The Life and Letters of Darwin, Vol. 1 HTML version
In choosing letters for publication I have been largely guided by the wish to illustrate my
father's personal character. But his life was so essentially one of work, that a history of
the man could not be written without following closely the career of the author. Thus it
comes about that the chief part of the book falls into chapters whose titles correspond to
the names of his books.
In arranging the letters I have adhered as far as possible to chronological sequence, but
the character and variety of his researches make a strictly chronological order an
impossibility. It was his habit to work more or less simultaneously at several subjects.
Experimental work was often carried on as a refreshment or variety, while books
entailing reasoning and the marshalling of large bodies of facts were being written.
Moreover, many of his researches were allowed to drop, and only resumed after an
interval of years. Thus a rigidly chronological series of letters would present a patchwork
of subjects, each of which would be difficult to follow. The Table of Contents will show
in what way I have attempted to avoid this result.
In printing the letters I have followed (except in a few cases) the usual plan of indicating
the existence of omissions or insertions. My father's letters give frequent evidence of
having been written when he was tired or hurried, and they bear the marks of this
circumstance. In writing to a friend, or to one of his family, he frequently omitted the
articles: these have been inserted without the usual indications, except in a few instances,
where it is of special interest to preserve intact the hurried character of the letter. Other
small words, such as "of", "to", etc., have been inserted usually within brackets. I have
not followed the originals as regards the spelling of names, the use of capitals, or in the
matter of punctuation. My father underlined many words in his letters; these have not
always been given in italics,--a rendering which would unfairly exaggerate their effect.
The Diary or Pocket-book, from which quotations occur in the following pages, has been
of value as supplying a frame-work of facts round which letters may be grouped. It is
unfortunately written with great brevity, the history of a year being compressed into a
page or less; and contains little more than the dates of the principal events of his life,
together with entries as to his work, and as to the duration of his more serious illnesses.
He rarely dated his letters, so that but for the Diary it would have been all but impossible
to unravel the history of his books. It has also enabled me to assign dates to many letters
which would otherwise have been shorn of half their value.
Of letters addressed to my father I have not made much use. It was his custom to file all
letters received, and when his slender stock of files ("spits" as he called them) was
exhausted, he would burn the letters of several years, in order that he might make use of
the liberated "spits." This process, carried on for years, destroyed nearly all letters
received before 1862. After that date he was persuaded to keep the more interesting
letters, and these are preserved in an accessible form.