— It is clear the collectors so much outnumber the real naturalists, that the latter have no time to spare.— I do not even find that the collections care for receiving the unnamed specimens.— The Zoological Museum2 is nearly full & upward of a thousand specimens remain unmounted. I daresay the British Museum, would receive them, but I cannot feel, from all I hear, any great respect even for the present state of that establishment. Your plan will be not only the best, but the only one, namely to come down to Cambridge, arrange & group together the different families & then wait till people, who are already working in different branches may want specimens.— But it appears to me, to do this, it will be almost necessary to reside in London.— As far as I can yet see, my best plan will be to spend several months in Cambridge, & then, when by your assistance, I know on what grounds I stand, to emigrate to London, where I can complete my geology, & try to push on the Zoology.— I assure you I grieve to find how many things make me see the necessity of living for some time in this dirty odious London.— For even in Geology, I suspect, much assistance & communication will be necessary in this quarter: for instance in fossil bones of which none, excepting the fragments of Megatherium, have been looked at. And I clearly see without my presence never would be.— Fossil shells.—charts, maps, communication with FitzRoy. Mr Lyell says also, that the power of taking any odd specimen, to the different societies, where many Naturalists are met together is a very essential point.— However true this may be, I am very sure the assistance I shall get in Cambridge will be infinitely more, than I ever should receive in London.— Prof. Sedgwick very kindly hunted out my quarters, & I breakfasted with him.— I am sorry to find he will leave Cambridge so soon.—3 From the delay in the Beagle’s arrival, I do not know whether I shall be able to come down before the end of the month, for I have yet to visit Shrewsbury.— If you have opportunities, talk a little with him, on those points you said his advice would be most valuable; namely the form of publication. I think from what I hear, that a volume, would be less troublesome & pleasanter, than detached papers.— Also about fossil shells. Is Sowerby4 a good man? I understand his assistance can be purchased.—

Mr Clift says he will ask Prof. Buckland to look at the bones;5 I should think he would rather like it, as Mr Clift says some belong to forms which he himself does not at all know.— I am anxious to know, whether Prof. Sedgwick recommends any particular nomenclature for the rocks.— I have often thought of your really most kind offer of talking with Mrs. Henslow about my taking up my quarters with you. Few things could give me more happiness, and at the same time do me more real good. But I fear I should me much in the way, & I have been thinking of another plan which would be better for the work; that is to take lodgings with two sitting rooms & a bedroom, (which I daresay could be procured), in one of which my servant could work & it would at the same time serve for a warehouse for the skins &c &c &c.— Perhaps my servant might live in the house.— In College I should only have one room, which, although a large one, would be inconvenient; and as it may turn out more advisable not to remain a whole year, it is a great expence to buy furniture crockery &c &c &c for any shorter period. If I subsequently live in London, I shall follow my brothers plan take the whole of an unfurnished house, excepting the shop or office, then furnish two rooms, & keep the others for lumber.— Such a house can be got for less than 100£ per annum. I believe Mr. Ash clearly understood it was quite a chance, whether I intended coming to reside the whole yea⁠⟨⁠r.⁠⟩⁠ If you should happen to meet him (but otherwise not) just mention that I shall probably not reside for such a time, & he will then understand, that I should not trouble him about rooms.—

I find this letter, which is a most unmerciful long one all about myself, extending over so much paper, that I will send it with the plants, & write another just to forewarn you of the Box. Perhaps also I shall be able by that time to announce the heavy cases with geolog. & other specimen⁠⟨⁠s.⁠⟩⁠ Would it not be the best plan, if it can be so managed, to leave the heavy geolog: boxes at the warehouse, so that when I come down & the room is ready to take them direct there? I have forgotten to mention one bad bit of news, namely that Cuming was at the Galapagos.—6 Did he collect plants, I doubt it, because the far greater part of the plants only live near the summit of the mountains, some miles from the coast? I shall grieve, if you lose your tiny botanical feast,— I only wish I had known the Botanists cared so much for specimens & the Zoologists so little; the proportional number of specimens in the two branches should have had a very different appearance. I am out of patience with the Zoologists, not because they are overworked, but for their mean quarrelsome spirit. I went the other evening to the Zoological Soc. where the speakers were snarling at each other, in a manner anything but like that of gentlemen.

Thank Heavens, as long as I remain in Cambridge there will not be any danger of falling into any such contemptible quarrels, whilst in London I do not see how it is to be avoided. Of the Naturalists; F. Hope is out of London, Westwood,7 I have not seen; so about my insects I know nothing.— I have seen Mr Yarrel, twice, but he is so evidently so oppressed with business, that it is too selfish to plague him with my concerns.— He has asked me to dine with the Linnæan on Tuesday; and on Wednesday I dine with Geolog: so that I shall ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ all the great men.— Mr. Bell I ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ is so much occupied that there is no chance of his wishing for specimens of reptiles.—8 I have forgotten to mention Mr Lonsdale,9 who gave me a most cordial reception, & with whom I had much most interesting conversation.— If I was not much more inclined for geology, than the other branches of Natural History, I am sure Mr Lyell’s & Lonsdale kindness ought to fix me.— You cannot conceive anything more thoroughily goodnatured, than the heart & soul manner, in which he put himself in my place & thought what would be best to do.— At first he was all for London versus Cambridge, but at last I made him confess that for some time at least the latter would be for me much the best. There is not another soul, whom I could ask, excepting yourself, to wade through & criticize some of those papers which I have left with you.— Mr Lyell owned that second to London, there was no place in ⁠⟨⁠Engl⁠⟩⁠and, so good for a naturalist as Cambridge. ⁠⟨⁠U⁠⟩⁠pon my word I am ashamed of writing so many foolish details; no young lady ever described her first ball with more, particularity.— With respect to the Mathematical instruments, I told the Captain, that I was sure you would allow him to leave the boxes for a week or two longer till he was established & knew where to have them directed to.

Monday evening I have determined to send the plants by wagon with the bird skins, for reason which you will know by the letter which announces the boxes.

Yours ever most sincerely | Chas Darwin—

Again I have been compelled to change my plans.— I send the plants, per coach, & this letter with them.— I will also write one line by the post in case of any accident. On Thursday the four boxes will arrive at Camb⁠⟨⁠rid⁠⟩⁠ge by Marsh’s Wagon.—


CD had met Richard Owen at dinner with the Lyells the day before (R. S. Owen 1894, 1: 102).
The Museum of the Zoological Society, then at 33 Bruton Street. The collection was dispersed some years later (LL 1: 273).
Adam Sedgwick’s duties as a Prebendary of Norwich Cathedral required that he be in residence in December and January of each year (Clark and Hughes 1890, 1: 433–4).
George Brettingham Sowerby described CD’s specimens of fossil shells in appendixes to Volcanic islands and South America.
William Buckland added a ‘Supplementary note’ about CD’s fossil bones to the second edition of his Bridgewater treatise (Buckland 1837, p. 603).
Hugh Cuming, famous for his collections of shells, visited the Galápagos Islands in 1829. He collected only a few plants. They were described, together with CD’s specimens, in Hooker 1846a and 1846b.
Thomas Bell did agree to describe CD’s specimens for Zoology and, after much delay, Reptiles was published (1842–3).
William Lonsdale described some of CD’s coral specimens for Volcanic islands.


Buckland, William. 1836. Geology and mineralogy considered with reference to natural theology. Sixth Bridgewater treatise. 2 vols. London: William Pickering.

Clark, John Willis and Hughes, Thomas McKenny, eds. 1890. The life and letters of the Reverend Adam Sedgwick. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1845a. An enumeration of the plants of the Galapagos Archipelago; with descriptions of those which are new. [Read 4 March, 6 May, and 16 December 1845.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 20 (1846–51): 163–233.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1846b. On the vegetation of the Galapagos Archipelago, as compared with that of some other tropical islands and of the continent of America. [Read 1 and 15 December 1846.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 20 (1846–51): 235–62.

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

Owen, Richard Startin. 1894. The life of Richard Owen … With the scientific portions revised by C. Davies Sherborn; also an essay on Owen’s position in anatomical science by the Right Hon. T. H. Huxley, F.R.S. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Reptiles: Reptiles. Pt 5 of The zoology of the voyage of HMS Beagle. By Thomas Bell. Edited and superintended by Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1843.

South America: Geological observations on South America. Being the third part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1846.

Volcanic islands: Geological observations on the volcanic islands, visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle, together with some brief notices on the geology of Australia and the Cape of Good Hope. Being the second part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1844.

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.


CD in London to meet with naturalists about his collections. Lyell and Owen are helpful, but no one else, except R. E. Grant, seems to want to examine his specimens.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
London, Gt Marlborough St, 43
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Henslow letters: 32 DAR/1/1/32)
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 317,” accessed on 13 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1