skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Stevens Henslow   11 December [1851]

Down Farnborough Kent

Dec. 11th.—

My dear Henslow

I am very much obliged for your note & the direction of the Pyrotechnist. Hearing all the things you do for your Parish, I am not at all surprised that you have discontinued the Fireworks:—1

You formerly asked me for specimens for Ipswich,2 I have consequently packed up 20 to 25 specimens of Cirripedia of the several leading genera, & have named them: I have chiefly selected British species. They possess little value, excepting from being correctly named. In a few weeks’ time, my volume by the Ray Soc. will be published, & I can then send you proofs of my Ten Plate,3 if worth having. I wish I could offer anything better to the Ipswich Socy., but I have long ago distributed my collections.

I am sorry to trouble you but will you tell me whether you or the Ipswich Mus: have any place of call in London to which I cd. address my parcel, carriage paid, or shall I send it direct to Ipswich or to you?— At the same time, will you tell me (& it is the most important of my queries on Fire Works) what sum of money will procure a fair village display?4

Now that my children are growing up & I think of educational processes, I often reflect over your inimitably (as it appears to me) good plan of teaching correct, concise language & accurate observation, namely by making your pupils describe leaves &c. I never profited myself by this, but very often I have wished I had. Has it ever occurred to you, (I have often wished for something of the kind) that a most useful volume might be published, with woodcut outlines, & on separate pages well-weighed, concise descriptions in Saxon, & not scientific English. What a habit it would give to youths of thinking of the meaning of words, & what powers of expressing themselves! Compare such habits with that of making wretched Latin verses. I did not intend to write so much; but it is an old wish of mine, that you or someone would undertake such a task.

My dear Henslow | Yours most truly | C. Darwin

I have no ideas on the arrangement of Museums, never having at all attended to the subject.5


Henslow had regularly produced fireworks displays at his agricultural meetings for his Hitcham parishioners (Correspondence vol. 2, letter from J. S. Henslow, 2 November 1840; Russell-Gebbett 1977, p. 75). CD’s Account book (Down House MS) has an entry on 20 July 1852 for fireworks (see n. 4, below). CD noted that the bill came from Fenwick: Ralph Fenwick was a firework maker at 25 Regent Street, Lambeth, London (Modern English biography).
The Ipswich Museum, of which Henslow was a founder in 1847 and, since 1850, president. CD had earlier donated Fuegian paint, spears, and a dolphin hook to Henslow’s ‘marquee museum’ (Correspondence vol. 2, letter to J. S. Henslow, 16 September [1842]; Russell-Gebbett, p. 100).
The ten plates referred to are those of Living Cirripedia (1851), which was then in press.
An entry dated 20 July 1852 in CD’s Account book (Down House MS) reads: ‘Fireworks for *(Strawberries 9s) [interl] [’Club‘ del] Tea Party *Bill in Table Drawer [interl] FENWICK [£]1 9[s.]’. A further entry in CD’s Classed account book (Down House MS) reads ‘Fireworks on lawn … [£]1 9[s.]’.
Henslow’s interest in the arrangement of museum exhibits led in 1854 to his appointment, with twelve other naturalists, to a British Association committee ‘to draw up a Report on the best manner of selecting and arranging a series of Typical Objects illustrative of the three kingdoms of Nature, for provincial Museums’ (Report of the 24th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Liverpool in September 1854, p. xlvi).


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

Modern English biography: Modern English biography, containing many thousand concise memoirs of persons who have died since the year 1850. By Frederick Boase. 3 vols. and supplement (3 vols.). Truro, Cornwall: the author. 1892–1921.

Russell-Gebbett, Jean. 1977. Henslow of Hitcham: botanist, educationalist and clergyman. Lavenham, Suffolk: Terence Dalton.


Sends cirripede specimens for Ipswich Museum.

Asks how much a village fireworks display would cost.

Comments on the need in education for good habits of expression and accurate observation instead of making "wretched Latin verses".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: A85–A88
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1463,” accessed on 29 November 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5