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@Bookseller (9 April 1860)


Darwin to unknown bookseller, 9 April 1860. Letter 2753F: Darwin Correspondence Project

This is Darwin’s letter ordering “On Naval Timber and Arboriculture”. The addressee is unknown. An image of the original letter is available at The European Library. Matthew’s letter to the Gardeners’ Chronicle, which rebroadcast his ideas on the evolutionary origin of species by natural selection from his 1831 book, was printed on 7 April 1860.

Downe, Bromley, Kent, Ap. 9th
Dear Sir,
Please procure & send me by Post [underlined twice], Mr Pat. Matthew’s work on “Naval Timber & Arboriculture” 1831. Adam Black Edinburgh & Longmans London.
Dear sir, Yours faithfully, C. Darwin

This letter has been used by Hugh Dower (2009 web article) to argue that Darwin could not have possibly received his copy of Matthew’s book in time to write his reply to Matthew’s letter (which he sent to Hooker on April 13th), and therefore Darwin must have already had a copy of Matthew’s book in his possession. There are a number of problems with Dower’s hypothesis. The first is that although April 9th 1860 was indeed Easter Monday as Dower notes, in 1860 Easter Monday was not a Bank Holiday so Darwin would in fact have been able to post his letter the same day. The second is that the letter makes very clear that the book should be delivered by post back to Darwin (with the word “post” underlined twice to emphasize the sense of urgency), so Dower’s suggestion that it would have been first sent to Darwin’s brother in London is not relevant. The third is that post in the 1860’s was quick and efficient, and the fact that Matthew’s book did not sell many copies may have made it easier, not more difficult, for a bookseller to find it in a book warehouse. The final one is perhaps the most important – what possible motive would Darwin have for sending his letter to Hooker before he received the copy from the bookseller? If he was being duplicitous, this makes no sense. The logical thing to do would be to wait until the copy did arrive, and then write the letter. The letter would be written a couple of days later, but this would make no odds.

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