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Lot 0006
Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

Autograph letter signed (‘Charles Darwin’) to [Charles Valentine] Riley, Down, Beckenham, Kent, 19 May 1877.

2 pages, 193 x 126mm, headed notepaper, later pencil annotations on recto (small puncture hole affecting one word of verso text).

Darwin writes to the entomologist C.V. Riley. Darwin thanks his correspondent for ‘your Ninth Report [on the noxious, beneficial, and other insects of the State of Missouri], which like all its eight predecessors has interested me much. You always manage to discuss points of general interest, besides those of practical importance. What a pretty illustration of a sub-rudimentary organ is that of the ovipositor of the saw-fly!’.

The British-born entomologist and artist Charles Valentine Riley (1843-1895) first came to Darwin’s attention in 1868, when he received a letter from Benjamin Dann Walsh (1808-1869) in which his friend praised the talents of his new collaborator on the monthly journal The American Entomologist: ‘C. V. Riley […] an active energetic young man of 25 [… who] has recently been appointed State Entomologist of Missouri, with a salary of $2500 per annum’. Walsh was sufficiently impressed by Riley’s work to enclose a sample for Darwin’s review, also mentioning that Riley ‘not long ago published in the Prairie Farmer a tolerably good review of your book’. Darwin and Riley later entered into correspondence themselves; in 1871, Riley sent a copy of his third volume of Annual reports on the noxious, beneficial and other insects in the state of Missouri [Darwin’s annotated copy is held at Cambridge University Library] to which Darwin responded with admiring comments, and the two continued to exchange letters for the next decade, as Riley established himself as one of America’s leading entomologists. Darwin’s own fascination with entomology has been noted – he famously wrote in an 1860 letter to the naturalist Asa Gray, referencing parasitoid wasps, that ‘I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice’.

Darwin Correspondence Project 10967F

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Darwin and the entomologist

Estimate £6,000 - £9,000May 23, 2019
Lot Closed
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New York, NY, USA
Auction Curated By:
Sophie Hopkins
Associate Director, Specialist, Manuscripts & Archives