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Darwin Correspondence Project

To D. T. Gardner   [c. 27 August 1874]1

I am glad to hear that your club intends to celebrate the anniversary of the birthday of the illustrious and revered Humboldt.2 I have always looked on him as one of the greatest men the world has ever produced. He gave a wonderful impetus to science by showing what could be done by observation during prolonged intervals. No one, I suppose, ever started an expedition so well prepared by previous study, and success in observation no doubt depends not so much upon what a man can say as what he knows. If I may be permitted to refer to a personal point, I owe to Humboldt especial gratitude, as I once told him, for my admiration of his famous personal narrative (part of which I almost know by heart) determined me to travel in distant countries, and led me to volunteer as naturalist in her Majesty’s ship Beagle in her circumnavigation of the world.3 With my hope that your anniversary may pass off pleasantly I am, &c.,

Charles Darwin.


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from D. T. Gardner, 13 August 1874. Postal time between the eastern United States and the United Kingdom was around two weeks in 1874. There is a draft of this letter in DAR 97: C76.
See letter from D. T. Gardner, 13 August 1874. CD later wrote that reading Alexander von Humboldt’s Personal narrative (Humboldt 1814–29) stirred up in him ‘a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science’ (‘Recollections’, pp. 381–2).
See Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Alexander von Humboldt, 1 November 1839. Humboldt’s Personal narrative (Humboldt 1814–29) was one of several works by Humboldt on board the Beagle (Correspondence vol. 1, Appendix IV).


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

Humboldt, Alexander von. 1814–29. Personal narrative of travels to the equinoctial regions of the New Continent, during the years 1799–1804. By Alexander de Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland. Translated into English by Helen Maria Williams. 7 vols. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown; J. Murray; H. Colburn.

‘Recollections’: Recollections of the development of my mind and character. By Charles Darwin. In Evolutionary writings, edited by James A. Secord. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008.


States his indebtedness to and admiration for Humboldt and his work.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Daniel T. Gardner
Sent from
Source of text
New York Times, 15 September 1874
Physical description
Printed & draft 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9601,” accessed on 11 December 2019,

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