RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1930. [Letter to Richard Owen, 19 December 1836]. An early letter from Darwin to Owen. Nature, vol. 125,no. 3163, (14 June), pp. 910-11.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 7.2020. RN1

NOTE: Published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1.


[page] 910

THE letter printed below was bought at Sotheby's in March of this year for the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, by some friends of that institution. It was written rather more than two months after Darwin's return in the Beagle. The fossil vertebrates referred to in the letter were sent to the Royal College of Surgeons. Darwin wrote to Owen, who was five years his senior, as a young man addressing a more experienced and older colleague: later the two became friends and Owen visited Down in 1848.

Twelve years later, in a letter to de Quatrefages, Darwin wrote:

"I have been atrociously abused by my religious countrymen; but as I live an independent life in the country, it does not in the least hurt me in any way, except indeed when the abuse comes from an old friend like Professor Owen, who abuses me and then advances the doctrine that all birds are probably descended from one parent" ("More Letters of Charles Darwin", vol. 1, p. 202).

Reference is made to Darwin's attitude towards Owen in a note printed at the head of a letter to Hugh Falconer ( 1863) on page 226 of vol. 2 of "More Letters".

Darwin settled at Cambridge on Dec. 10, 1836: he was at first a guest in the home of the Henslows, and later went into lodgings at a house in Fitzwilliam Street, on which a tablet has been fixed. The letter was written as from Christ's College, though he was presumably not actually in residence there.

A. C. S.

My dear Sir,                                                                                Decemb 19th (1836)

I have just written and will send it the same time with this, a letter to Sir Ant: Carlisle. I have done exactly as you recommended me. I thought myself compelled to fix on the British Museum in preference to that of Paris because I was carried on board a King's Ship; and the public collection of the country certainly has claims on me. If the collection had been made entirely at my own expense, that is on board a Merchant vessel, then I should not have hesitated in making a different choice.

I quite agree with you that the British Museum ought to make returns when it has the power. I suppose you could not venture to propose another set for Paris. Their value would be so much more in that collection than in the British Museum.

I ought to make up my mind to give my own set to Paris; but I confess I should be grieved to lose my trophies. I should feel like a knight who had lost his armorial bearings. If the Council should not choose to go to the expense necessary for making all the casts; It was suggested to me here, that the

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College might pay the price of forming the casts, and the public bodies purchase the models, but I think you will agree with me, that if this can be avoided, it will be better. With respect to great head of the Rodent, I certainly feel inclined to run the risk of taking a cast, because the models will be more generally useful, even in case the head itself should be injured or destroyed.

But I am sure after the kind and effectual manner with which you have entered on this affair I cannot do better than follow your advice. I, at one time, began to think that the fossil bones would be as troublesome to me and as of little service as some other branches of my collection are likely to be. But now I look back to the trouble I took in procuring them with great satisfaction. I do assure you I feel very grateful to you for having given me such good assistance.

I have scarcely begun to unpack my cases; in the course of a week I shall have every thing open, and I already know of one very large bone (of a Mastodon??) which I will forward to the College.

When separating the animals in spirits, I will put by any that I think will interest you. And it will be a great pleasure to me if I chance to possess anything which will be of use to you in your numberless investigations.

Believe me, my dear Sir, Your very truly obliged CHAS. DARWIN.

Christ Coll: Cambridge.

To Richard Owen, Esq' Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln's Inn Fields.


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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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