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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Richard Owen   10 December [1859]1

Down Bromley Kent

Dec. 10th

Dear Owen

The passage in Hearnes Travels is at p. 370 in (I am almost sure) the 4th Edit.—2 I see it is in my wifes hand-writing, & is abbreviated & not grammar, so you must look to original.— My abbreviated extract is as follows.—

The black bear catches fresh-water insects by swimming with mouth open “like a whale”. (What is meant by these inverted commas I know not.—) These insects are in wonderful numbers. So that they are driven together into the Bays to the thickness of 2 or 3 feet & make a dreadful smell. These insects are of two kinds. All the bears have their stomachs distended.3

I hardly ever heard a more curious fact than that about the Liver.—

I do not think I thanked you for, as I understood, your extremely kind intended present of Hunter’s Book, which from what you read to me (with the precious note) will be extremely interesting to me.—4

Yours very truly | C. Darwin5


Dated by the reference to the case of the black bear, cited by CD in Origin, p. 184. CD had told Charles Lyell about his discussion with Owen on this subject in the letter to Charles Lyell,[10 December 1859].
Hearne 1795. CD had read this work while visiting Maer, the Wedgwood family home in Staffordshire, in 1840 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 9a). There was no fourth edition. Owen may have been interested in the case in connection with his edition of John Hunter’s works (Hunter 1861). Hunter had stated his impression that the black bear never inhabits the water (Hunter 1837, p. 363). Owen was Hunterian professor at the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
The passage, with some minor alterations, was taken from Hearne 1795, p. 370. The note of this passage, in Emma Darwin’s hand, is in DAR 48: 8.
Owen was preparing a collection of Hunter’s essays for publication (Hunter 1861). He may have read to CD passages on the origin of species in which Hunter referred to the ‘natural gradation of animals’, giving examples from domesticated species. Owen supplied a note to these passages (Hunter 1861, 1: 37 n. 2): ‘The best attempt to answer this supreme question in zoology has been made by Charles Darwin in his work entitled “On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection,” &c. 8vo, 1859.’ CD’s copy of Hunter 1861 is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
The letter seems to have been accompanied by a printed form used by CD to give correspondents the correct postal address for parcels to Down. The form, now in the Natural History Museum (General Library, Owen collection vol. 9: 213) may, however, have been sent to Owen at any time prior to the publication of Hunter 1861. The form reads: Please to copy one of the following addresses for Parcels, EXACTLY, and do not add my POST ADDRESS, as Parcels often go wrong. C. DARWIN, ESQ., CARE OF G. SNOW NAG’S HEAD, (Per Carrier,) BOROUGH, LONDON. N. B. MR. SNOW, leaves the Nag’s Head, every Thursday at One o’clock precisely; but Parcels may be sent there any day previously. ————(OR) C. DARWIN, ESQ., CARE OF MR. ACTON, BROMLEY, (Per Coach.) KENT.————Mr. DARWIN’S Address for Letters. C. DARWIN, ESQ., DOWN, BROMLEY. KENT. CD added ‘(For Hunter’s Book)’, in ink. He also made the following alterations in ink to the printed form: ‘one of ’ del; ‘addresses’ altered to ‘address’; ‘(OR)… (Per Coach.) KENT.’ crossed.


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

Hearne, Samuel. 1795. A journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort, in Hudson’s Bay, to the Northern Ocean … in the years 1769, 1770, 1771, & 1772. London: A. Strahan and T. Cadell.

Hunter, John. 1837. Observations on certain parts of the animal œconomy … with notes by Richard Owen. Vol. 4 of The works of John Hunter, F.R.S. with notes, edited by James F. Palmer. 4 vols. London. 1835–7. [vols. 5,7]

Hunter, John. 1861. Essays and observations on natural history, anatomy, physiology, psychology, and geology. Being his posthumous papers on those subjects, arranged andrevised, with notes: to which are added, the introductory lectures on the Hunterian Collection of fossil remains …\ by Richard Owen. 2 vols. London.

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.


Sends source of description of swimming bear catching insects [Samuel Hearne, A journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay to the northern ocean … (1795); see Origin, p. 184].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Richard Owen
Sent from
Source of text
Natural History Museum, Library and Archives (General Special Collections Owen correspondence 9/211, 213)
Physical description
3pp encl 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2576,” accessed on 27 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7