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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Albert Günther   11 May [1872]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

May 11


My dear Günther

I hope that the enclosed letter will serve as a testimonial of my opinion. I have preferred to send it at once, because it will save me from great embarrassment, shd Mr Smith or Mr Salvin apply to me, as I could then say that I had already written to you. Both these gentlemen have repeatedly & most kindly assisted me, & it will be very painful to me to refuse to do any thing which they may ask.2

For the same reason I hope that you will not object to my opening sentences, as I should like to be able to say that I have expressed an opinion only on your general qualifications, & not in relation to any special post. For instance, as far as the mere classification of birds is concerned, I suppose that Mr Salvin knows more than you; & Mr Smith with respect to insects.

I hope that my letter will satisfy you; it expresses my opinion of your high merits with entire sincerity.

Yours very truly— | Ch Darwin

P.S. I have received from Gegenbauer a paper about the limbs of fishes; I see he discusses your views.—3 I have read only a page or two & find the German difficult; but I must try & make it out.— Are you contented with his conclusions? Your view seemed to me a great step in advance.—

P.S. 2d. When I saw not very long ago G. R. Gray, he was very well.—4 What caused his death?


Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

May 11 1872

From C. Darwin Esq. M.A., F.R.S.

My dear Dr Günther

I am not aware of the rules followed in the British Museum with respect to the promotion of the officers; nor how far special studies are attached to each particular post; but I have the greatest pleasure in expressing my deliberate opinion that you hold a very high position amongst the first naturalists of Europe; & that you have most justly earned this high position by your various publications.

Allow me to add that I have been invariably struck & have greatly profited by the freedom & kindness with which you have always placed your extraordinary amount of knowledge at my disposal. You are at perfect liberty to use this letter in any way which you may think fit, as it expresses my sincere conviction.

Pray believe me | yours very truly | Charles Darwin

To | Dr. Günther F.R.S.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Albert Günther, 10 May 1872.
Osbert Salvin had most recently helped CD with information about ducks for Origin 6th ed. (see Correspondence vol. 19). Frederick Smith had given CD information on insects for Descent. See letter from Albert Günther, 10 May 1872.
Carl Gegenbaur’s paper ‘Ueber das Archipterygium’ (On the archipterygium (primitive fin); Gegenbaur 1872) appeared in the April 1872 issue of Jenaische Zeitschrift für Medizin und Naturwissenschaft. CD’s copy has not been found, but he may have passed it on to Günther (see letters from Albert Günther, 13 May 1872 and 21 May 1872). In an earlier paper (Gegenbaur 1870), Gegenbaur had argued that all varieties of fins could be traced back to a single ancestral form derived from a shark-like ancestor. In Gegenbaur 1872, p. 132, he referred to Günther’s recent description of the structure of the fin of the newly discovered living lungfish, Ceratodus forsteri (now Neoceratodus forsteri), and concluded that Ceratodus represented a more primitive state, from which elasmobranch fishes (sharks, etc.) had developed (for more on the contemporary debate on the evolution of paired limbs, see Nyhart 2002).
CD refers to George Robert Gray. CD had last been in London from 13 February to 21 March 1872 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Gegenbaur, Carl. 1872. Ueber das Archipterygium. Jenaische Zeitschrift für Medizin und Naturwissenschaft 7 (1871–3): 131–41.

Nyhart, Lynn K. 2002. Learning from history: morphology’s challenges in Germany ca. 1900. Journal of Morphology 252: 2–14.

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.


Encloses a testimonial for AG [in support of his application for a promotion at British Museum].

Does he agree with Carl Gegenbaur’s paper on the limbs of fish [Jenaische Z. Naturwiss. 5 (1870): 397–447]?

Asks what caused G. R. Gray’s sudden death.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Albrecht Carl Ludwig Gotthilf (Albert) Günther
Sent from
Source of text
Natural History Museum (Gen. Lib. Günther 44)
Physical description
4pp, encl LS 3pp & AdraftS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8316,” accessed on 22 February 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20