Volume 22 (1874) just published

Volume 22 of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin is now available.  Find out what Darwin was up to in 1874:

I feel as old as Methusalem; but not much in mind except that I think one takes everything more quietly, as not signifying so much.

At the age of 65, Darwin had reflective moments, although his claim to take everything more quietly was severely tested by some of the events of 1874. He had a clear idea of the shape of his life’s work, and was aware that he was unlikely to finish it.

I shall never have strength & life to complete more of  the series of  books in relation to the Origin, of  which I have the M.S. half  completed; but I have started the subject & that must be enough for me

During the year he published second editions of Coral reefs and Descent, assisted with the first by his married daughter Henrietta Litchfield (‘a good dear girl to take so sweetly all the horrid bother of  correction’) and with the second by his son George, now a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. At the same time he was completing the experimental work for his new book Insectivorous plants, published in 1875. His work on the digestive processes of the plants brought him both despair and elation.

The negative work takes five times more time than the positive

– he mourned after several weeks fruitless work on Utricularia (bladderwort). Yet he was overjoyed when he discovered true bladders containing captured prey on a specimen of Utricularia montana sent to him by Lady Dorothy Fanny Nevill:

I  have hardly ever enjoyed a day more in my life than this day’s work

Darwin’s family continued to prosper. His son Horace began an apprenticeship at an engineering firm: ‘I am sure he will never voluntarily be idle’, wrote Darwin to the directors, fearing that Horace shared the Darwin family’s ill health and hoping to protect him from overwork. His son Leonard, an officer in the Royal Engineers, took part in the transit of Venus expedition to New Zealand, though the expedition was unsuccessful owing to clouds.  His son Francis, having given up his medical career, married Amy Ruck and came to live in Down village as Darwin’s secretary.

false, scurrilous accusation of  [a] lying scoundrel

In the second half of the year Darwin’s peace was disturbed by an anonymous article in the Quarterly Review suggesting that his son George was opposed to the institution of marriage and in favour of ‘unrestrained licentiousness’. Darwin suspected, correctly, that the author was St George Jackson Mivart, who had previously written hostile reviews of his work. Darwin wondered whether to take legal action and, when warned that this was unlikely to be successful, helped George write a letter repudiating Mivart’s accusations. The letter was published in the Quarterly Review with an anonymous rejoinder from Mivart that Darwin found inadequate as an apology. Darwin’s friends Joseph Dalton Hooker and Thomas Henry Huxley joined the fray but the painful episode was not resolved until 1875, and never to Darwin’s satisfaction.

I declare I wonder that you are alive, considering the work which you have to do—

Darwin’s continuing loyalty to his friends was shown when Hooker’s wife, Frances, died unexpectedly in November.  The Darwins had Hooker and his eldest daughter, Harriet, to stay at Down straight after the funeral. Realising how overworked Hooker was in his post as director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Darwin used what influence he could to have an assistant appointed to him.


For further details and to buy a copy go to the Cambridge University Press web site.

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