Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version


Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 23, Number 4, December 2001.

ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)


2001 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


Professor Burkhardt's detailed and exhaustive analysis of this curious letter has provided a classic case of the kind of problems one might face in textual editing. My own interest in this letter was first generated during my editing of the Hunterian lectures of Darwin's contemporary, Richard Owen. It also relates to my long-term interest in the importance of Darwin's work on invertebrate organisms and its relevance to the origins of his evolutionary theory. This work commenced during his early years in Edinburgh and persisted through the Beagle years and even beyond into his eight years of study of the barnacles. I have also been concerned to determine with more precision the degree to which he may have attended Richard Owen's Hunterian lectures in Comparative Anatomy, delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, that commenced in May 1837 and ran in a yearly series until 1855. These lectures dealt both with topics related to comparative anatomy and also with functional issues, particularly those surrounding the generation of organisms, a subject that formed a prominent focus of display in the Hunterian galleries.

The existence of this letter, dated at least by watermark to 1840 or beyond, and the topic of Owen's 1840 lecture series on the generation of animals, including the generation of insects, suggests a plausible context for the letter, although the letter does not specifically mention the lecture series itself. The 1840 series consisted of a sequence of twenty-four lectures on animal generation and reproduction that commenced on Tuesday, April 21 , 1840, and ran each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday until Saturday, June 13. On my initial assumption that this was a genuine Darwin letter, it suggested that Darwin might well have attended this series of lectures.