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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. V. Wollaston   [11 or 18 December 1856]1

10. Hereford St. | Park Lane.

Thursday evening.

My dear Darwin,

Those Helices ought to be ashamed of themselves for surviving in salt water; I sd. have given them credit, I confess, for better behavour.2 However, in the meantime I must congratulate you on the addition of another ♂ to your vivarium;3 &, although I sympathise with you in your disappointment, the result of this infamous experiment will compensate for the difference between a ♂ and ♀, I am sure.—

Those dishonest Mollusks were collected, in Porto Santo, during the 2nd. week of May, 1855.4 It is possible, perhaps, that, like seasoned casks, which are proof against the vicissitudes of this nether world, they may become more tenacious of life in proportion to their age: so that if my thesis be true that some of them have lived since miocene times, the patriarchs whose opercula have become thickened into solid rock might survive for ten years (instead of days) in aquis valde diabolicis maritimis.—

I have no others, I think, except more of the Porto Santans; & those not in such good condition as the bag-full wh. you took,—being chiefly (if not altogether) defunct.—

Of shell-less Mollusks, there are in Insulis Maderensibus a few slimy Limaces (all the same as European species), 2 Testacellæ (Do.), & 3 Vitrinæ,—wh. are supposed by Lowe (who however shaves things very finely) to be peculiar to those islands.5 They are however the exact “representatives” of the 3 European Vitrinæ; hence I, who am less morbidly sensitive about specific differences (though believing in “species” more & more every day),6 sd. be inclined to regard them as mere insular modifications. The others we suppose have been introduced by man,—but if you choose to substitute “mare” instead of “homo”, I will not refuse my assent.— I am taking a week’s interlude, between the paroxisms of Madeira work, to revise a British genus of Coleopterous atoms,—the 25 species of wh. might be put into the compass of a hollow pea.—

Vivat Darwinianus masculus sextus.—

Your’s very sincerely | T V Wollaston.

CD annotations

crossed pencil
crossed pencil
First page: ‘19’7 brown crayon


The two most likely Thursdays after the birth of Charles Waring Darwin and the conclusion of CD’s experiments on Mollusca (see n. 2, below).
In his Experimental book, p. 17 (DAR 157a), CD recorded that he had been given several hundred snails from the island of Porto Santo by Wollaston. Half of these, plus some snails collected around Down House, were put to float in sea-water by CD on 3 December 1856. CD’s results were given in his letter to J. D. Hooker, 10 December [1856], and in Origin, p. 397. In his Experimental book, p. 17 (DAR 157a), he recorded: Nov. 30th Put small 12 of Mr Wollaston P. Santo Land shells to soak *These P. Santo shells were collected middle of May 55, so that now 18 months old. [added] & about. 5. *All Helix pulvinata [added] came quite to life & crawled about*— 17 other partly protruded their bodies, but hardly or not at all moved & soon died.— *There were several hundred.— [added] Dec. 3d 912 A.M. Put the other larger 12 of Mr. Wollaston; & my own Down Mollusca to float, in real Sea-Water. Only one *Helix pulvinata [interl] came to life & moved; but soon died. The weather during the exact week they were in the sea water was unfortunately very warm.—
Wollaston refers to the birth of Charles Waring Darwin on 6 December. He goes on to allude to CD’s preference for daughters (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to W. D. Fox, 7 March [1852]).
Wollaston had spent March to November 1855 in Madeira (see Correspondence vol. 5, letters from T. V. Wollaston, 2 March [1855], and from J. D. Hooker, 14 November [1855]).
Richard Thomas Lowe was an expert on Madeiran flora and fauna.
The number of CD’s portfolio of notes on the geographical distribution of animals.


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

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Informs CD that the "dishonest mollusks" were collected in May 1855 in Porto Santo. Describes some Madeira species. Though believing in "species" more and more, these may be "mere insular modifications".

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Vernon Wollaston
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Hereford St, 10
Source of text
DAR 205.3: 301
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2013,” accessed on 27 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6