Letters -and the Darwin Correspondence Project

letter with bees
Specimens of naturalised bees are still glued to this letter sent to Darwin from New Zealand in 1858. CUL DAR 177, f. 323

As well as letters from his Cambridge friends and teachers, and from fellow scientists and thinkers, Darwin received many letters from his family during the Beagle voyage. Darwin’s three sisters took it in turns to write long monthly letters keeping their brother up to date with news and gossip. In contrast, in the only known letter from Darwin’s father, the doctor jokes that he only writes to patients and so has nothing to say to Charles, but that he has bought a banana tree to sit under so that he could think about his son in the Tropics.   Correspondence remained an important part of Darwin’s life: after the Beagle voyage, he never left Britain again, yet in order to construct and illustrate his theories, he collected enormous quantities of facts on the plants, animals and peoples of the world. This he did largely through letters. For over 30 years the Darwin Correspondence Project, based in the University Library but operating with the support of many other bodies, has been producing magnificent volumes of Darwin’s collected correspondence. So far, around 15,000 letters have been discovered in libraries, archives, and private collections all over the world.  All are being published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin and the texts of more than 5000 are also available online.