The results of Mr. Darwin's experience given in the above letter were embodied by Prof. Owen in the section "On the Use of the Microscope on Board Ship," forming part of the article "Zoology" in the "Manual of Scientific Enquiry, Prepared for the Use of Her Majesty's Navy" (London, 1849).), but I have derived such infinitely great advantage from my new simple microscope, in comparison with the one which I used on board the "Beagle," and which was recommended to me by R. Brown ("Life and Letters," I., page 145.), that I cannot forego the mere chance of advantage of urging this on you. The leading point of difference consists simply in having the stage for saucers very large and fixed. Mine will hold a saucer three inches in inside diameter. I have never seen such a microscope as mine, though Chevalier's (from whose plan many points of mine are taken), of Paris, approaches it pretty closely. I fully appreciate the utter ABSURDITY of my giving you advice about means of dissecting; but I have appreciated myself the enormous disadvantage of having worked with a bad instrument, though thought a few years since the best. Please to observe that without you call especial attention to this point, those ignorant of Natural History will be sure to get one of the fiddling instruments sold in shops. If you thought fit, I would point out the differences, which, from my experience, make a useful microscope for the kind of dissection of the invertebrates which a person would be likely to attempt on board a vessel. But pray again believe that I feel the absurdity of this letter, and I write merely from the chance of yourself, possessing great skill and having worked with good instruments, [not being] possibly fully aware what an astonishing difference the kind of microscope makes for those who have not been trained in skill for dissection under water. When next I come to town (I was prevented last time by illness) I must call on you, and report, for my own satisfaction, a really (I think) curious point I have made out in my beloved barnacles. You cannot tell how much I enjoyed my talk with you here.

Ever, my dear Owen, Yours sincerely, C. DARWIN.

P.S.--If I do not hear, I shall understand that my letter is superfluous. Smith and Beck were so pleased with the simple microscope they made for me, that they have made another as a model. If you are consulted by any young naturalists, do recommend them to look at this. I really feel quite a personal gratitude to this form of microscope, and quite a hatred to my old one.

LETTER 26. TO J.S. HENSLOW. Down [April 1st, 1848.]

Thank you for your note and giving me a chance of seeing you in town; but it was out of my power to take advantage of it, for I had previously arranged to go up to London on Monday. I should have much enjoyed seeing you. Thanks also for your address (26/1. An introductory lecture delivered in March 1848 at the first meeting of a Society "for giving instructions to the working classes in Ipswich in various branches of science, and more especially in natural history" ("Memoir of the Rev. J.S. Henslow," by Leonard Jenyns, page 150.), which I like very much. The anecdote about Whewell and the tides I had utterly forgotten; I believe it is near enough to the truth. I rather demur to one sentence of yours-- viz., "However delightful any scientific pursuit may be, yet, if it should be wholly unapplied, it is of no more use than building castles in the air." Would not your hearers infer from this that the practical use of each scientific discovery ought to be immediate and obvious to make it worthy of admiration? What a beautiful instance chloroform is of a discovery made from purely scientific researches, afterwards coming almost by chance into practical use! For myself I would, however, take higher ground, for I believe there exists, and I feel within me, an instinct for truth, or knowledge or discovery, of something of the same nature as the instinct of virtue, and that our having such an instinct is reason enough for scientific researches without any practical results ever ensuing from them.

More Letters of Charles Darwin Volume I Page 40

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book