Condolence letters to Darwin’s family released on the 140th anniversary of his death

April 21, 2022 • 2:00 pm

April 19 was the 140th anniversary of Darwin’s death, and the wonderful “Darwin Online” project, which presents virtually everything the man ever wrote, has released a bunch of messages received by the Darwin family after his death.  Kudos to John van Wyhe, who curates this project and sent out a notice that this material has been released.

Below is the site’s introduction to the many letters, of which I reproduce but a few (via links) below:

2022, 04.19

On the occasion of the 140th anniversary of Darwin’s death, we are providing the Darwin family’s collection of letters and telegrams from his relatives, friends, contemporaries and institutions at home and abroad upon the news of his death in 1882. The messages, addressed to the Darwin family, expressed grief and sorrow, offered condolences, reminiscences and tributes to the scientific figure who had transformed our understanding of the world forever. Over ninety of these letters reveal intimate and personal sentiments felt by the sender. These have been transcribed for the first time, only on Darwin Online.

Click on the link below to access them all.

Here are some notable letters from Darwin’s friends and colleagues, as well as people whom he influenced (with links):

Galton, Francis. 1882.04.20. Letter to George Howard Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.7h

Haeckel, Ernst. 1882.04.24. Letter to Francis Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.8a

Huxley Thomas Henry. 1882.04.21. Letter to Francis Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.10k

Huxley, T. H. 1882.04.22. Letter to George Howard Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.6c

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1882.04.21. Letter to Francis Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.10i

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1882.04.29. Letter to William Erasmus and George Howard Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.10j

Murray, John. [1882].04.24. Letter to William Erasmus Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.10p

Murray was Darwin’s publisher, which included the various editions of On the Origin of Species

Papé, Charlotte. 1882.04.21. Letter to [Francis] Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.7k

Romanes, George John. 1882.04.22. Letter to Francis Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.8e

Gray, Asa. 1882.04.23. Letter to Francis Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.10h 

Students, Agricultural Academy in Petrovsky, Moscow. 1882.04.24. Telegram to Francis Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.12l

Vries, Hugo de. 1882.04.25. Letter to Francis Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.9i

Moscow University Geological Department. 1882.04.28. Letter to George Howard Darwin. Text & image CUL-DAR215.11o


12 thoughts on “Condolence letters to Darwin’s family released on the 140th anniversary of his death

  1. Some very affecting and heartfelt tributes there. It was particularly interesting to see those from Moscow, given what happened 60-odd years later (Lysenko).

    Thanks for drawing all these to our attention.

  2. What a great collection of remembrances and condolences. I agree with Pollard above, that the tribute from Moscow was most gracious – it is sad that decades later politics overshadowed science and caused such misery.

  3. Beautiful letters in remembrance of a Giant of science and humanism. Each year, when I taught my graduate seminar, “The Fossil Record of Evolution,” we read and analyzed Darwin’s Origin of Species. Every time I read the book and discussed it with my students, I learned more. Darwin’s contribution truly ratcheted human knowledge many steps forward.

  4. Those are really very touching. What comes through so strongly is the admiration for Darwin’s character as much as for his immense scientific achievements.

  5. For some reason these letter brought tears to my eyes, they are so thoughtful and touching. My favorite of the ones you listed was the one by Charlotte Pape:

    “…..So I trust you, who once years ago, when I was living in England, was kind enough to give a detailed reply to a question daringly addressed to your great father, will not now despise, among the mourning voices of the civilised world, the sorrowful utterance of an insignificant and unknown woman, but let it be like a little flower laid on the grave of him for whom nothing was too great and nothing to small.

    Charlotte Papé.”

    1. “Spencer had occurred to me but I doubt if he could agree to the part in a religious ceremony – for any consideration” – so Spencer was anti-religious. Darwin was not a Spencerian really.

  6. Very moving. The John Murray publishing house (run by John Murray III by the time of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species; Murray’s father published Jane Austen, Lord Byron, and Walter Scott) and the Royal Institution were both on Albemarle Street; astonishingly it became the world’s first one-way street because of the heavy traffic that resulted from the popularity of science lectures and book releases. Hard to imagine in our less enlightened age…

  7. Moving letters.
    I’m just kinda sad Darwin didn’t live to see Lord Kelvin’s comeuppance on the Earth’s age, nor the destruction of Fleeming Jenkin’s ‘blending’ argument .
    For the latter, it is said that he had Mendel’s works at his disposal, but that the pages were not cut, he never read Mendel, I suspect that those uncut pages are apocryphal though.

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