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Darwin Correspondence Project

Photograph album of Dutch admirers


Frontispiece. Dutch album (EH 88202653).
Frontispiece. Dutch album (EH 88202653).

Darwin received the photograph album for his birthday on 12 February 1877 from his scientific admirers in the Netherlands. He wrote to the Dutch zoologist Pieter Harting,

An account of your countrymen’s generous sympathy in having sent me on my birthday the magnificent Album has been published in almost every newspaper throughout England.; & you may well believe that the present has given me & my family lasting pleasure. (Letter to Pieter Harting, 19 March 1877)

Harting had also written an account of Darwin's work for Album der Natuur.

The album was luxuriously bound in red velvet with silver embossing. The frontispiece contains a mistake about Darwin’s age: it states his ‘69th Birthday’, when in fact he was 68 in 1877. It was arranged in alphabetical order, and the photographs were all equal in size, being small cartes de visite, displayed four to a page.

Images: © English Heritage Trust. Delivered by: Cambridge University Digital Library.
Scroll through the list of Album Contents on the right, and click on an entry to jump to the page.

The pictures were removed at some point in the object's history and the fronts and backs are displayed here on black pages in the configurations that they would have appeared in the album. Sample pages from the empty album are also included.

Accompanying the album was a handwritten list of the 217 people included, with their professional title or occupation. The contributors were apothecaries, merchants, high-school teachers, and artists, as well as scientific and medical professionals. The album included several women (see a list of people in the album with biographical details). 

The album had been proposed by Hermanus Hartogh Heijs van Zouteveen, the translator of Darwin’s works, together with Christiaan Karel Hoffmann and Pieter Harting, professors of zoology and comparative anatomy at Leiden and Utrecht universities respectively. The council of the Nederlandsche Dierkundige Vereeniging (Dutch Zoological Society) was chosen to co-ordinate the initiative, and a letter was circulated to potential contributors (Heide 2009, pp. 114–15). The Dutch album was sent to Darwin by the president and secretary of the society, Adriaan Anthoni van Bemmelen and Huibert Johannes Veth:

Accept, then, Sir, on your 68th Birthday this testimony of regard and esteem, not for any value it can have for you, but as a proof, which we are persuaded cannot but afford you some satisfaction, that the seeds by you so liberally strewn have also fallen on fertile soil in the Netherlands. (Letter from A. A. van Bemmelen and H. J. Veth, 6 February 1877)

Dutch correspondents

Some of the people who contributed their photograph to the album were known to Darwin through earlier correspondence. As a students, Jan Constantijn Costerus and his friend had written to Darwin in 1873, praising his works and describing him as the ‘personification of Natural Filosofy’. Darwin welcomed the letter, replying:

It is the highest satisfaction which any writer can hope for, to interest other students, especially the younger ones. (Letter to J. C. Costerus and N. D. Doedes, [22?] March 1873)

The Dutch friends so prized Darwin’s reply that they sent him a photograph of the two of them with Darwin’s letter. Another young man, Theodor Wilhelm Engelmann, the son of a scientific publisher in Leipzig, had provided Darwin with the woodcuts he needed for an English translation of Fritz Müller’s work before he became professor of biology and histology at Utrecht.

In 1875, Paulus Peronius Cato Hoek sent his doctoral thesis on Cirripedia, which Darwin had studied extensively for monographs on living and fossil barnacles completed in the early 1850s. After Hoek followed up with another work describing Balanus (a genus of acorn barnacles), Darwin recommended him to describe the Cirripedia and Pycnogonida (sea spider) specimens collected on the HMS Challenger expedition. The expedition chief scientific officer wrote to Darwin:

I heard from M. Hoek about the Pycnogonida and your note has of course decided me to send them to him— He will be rather surprised when he sees them for some are about 2 feet across!— 

(Letter from C. W. Thomson, 30 June 1877)

Much earlier, in 1861, Tiberius Cornelis Winkler, the translator of Origin into Dutch, had also sent his dissertation on fossil fish of Oeningen to convince Darwin that he had been inspired by Darwin’s work. The Dutch translator of Descent and Expression, Hermanus Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen, went further and sent extensive notes on Descent, which Darwin used in preparing the second edition. He also sent Darwin a translation of some of his annotations of Expression, and Darwin described the Dutch edition of Expression as:

by far the most beautiful edition which has been any where published

(Letter to Hermanus Hartogh Heijs van Zouteveen, 18 February 1874)

Zouteveen’s editions of Descent and Expression contained explanatory notes at the end of every chapter, which Darwin asked his son George to translate into English.

Two other people whose portraits featured in the album had given Darwin assistance with his works. In 1868, Darwin wrote to the zoological gardens in Amsterdam (Natura Artis Magistra) about when two species of peafowl develop their leg spurs. The assistant director J. Noordhoek Hegt wrote back with his observations and Darwin recorded them in a footnote in Descent. Finally, most well known to Darwin was the ophthalmologist Frans Cornelis Donders, who had answered questions and performed experiments on the physiology of the eye for Darwin's work on human expression. Donders visited Darwin in 1869, and a year later Darwin consoled him on the loss of his only child, a daughter who had just given birth to twins:

I once lost a dear & good girl, & know what a dreadful grief it is; but then I had other children left to love.— Your loss is irreparable, & I feel deeply for you. (Letter to F. C. Donders, 19 May 1870)




People featured in the album

See a list of people in the album with biographical details

About this article

The album is now in the English Heritage Trust collection at Darwin’s home, Down House, in Kent. It is made available through a collaboration with English Heritage staff and Cambridge Digital Library.

The text is partly based on appendix V to The correspondence of Charles Darwin, volume 25: 1877

Edited by Frederick Burkhardt, James A. Secord, Samantha Evans, Shelley Innes, Francis Neary, Alison M. Pearn, Anne Secord, Paul White. (Cambridge University Press 2017)

Order this volume online from Cambridge University Press

Very little is known about many of the people featured in this album. If you can help to identify any of them, please get in touch.