Lot 36
  • 36

Darwin, Charles

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • Darwin, Charles
  • For Private Distribution ... Extracts from Letters addressed to Professor Henslow by C. Darwin, Esq. Cambridge: [the University Press for the Cambridge Philosophical Society], Dec. 1, 1835
  • ink on paper
8vo (215 x 137mm.), FIRST EDITION OF DARWIN'S FIRST SEPARATELY PRINTED WORK, inscribed at the head of the first page "from Professor Henslo[w] /[18]38", disbound, housed within tan buckram folding case, leaves slightly browned with minor occasional spotting, remains of original pale grey plain wrappers to spine and first and final leaves, three stab holes from previous binding


Sir Geoffrey Keynes, surgeon and bibliophile (1887-1982), ownership inscription on folding case dated 1937; his son (and Charles Darwin’s great-grandson), Prof. Richard Keynes (1919-2010), physiologist and Darwin scholar


Freeman 1


Condition is described in the main body of the catalogue, where appropriate.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

AN IMPORTANT DARWIN RARITY: HIS FIRST ACCOUNT IN PRINT OF HIS DISCOVERIES ON THE BEAGLE. During his years on the Beagle Darwin wrote regularly to the Rev. Professor John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861), Cambridge Professor of Botany. As an undergraduate, Darwin had a favourite student of Henslow: it was the conversation at Henslow's Friday soirées that inspired Darwin to pursue natural history, and the young man excelled in Henslow's field classes, spending enjoyable days searching for specimens in the countryside around Cambridge. It was Henslow who encouraged Darwin to learn geology from the great Adam Sedgwick, and it was Henslow who recommended Darwin to Captain FitzRoy of the Beagle. Darwin's letters to Henslow from the Beagle more than repaid Henslow's belief in Darwin's abilities; they are full of botanical and geological observations and discoveries including unrecorded specimens and tantalising fossils, conveying his enthusiasm and excitement in pellucid prose. When Henslow read excerpts from these letters at a meeting of the Cambridge Philosophical Society on 16 November 1835, they generated so much excitement that Henslow decided to reproduce them in a pamphlet for circulation with the Society. Darwin was, of course, still on the Beagle - then in New Zealand - so could not be consulted about the publication.

The first Darwin knew of the publication of the Extracts from Letters was in family letters. His sister Caroline wrote to him on 29 December:

"...you must now hear how your fame is spreading— a note came to my Father on Xmas day from Profr. Henslow speaking most kindly of you & rejoicing you would soon return “to reap the reward of your perseverance and take your position among the first Naturalist of the day” and with the note he sent my Father some copies of extracts from your letters to him printed for Private distribution ... My Father did not move from his seat till he had read every word of your book & he was very much gratified— he liked so much the simple clear way you gave your information. Your frank unhacknied mode of writing was to him particularly agreeable..."

News of the publication did not actually reach Darwin until he arrived at the Cape of Good Hope at the beginning of June. Not for the last time, Darwin's immediate response to the thought of publication was to be "a good deal horrified", and to worry that "I have always written to Henslow in the same careless manner as to you; & to print what has been written without care & accuracy, is indeed playing with edge tools. But as the Spaniard says, 'No hay remedio'" (letter to Catherine Darwin, 3 June 1836). He would surely have been reassured when he finally saw a copy of the pamphlet after his return to England in October of the same year, as Henslow's preface cautiously emphasises that the letters were "the first thoughts which occur to a traveller respecting what he sees, before he has had time to collate his Notes, and examine his Collections, with the attention necessary for scientific accuracy." Certainly the publication did no harm to his relationship with Henslow, who remained a lifelong friend.

This pamphlet is exceptionally rare. A proof copy with some twenty corrections in pencil was sold in these rooms on 13 March 1973 (lot 404), and since then only five copies have sold at auction, including a copy presented by Henslow to Oxford's Ashmolean Natural History Society.