Letters on Geology

An introduction by R. B. Freeman

The preface to these extracts from Darwin's letters is dated Dec. 1, but the work itself is not dated. It has always been assumed that it was issued, to members of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, in December 1835 and this is probably so, but I have not seen a copy with a dated ownership inscription, or accession stamp, for that year. The earliest record of it seems to be in a letter from his youngest sister, Emily Catherine, dated January 1836, which he received at the Cape of Good Hope on June 1st of the same year. In his reply to it, dated June 3rd, he writes that he has been 'a good deal horrified' that 'what has been written without care or accuracy' should have been printed. 'But, as the Spaniard says "No hay remedio"' (letter in No. 1594, pp. 140-42). [A letter From R. W. Darwin to J. S. Henslow 28 December 1835 Correspondence vol. 1, p. 473 shows the work was printed in 1835. JvW]

The pamphlet contains extracts, not always accurately transcribed, from ten letters to John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861), Professor of Botany, mentor in natural history and life-long friend of Darwin. Three of them were printed in full in Life and letters, Vol. 1., and three more in More letters, Vol. 1. The whole set, with others, is printed in No. 1598.

A page proof copy, 255 mm, with twenty corrections, perhaps in Henslow's hand, was sold at Sotheby's on January 19, 1973. Two corrections which escaped were the spelling of the Abrolhos archipelago in the letters of May 18 and Aug. 15, 1832, as 'Abrothos'. The original pamphlet has become rare and it was reprinted in 1960, again for private circulation in the Cambridge Philosophical Society and for friends of that Society. The reprint, which is in type facsimile, retains correctly the 'Abrothos' misprint, but the error is corrected in the full transcript in No. 1598, and the name also occurs correctly in a letter by Darwin to his father, dated Feb. 8, 1832 (Life and letters, Vol. 1, p. 232).

The 1960 reprint has a preface by Dr Sydney Smith, Biological Secretary to the Society, in which he gives extracts from the minutes of Nov. 16 and Nov. 30 concerning the reading and the printing. It states that the pamphlet was 'the first writing of Charles Darwin ever to be published.' It was not however published, and in any case this honour belongs to his records of beetles and a moth in 1829 which are referred to earlier (p. 19). His first published work under his own name is that on missionaries, with Captain Robert Fitzroy, in the South African Christian Recorder for September 1836 (No. 1640). His first published work by himself alone and submitted by himself is that on recent elevation on the coast of Chile, read on Jan. 4, 1837, and published in Proc. Geol. Soc. for that year (No. 1645).

Darwin, C. R. [1835]. [Extracts from letters addressed to Professor Henslow]. Cambridge: [privately printed]. Text Image Text & image F1


From: Freeman, R. B. 1977. The Works of Charles Darwin: An Annotated Bibliographical Handlist. 2nd edn. Dawson: Folkstone.

NOTE: With thanks to The Charles Darwin Trust and Dr Mary Whitear for use of the Bibliographical Handlist. Copyright. All rights reserved. For private academic use only. Not for republication or reproduction in whole or in part without the prior written consent of The Charles Darwin Trust, 14 Canonbury Park South London N1 2JJ.

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