The British naturalist Charles Darwin had correspondence
with numerous other luminaries of his age and members of his family
. These have provided many insights about the nineteenth century, from scientific exploration and travel to religious debate and discussion. The letters also illuminate many aspects of Darwin's work: the development of his scientific ideas; his opinions on issues he did not publish about (his letters to Asa Gray
, for example, show his changing opinions on the American Civil War
); matters about his character and health; the ways in which he relied upon correspondence for much of his investigations into natural history; and the ways in which he marshalled scientific support for his ideas amongst friends and colleagues.
Analysis and publication of Darwin's correspondence has been a main focus of the so-called Darwin Industry
of historical scholarship.
Correspondence was central to Darwin's research. In his early years, most of the letters he filed away immediately were those relevant to one of his ongoing scientific projects. Other letters were stuck onto "spits", as he called them, and when his slender stock of these 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 many of the letters received before 1862. Even so, the number of letters is remarkable, even in these early years. After publication of the......