skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. R. Waterhouse   8 July [1855]

Down Farnborough Kent

July 8th

My dear Waterhouse

Two of my Boys1 are become ardent Lepidopterists, & I want much to know whether there is any systematic work on Lepidoptera, tolerably easy. I really shd. be very much obliged if you could inform me. I look at it as fine practice for the intellect making out the names from descriptions, & but idle work, mere collecting or comparing with mere figures.— I have Stephens work,2 but he uses such dreadfully hard words; & there is no Synopsis. Westwood in his “Modern Classification”3 has a Synopsis at end, but there it is most extraordinary but he gives no characters for the Families & Sub-families, only generic descriptions.—

John Lubbock has lent me Humphreys & Westwoods magnificent work,4 but here again there is nothing like a Synopsis; & it would take hours to go dipping through the volume to find the several Families, & pick out the essential characters out of the diffuse descriptions. Does a Book such as I want, exist on British Lepidoptera?

How strange if such does not exist. Will you be so kind as to illuminate me.—

Yours most truly | C. Darwin

For the Butterflies Stephens does pretty well, as he gives some sort of a Synopsis; but what wretched latinised English he does use.5


William, aged 15, and George, aged 10. See letter to W. E. Darwin, [25 April 1855].
Stephens 1829. A lightly annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL. CD used this catalogue when he was an enthusiastic collector during his undergraduate years at Cambridge.
Westwood 1839–40. CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Westwood 1841, arranged and illustrated by Henry Noel Humphreys.
From CD’s comments it is probable that he refers to Stephens 1828–46, pt 2, Haustellata. Volume four, which deals with the Lepidoptera, has a brief synopsis of the group on pp. 398–402.


Stephens, James Francis. 1828–46. Illustrations of British entomology; or, a synopsis of indigenous insects: containing their generic and specific distinctions. 11 vols. and supplement. London: Baldwin and Cradock.

Stephens, James Francis. 1829a. A systematic catalogue of British insects: being an attempt to arrange all the hitherto discovered indigenous insects in accordance with their natural affinities. London: Baldwin and Cradock.

Westwood, John Obadiah. 1839–40. An introduction to the modern classification of insects; founded on the natural habits and corresponding organisation of the different families. 2 vols. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman.

Westwood, John Obadiah. 1841. British butterflies and their transformations. Arranged and illustrated in a series of plates by H[enry] N[oel] Humphreys … with characters and descriptions by J. O. Westwood. London.


Asks GRW if there is any easy systematic work on Lepidoptera for his sons. Considers making out the names from descriptions fine practice for the intellect; mere collecting is idle work.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Robert Waterhouse
Sent from
Source of text
McGill University Library, Department of Rare Books
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1713,” accessed on 1 December 2021,

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