Unpublished Darwin ALS on Bee Specimens from Africa

Signed by Charles Darwin

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Item: 21733
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DARWIN, CHARLES. (1809-1882). English naturalist; first to suggest a theory of evolution by natural selection. ALS. (“C. Darwin”). 1p. 8vo. Kent, March 15. N.y. On Darwin’s personal Down stationery. To a gentleman.

“I have thought you would like to possess a few bees & comb (a wretched specimen, but a … would show size) sent to me & Mr. Mann from Fernando Po or opposite mainland of W. Africa. I have no other information whatever on specimens…”

From 1831 to 1836, Darwin served as naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, a Royal Navy brig-sloop commissioned to survey the South American coast. Despite near constant seasickness, Darwin collected fossils as well as marine and zoological specimens and made copious notes that contributed to the publication of the five-volume Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle under the Command of Captain Fitzroy, R. N., during the Years 1832 to 1836. Darwin’s achievements brought him fame, added to by his publication of numerous works of natural history, most notably his 1859 On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, which outlined his theory of evolution. This work was followed by his most controversial theory – that mankind is descended from the anthropoid group of mammals – published in The Descent of Man in 1871.

Charles Darwin

Darwin was especially interested in bees and obtained a glass sided hive for his garden to better observe their habits, especially the way they made their combs. His extensive correspondence included numerous letters to beekeepers and entomologists around the world. He also made extensive study of the interaction between bees and various plants, comparing notes with a colleague in Italy and elsewhere. Darwin acknowledged in The Origin of Species, that the communal life of bees seems contradictory to his theory of the “survival of the fittest.” In Chapter 7 Darwin observes: “The subject of instinct might have been worked into the previous chapters; but I have thought that it would be more convenient to treat the subject separately, especially as so wonderful an instinct as that of the hive-bee making its cells will probably have occurred to many readers, as a difficulty sufficient to over-throw my whole theory. I must premise, that I have nothing to do with the origin of the primary mental powers, any more than I have with that of life itself. We are concerned only with the diversities of instinct and of the other mental qualities of animals within the same class.”

German botanist Gustav Mann (1836-1916) was a gardener at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and brought specimens back from expeditions to West Africa and India. Hundreds of plant species as well as the orchid genera Manniella bear his name. Our letter discusses a specimen sent to Mann and Darwin from the island Fernando Pó (modern Bioko), off the coast of Equatorial Guinea.

Not published in the online catalogue of the Charles Darwin Papers at Cambridge University or the Darwin Online project edited by John van Wyhe. Folded with a small hole in the center, affecting one word. Framed. Not examined out of the frame.

Unpublished Darwin ALS on Bee Specimens from Africa

Signed by Charles Darwin


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