The thirteenth volume of Charles Darwin’s correspondence comprises all the surviving letters both from and to Darwin from the year 1865, plus a supplement of letters from earlier years that came to light after publication of the previous twelve volumes.
As in the two previous years, Darwin suffered much ill-heath during 1865, so progress on the first volume of his planned ‘big book’ on species was delayed for much of the year.
Highlights from Darwin’s 1865 correspondence include:
- Darwin having his leg pulled by his friend Thomas Henry Huxley’s wife for quoting the poet Tennyson out of context: a ‘shockingly Owenlike’ trick;
- Darwin seeking feedback from the no-nonsense Huxley about his (we now know, very wrong) hypothesis of Pangenesis, stating, ‘I must say for myself that I am a hero to expose my hypothesis to the fiery ordeal of your criticism’;
- Darwin swapping photographs with assorted scientific figures;
- Darwin being impressed with Alfred Russel Wallace’s recent scientific paper describing what is now known as the Wallace Line;
- the deaths of three important figures in Darwin’s life: geologist, palaeontologist and botanist Hugh Falconer; the former captain of HMS Beagle, Robert FitzRoy; and the Director of Kew Gardens, William Jackson Hooker;
- Darwin admitting to the author that he has torn the latest edition of Lyell’s ‘Elements of Geology’ down the spine to make it easier to handle;
- Darwin opining to Lyell about philosopher Herbert Spencer’s ‘detestable’ writing style;
- Darwin, on re-reading On the Origin of Species, finding it ‘a very good book, but oh my gracious it is tough reading’;
- Darwin congratulating his American friend Asa Gray on the imminent end of the U.S. Civil War;
- a plagiarism dispute between two of Darwin’s closest friends, Charles Lyell and John Lubbock;
- Darwin encouraging Alfred Russel Wallace to publish his travel journal as, ‘I have always thought that Journals of this nature do considerable good by advancing the taste for Natural history’;
- an embarrassingly gushing letter to Darwin from a Scottish fanboy.
As with all the volumes in this series, this book is really aimed at people with a serious interest in Charles Darwin. As with all the other volumes, every letter is annotated with meticulously researched footnotes explaining its context and references. The series as a whole is a masterpiece of scholarship.
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