The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 89 of 188

Charles Darwin to L. Jenyns. (Now Rev L. Blomefield.)

36 Great Marlborough Street,
April 10th, 1837.

Dear Jenyns,

During the last week several of the zoologists of this place have been urging me to consider the possibility of publishing the ‘Zoology of the “Beagle’s” Voyage’ on some uniform plan. Mr. Macleay (William Sharp Macleay was the son of Alexander Macleay, formerly Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, and for many years Secretary of the Linnean Society. The son, who was a most zealous Naturalist, and had inherited from his father a very large general collection of insects, made Entomology his chief study, and gained great notoriety by his now forgotten “Quinary System”, set forth in the Second Part of his ‘Horae Entomologicae,’ published in 1821.–[I am indebted to Rev. L. Blomefield for the foregoing note.] has taken a great deal of interest in the subject, and maintains that such a publication is very desirable, because it keeps together a series of observations made respecting animals inhabiting the same part of the world, and allows any future traveller taking them with him. How far this facility of reference is of any consequence I am very doubtful; but if such is the case, it would be more satisfactory to myself to see the gleanings of my hands, after having passed through the brains of other naturalists, collected together in one work. But such considerations ought not to have much weight. The whole scheme is at present merely floating in the air; but I was determined to let you know, as I should much like to know what you think about it, and whether you would object to supply descriptions of the fish to such a work instead of to ‘Transactions.’ I apprehend the whole will be impracticable, without Government will aid in engraving the plates, and this I fear is a mere chance, only I think I can put in a strong claim, and get myself well backed by the naturalists of this place, who nearly all take a good deal of interest in my collections. I mean to-morrow to see Mr. Yarrell; if he approves, I shall begin and take more active steps; for I hear he is most prudent and most wise. It is scarcely any use speculating about any plan, but I thought of getting subscribers and publishing the work in parts (as long as funds would last, for I myself will not lose money by it). In such case, whoever had his own part ready on any order might publish it separately (and ultimately the parts might be sold separately), so that no one should be delayed by the other. The plan would resemble, on a humble scale, Ruppel’s ‘Atlas,’ or Humboldt’s ‘Zoologie,’ where Latreille, Cuvier, etc., wrote different parts. I myself should have little to do with it; excepting in some orders adding habits and ranges, etc., and geographical sketches, and perhaps afterwards some descriptions of invertebrate animals…

I am working at my Journal; it gets on slowly, though I am not idle. I thought Cambridge a bad place from good dinners and other temptations, but I find London no better, and I fear it may grow worse. I have a capital friend in Lyell, and see a great deal of him, which is very advantageous to me in discussing much South American geology. I miss a walk in the country very much; this London is a vile smoky place, where a man loses a great part of the best enjoyments in life. But I see no chance of escaping, even for a week, from this prison for a long time to come. I fear it will be some time before we shall meet; for I suppose you will not come up here during the spring, and I do not think I shall be able to go down to Cambridge. How I should like to have a good walk along the Newmarket road to-morrow, but Oxford Street must do instead. I do hate the streets of London. Will you tell Henslow to be careful with the edible fungi from Tierra del Fuego, for I shall want some specimens for Mr. Brown, who seems particularly interested about them. Tell Henslow, I think my silicified wood has unflintified Mr. Brown’s heart, for he was very gracious to me, and talked about the Galapagos plants; but before he never would say a word. It is just striking twelve o’clock; so I will wish you a very good night.

My dear Jenyns,
Yours most truly,
Charles Darwin.

[A few weeks later the plan seems to have been matured, and the idea of seeking Government aid to have been adopted.]

Charles Darwin to J.S. Henslow.

36 Great Marlborough Street,
[18th May, 1837].

My dear Henslow,

I was very glad to receive your letter. I wanted much to hear how you were getting on with your manifold labours. Indeed I do not wonder your head began to ache; it is almost a wonder you have any head left. Your account of the Gamlingay expedition was cruelly tempting, but I cannot anyhow leave London. I wanted to pay my good, dear people at Shrewsbury a visit of a few days, but I found I could not manage it; at present I am waiting for the signatures of the Duke of Somerset, as President of the Linnean, and of Lord Derby and Whewell, to a statement of the value of my collection; the instant I get this I shall apply to Government for assistance in engraving, and so publish the ‘Zoology’ on some uniform plan. It is quite ridiculous the time any operation requires which depends on many people.

I have been working very steadily, but have only got two-thirds through the Journal part alone. I find, though I remain daily many hours at work, the progress is very slow: it is an awful thing to say to oneself, every fool and every clever man in England, if he chooses, may make as many ill-natured remarks as he likes on this unfortunate sentence.

[In August he writes to Henslow to announce the success of the scheme for the publication of the ‘Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle,’ through the promise of a grant of 1000 pounds from the Treasury: “I have delayed writing to you, to thank you most sincerely for having so effectually managed my affair. I waited till I had an interview with the Chancellor of the Exchequer (T. Spring Rice.). He appointed to see me this morning, and I had a long conversation with him, Mr. Peacock being present. Nothing could be more thoroughly obliging and kind than his whole manner. He made no sort of restriction, but only told me to make the most of [the] money, which of course I am right willing to do.

“I expected rather an awful interview, but I never found anything less so in my life. It will be my fault if I do not make a good work; but I sometimes take an awful fright that I have not materials enough. It will be excessively satisfactory at the end of some two years to find all materials made the most they were capable of.”

Later in the autumn he wrote to Henslow: “I have not been very well of late, with an uncomfortable palpitation of the heart, and my doctors urge me strongly to knock off all work, and go and live in the country for a few weeks.” He accordingly took a holiday of about a month at Shrewsbury and Maer, and paid a visit in the Isle of Wight. It was, I believe, during this visit, at Mr. Wedgwood’s house at Maer, that he made his first observations on the work done by earthworms, and late in the autumn he read a paper on the subject at the Geological Society. (“On the formation of mould,” ‘Geol. Soc. Proc.’ ii. 1838, pages 574-576.) During these two months he was also busy preparing the scheme of the ‘Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle,’ and in beginning to put together the Geological results of his travels.

The following letter refers to the proposal that he should take the Secretaryship of the Geological Society.]

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