DARWIN, CHARLES. 1809-1882. Autograph Letter Signed ("C. Darwin"),
Lot 80
DARWIN, CHARLES. 1809-1882.
Autograph Letter Signed ("C. Darwin"),
Sold for US$ 25,000 inc. premium

History of Science

22 Oct 2014, 13:00 EDT

New York

Lot Details
DARWIN, CHARLES. 1809-1882. Autograph Letter Signed ("C. Darwin"), DARWIN, CHARLES. 1809-1882. Autograph Letter Signed ("C. Darwin"),
DARWIN, CHARLES. 1809-1882.
Autograph Letter Signed ("C. Darwin"), 4 pp recto and verso, 8vo (conjoined leaves), Down Bromley, Kent, November 29, [1857], to Charles Spence Bate, with autograph transmittal envelope. Light soiling to envelope, letter fine with just a couple of spots and slight fold separation at outer margin.

FINE SCIENTIFIC CONTENT: DARWIN PEPPERS A COLLEAGUE WITH QUESTIONS ABOUT THE REPRODUCTIVE ACT AMONG BARNACLES. Darwin first became intrigued by barnacles on a beach off the coast of Chile in January, 1835. However it was not until 1846 that he began the lengthy researches that resulted in the authoritative 4-volume Cirripedia, published from 1851-1854. In studying barnacles, Darwin was "the first person to classify a group of organisms according to the principle of 'common descent,' the idea that related animals and plants all descend from a common ancestor. This was a central idea in Darwin's theory of evolution and probably the only proposal to come from The Origin which was more or less immediately and widely adopted by the scientific community" ("Charles Darwin & Evolution," Christ's College, Cambridge, 2009).

In the present letter, Darwin shows that his fascination with the creatures has not abated one jot over the years. He has had it on hearsay (John Lubbock told Darwin about a friend of Bate's) that an unknown man has actually observed the sexual act in a group of barnacles and Darwin can hardly wait for the details. Darwin letters regarding sexual intercourse are rare. Indeed, it is not uncommon to be fascinated by barnacle sex. The barnacle is the creature with proportionally the largest penis in the animal kingdom.
Balanus is a genus of barnacles which includes the common barnacle. The recipient, Charles Spence Bate (1819-1889), was a zoologist and dentist. Richard Bishop's detailed response C.S. Bate's forwarding of Darwin's letter can be read on the Darwin Correspondence Database.

Footnotes

  • Transcribed in full:
    My dear Sir,
    Mr Lubbock told me yesterday of a fact, observed, I believe by a friend of yours, which interests me particularly: & I shd be extremely much obliged if you could get me a little more information on the subject, namely the act of cross impregnation in some Balanus.
    The points on which I so much wish for more information are— which was the species; if not known could I see a specimen of the kind. Was the probosciformed penis inserted into more than one individual? For about how long
    [and how many] times was it inserted? Was it inserted deeply & at which end of valves? Especially did the recipient individual continue during the times exerting its cirri? Did it keep its opercula valves widely open for the reception of the organ? I am anxious to know whether this recipient was a willing agent or adulterer. or whether it was a case of rape by act. If the recipient was in full vigour, I think it wd be impossible to insert anything without its consent. Were the specimens under water at times? Who was the observer that I might check his authority.
    I hope you will kindly forgive all this trouble, for I am really very curious at to the point. Perhaps the simplest plan wd be to forward this note to your friend & back up my request. I have been very glad to notice what progress you are making in your researches. Yours sincerely, C. Darwin
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