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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Richard Owen   [4 February 1848]1

Down Farnborough Kent

Friday Night

My dear Owen

To my great dismay, there arrived this morning a request from Ld. Auckland,2 & Sir J. Herschel to me to draw up some Geological Instructions.3 When men like Herschel & yourself give up your time to the task, I could not of course refuse, when asked. My object in all this is to ask you, whether you do not think the remarks on Coral Reefs, which I sent you, appertain more properly to Geology than to zoology. It struck me so, when I was writing them, but I had not at that time any idea of the plan or that it included Geology. I shall have to treat on Subsidence generally, & I shd think my remarks would most naturally follow these; but if you think they would be better under Zoology, I can refer to them.4

I so hope that you & Mrs Owen will be able to come to us tomorrow week; it will be a real pleasure to us & you will lose very little time.

We shall dine at 7 oclock on Saturday & your best plan of coming here will be to start by the Croydon Railway from London Bridge (do not be too late for the Train) at 4o. 45’ & stop at Sydenham Station; & thence take a Fly here. Forbes & hope Bell & Ramsay (as well as the Lyells earlier in the day) will come by the same 4o. 45’ Train & you had better take a 2 horse Fly together, for it is a long hilly stage of 10 miles. There is, a good fly-place close to Station over the Bridge.— Do come; it will do you good, or if it does not, it will do me—

Ever yours | C. Darwin

P.S. | I have just received your note with sincere grief.— You need not leave the College on till 14 past 4 oclock & you might start early back on Monday; but I fear there is no hope. Should you take heart of grace, let me have a line.5

If you decide to return me the Coral M.S. please send it pretty soon.—


The date is based on the letters of the same date to John Frederick William Herschel and Andrew Crombie Ramsay.
George Eden, Earl of Auckland and first lord of the Admiralty, asked Herschel to edit the proposed Manual of scientific enquiry (Herschel ed. 1849). See Buttmann 1970, p. 166.
See letter to J. F. W. Herschel, 4 February 1848, n. 1.
Owen agreed with CD. Coral reefs are discussed in CD’s chapter on geology in the Manual (Herschel ed. 1849, pp. 155–6; Collected papers 1: 227–50). Owen dealt only with the living coral polyps. For the structure of coral formations he referred the reader to CD’s Coral reefs and, for instructions on observing the reefs, to CD’s chapter on geology (Herschel ed. 1849, p. 349).
Apparently Owen was able to make a visit to Down (see letter to A. C. Ramsay, 4 February [1848], n. 2).


Buttmann, Günther. 1970. The shadow of the telescope: a biography of John Herschel. Translated by B. E. J. Page. Edited by David S. Evans. Guildford and London: Lutterworth Press.

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Coral reefs: The structure and distribution of coral reefs. Being the first part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1842.


Has been invited to contribute geological instructions [to J. F. W. Herschel, ed., Manual of scientific enquiry (1849); Collected papers 1: 227–50]. Asks RO whether remarks on coral reefs appertain to geology rather than zoology.

Looks forward to visit by Owens.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Richard Owen
Sent from
Source of text
Archives of the New York Botanical Garden (Charles Finney Cox Collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1150,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4