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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. F. W. Herschel   [21 March 1848]1

Down Farnborough Kent

Tuesday Evening

Dear Sir John Herschel

I received your note this morning & forwarded it to Mr. Mallet,2 who, I do not doubt, will undertake his task in the compressed form.—3 I enclose my M.S.—4 I much fear, from what you say of size of type that it will be too long; but I do not see how I could shorten it, except by rewriting it, & that is a labour which would make me groan. I do not much like it, but I have in vain thought how to make it better. I should be grateful for any corrections or erasures on your part: should you not approve of it, you have my entire concurrence to send it to any other geologist for alteration.

I have felt particular doubt about the propriety of recommending Books, but have done so after much hesitation, on the advice of others.—

I do not know whether each chapter will have any heading: I have sent one, for the chance of such being required.

If there be no objection, I should be glad, either before or after you have looked over the proofs, to be allowed to correct the press;: as my writing is often very incorrect.

If the request be not unreasonable, I should much like to have some few copies of my Chapter to send to friends, who have given me suggestions, & to keep by me to give to any voyager, having previously sometimes had applications to that effect: I should be very glad, also, to have one copy of the entire volume.

Pray believe me | dear Sir John | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin To | Sir J. W. Herschel. Bart.

P.S. You may possibly be surprised at my having expressed myself rather strongly, that the mere collecting rock-specimens is hardly of any use to Geology.5 I have for some years come deliberately to this opinion, in which some other geologists, with whom I have discussed the point, concur with me. I could specify several large collections lately brought home, which no one person would take the trouble even of looking at.6 This is very mortifying to the collector & prevents him afterwards turning his attention to some other branch of Nat. Hist, in which mere collecting would be of service.—


The date is based on CD’s completion of his chapter on geology for the Admiralty manual (Herschel ed. 1849). On 20 March 1848, CD recorded that the chapter was finished (‘Journal’; Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix I).
Robert Mallet contributed a chapter ‘On observation of earthquake phenomena’ to the Admiralty manual (Herschel ed. 1849).
Possibly a reference to Mallet having dealt with the changes of level that often accompany earthquakes, a topic that CD also discussed in his chapter. Mallet may well have compressed or deleted some of his chapter, see Herschel ed. 1849, p. 227, in which the reader is referred to CD’s chapter on geology.
The manuscript evidently did not arrive, see letter to J. F. W. Herschel, 7 May [1848].
Herschel ed. 1849, p.157; Collected papers 1: 227–8.
The Geological Society was then holding several large collections of fossils and mineralogical specimens that were uncatalogued and consequently unavailable for research purposes. During 1847 the museum committee, consisting of Charles Lyell, George Bellas Greenough, and John Morris, had drawn up a list of recommendations for reforms and future practice in arranging and cataloguing the collections (Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 4 (1848): cxxi–cxxxiv).


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

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.


Sends MS of his chapter on geology for Manual [Collected papers 1: 227–50]. Fears it may be too long. Does not much like it but can do no better. After hesitation, has recommended books. Defends his point that mere collection of rock specimens is "of hardly any use to Geology".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Frederick William Herschel, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
The Royal Society (HS6: 14)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1164,” accessed on 6 December 2021,

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