You now have the opportunity to read the majority of Charles Darwin’s personal writing.
The University of Cambridge has made available online all of the evolutionary scientist’s surviving correspondence, including 400 letters that have surfaced or have been “reinterpreted.”
Over 15,000 letters written between 1822 and 1882 are now searchable, ranging from his influential time aboard the HMS Beagle to On the Origin of Species and end-of-life reflections.
The internet archive may be the only way to get a more complete picture of Darwin’s life. The university points out that the final print edition, due in early 2023, will not include letters that arrived too late to be printed.
Many books include footnotes and bibliographies to put quotations into context.
This final batch of correspondence shows how attitudes toward evolution evolved during the researcher’s lifetime.
Natural selection had largely been established as fact among younger scientists by 1882, a stark contrast to the initial hostility to On the Origin of Species upon its initial release in 1859.
The letters also show that Darwin was still conducting experiments months before his death.
It will not be the same as holding the actual letters in your hands. It is, however, a classic demonstration of the internet’s value to academics, as well as anyone who is curious.
You can get a sense of history without visiting an archive or donning cotton gloves, as with other archival projects.