Posted - 11-03-2019


Charles Darwin, fairy rings and blu-tack

Science Week runs from 8 to 17 March 2019. As a contribution, here are three letters by Charles Darwin, the naturalist, geologist and biologist who, with Alfred Russel Wallace jointly published their theories of evolution by natural selection at the Linnean Society in 1858. While two of the three letters relate to Darwin’s research work, unfortunately none of them relate to the Big Idea:


The first is the last page of a letter by an amanuensis, signed by Darwin, with train times and arrangements for meeting the unnamed recipient. (NLW, Dolaucothi L 5984).

Secondly, a letter dated 10 July 1875 written to an unnamed recipient by an amanuensis, again only signed by Darwin, thinking about contagion, and asking whether fairy rings start from a central point and spread outwards, or whether they start as rings. Also, whether it is known on what the mycelium subsists? (NLW, SA/CR/219). This letter is clearly, and the others possibly, part of an autograph collection. Some of the other letters in this collection, including one from Charles Dickens, have been framed, with the frames showing traces of blu-tack. From before their arrival at the Library, I hasten to add!

And lastly, a letter dated 22 Oct. 1880 to Thomas Henry Thomas (‘Arlunydd Penygarn’, 1839-1915), artist and active member of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society. Darwin thanked Thomas and Prof. Schaefhausen for the photographs, which he found very interesting, and that Thomas had been fortunate to find such fine foot-marks. (NLW MS 3127C, no. 12).

All three letters have been submitted to Cambridge University’s Darwin Correspondence Project.

The Library also holds several letters by Alfred Russel Wallace. Something for another blog, another day perhaps.


Stephen Benham
Assistant Archivist

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

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