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Darwin's letters online

The complete texts of more than 5,000 letters written by and to Charles Darwin are now accessible in a new website launched in May by Cambridge University.

Letter to Darwin from his closest friend, Joseph Hooker.

Letter to Darwin from his closest friend, Joseph Hooker.

Darwin Correspondence Project

Work on the Darwin Correspondence Project began in 1974 with the aim of locating and publishing transcripts of Darwin’s letters. To date the project has recorded details of over 14,500 surviving letters, written both by and to Darwin. It is intended that full transcripts of all the letters will be published by 2025 in about 30 volumes. So far, 15 volumes have been published (Burkhardt et al. eds The Correspondence of Charles Darwin (Cambridge University Press 1985–)).

For Darwin, writing letters was the main method of communication for his work. It was an important means of collecting information and discussing his ideas. During his life, he corresponded with over 2,000 people from eminent figures, such as the botanist Joseph Hooker and the geologist Charles Lyell, to gardeners and animal breeders.

Professional and personal revelations

The letters form a valuable insight into the workings of Victorian science and society. The 5,000 complete letters currently accessible online cover the period up to 1865. During this time Darwin writes extensively about his discoveries during his voyage on the Beagle and the development of his thinking about evolution on his return. He also reveals his anxieties around the publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and his reaction to the debates it ignited.

The letters also convey more personal aspects of his family life, such as his close relationship with his wife, his frustrations over his ill-health and his concerns about the welfare and education of his children.

You can explore the letters on the Darwin Correspondence Project’s website.

 

‘There is grandeur in this view of life... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.’ Charles Darwin