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Darwin Correspondence Project

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Cover sheet of Darwin's 1842 Pencil Sketch, in which he first uses the term 'Natural Selection'
http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-DAR-00006/5
Cover sheet of Darwin's 1842 Pencil Sketch, in which he first uses the term 'Natural Selection'
CUL DAR 6: 1
Cambridge University Library

Natural selection

How do new species arise?  This was the ancient question that Charles Darwin tackled soon after returning to England from the Beagle voyage in October 1836. Darwin realised a crucial (and cruel) fact: far more individuals of each species were born than could possibly survive.

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Monkey suspended at Darwin’s honorary LLD ceremony
Monkey suspended at Darwin’s honorary LLD ceremony
Reproduced from an image held at Christ's College, Cambridge (Darwin Centenary papers) by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of the College

Darwin in letters, 1877: Flowers and honours

Ever since the publication of Expression, Darwin’s research had centred firmly on botany. The year 1877 was no exception. The spring and early summer were spent completing Forms of flowers, his fifth book on a botanical topic. He then turned to the mysterious role of the waxy coating (or ‘bloom’) on leaves and fruit, and to the movement of plants, focusing especially on the response of leaves to changing conditions. He also worked intermittently on earthworms, for the most part gathering observations made by others.

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Hall of Biodiversity, American Museum of Natural History
https://www.flickr.com/photos/ideonexus/2927381691/in/photostream/
Hall of Biodiversity, American Museum of Natural History
Ryan Somma, Flickr

Biodiversity and its histories

The Darwin Correspondence Project was co-sponsor of Biodiversity and its Histories, which brought together scholars and researchers in ecology, politics, geography, anthropology, cultural history, and history and philosophy of science, to explore how aesthetic, economic, and moral value came to be attached to the diversity of life on earth.  The conference included a session on 'Darwin and evolutionary theory' involving past and present members of the Project. 

We are grateful to the speakers for permission to make their talks available here.

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[Right] Charles Lyell, photograph by Ernest Edwards, 1863, From L. Reeve ed. 1863-6 CUL Ii.4.35

The Lyell–Lubbock dispute

In May 1865 a dispute arose between John Lubbock and Charles Lyell when Lubbock, in his book Prehistoric times, accused Lyell of plagiarism. The dispute caused great dismay among many of their mutual scientific friends, some of whom took immediate action to mediate a solution. Charles Darwin had close ties with both men and both sought his advice, but Darwin’s correspondence during this period reveals his reluctance to become directly involved in the dispute.

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Amy Richenda Darwin (née Ruck)
Amy Richenda Darwin (née Ruck)
CUL 416.c.95.249
Cambridge University Library

Darwin in letters, 1876: In the midst of life

1876 was the year in which the Darwins became grandparents for the first time.  And tragically lost their daughter-in-law, Amy, who died just days after her son's birth.  All the letters from 1876 are now published in volume 24 of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, and a new chapter to Darwin's 'Life in letters' has been added here. 

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Lifecycle of a letter film

Darwin Correpondence Project staff discuss their work on the project and some of the challenges of finding, transcribing, translating and editing letters.

 

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Frances Power Cobbe
http://wellcomeimages.org/
Frances Power Cobbe, Fom: Life of Frances Power Cobbe by Herself, Published: 1894
L0010481
Wellcome Library, London

Darwin and vivisection

Darwin played an important role in the controversy over vivisection that broke out in late 1874. Public debate was sparked when the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals brought an unsuccessful prosecution against a French physiologist who had performed vivisection on dogs.

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William Winwood Reade
William Winwood Reade
CUL Misc.7.91.18
Cambridge University Library

Darwin in letters, 1875: Pulling strings

‘I am getting sick of insectivorous plants’ Darwin confessed in January1875. He had worked on the subject intermittently since 1859, and had been steadily engaged on a book manuscript for nine months. January also saw the conclusion of a bitter dispute with the zoologist St George Jackson Mivart. In April and early May, Darwin was occupied with a heated debate over vivisection, and at the end of the year, he campaigned vigorously on behalf of a young zoologist, whose blackballing by the Linnean Society infuriated him: ‘I have not felt so angry for years.’

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Volcano of Osorno, from Chiloé
http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-ADD-07984/35
The volcano of Mt Osorno, Chile, from a contemporary sketch by the Beagle’s artist, Conrad Martens
CUL Add. 7984
Cambridge University Library

Darwin’s earthquakes

Darwin experienced his first earthquake in 1834, but it was a few months later that he was really confronted with their power. Travelling north along the coast of Chile, Darwin and Robert FitzRoy, captain of HMS Beagle, were confronted with a series of violent natural events that they were perfectly placed to study.

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It is like confessing a murder
http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-DAR-00114-00003/4
It is like confessing a murder
CUL DAR 114: 3
Cambridge University Library

'Like confessing a murder' audio play

This speciallycommissioned BBC Radio drama is based entirely on Charles and Emma Darwin’s own words and correspondence. Behind the controversial public persona, Darwin was an affectionate family man, fully engaged – sometimes heartbreakingly so – in the lives of his wife, Emma and their children. 

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