Lot 28 of 253:
1829 letter to Charles Darwin's Cambridge mentor from a fellow clergyman-botanist  

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Letter to Charles Darwin's Cambridge mentor from a fellow clergyman-botanist
Ellicombe, H.T., Rev.
Bath, England

Autograph Letter Signed. Briton Vicarage [Bath, England] April 4, 1829, 3pp.+ stampless address leaf. To Rev. G.S.Henslow, Cambridge.

Long letter from a British clergyman, a noted “amateur” botanist, to fellow clergyman-botanist Henslow , then a Cambridge Don, who,  that very year, became mentor to a young Charles Darwin, then a Cambridge student supposedly preparing to become an Anglican country parson. 

But the 20 year-old,  less interested in  theology than in Henslow’s lectures on Botany, might have been intrigued by the esoteric  issues raised in this letter about the “puzzling family of Veronica”  (herbaceous flowering plants) and other botanical mysteries.  Ellicombe, with his own extensive collection of Geraniums, Narcissus and Asters, hoped Henslow could supply him with a few rarities from the Cambridge Gardens, and, as they had never met, added chitchat about probable mutual acquaintances such as his neighbor, William Withering (son of the discoverer of digitalis), then editing his late father’s classic botanical writings.

Darwin first noted in an 1830 letter that he had been “seeing a good deal” of Henslow, who was to have a great influence on his student’s future.  While later sailing aboard HMS Beagle, Darwin corresponded regularly with his old mentor, and, after the voyage, in 1835, privately published extracts from his letters to Henslow about his discoveries – this was Darwin’s first separately printed work, a copy of which recently sold at auction for over 200,000 British Pounds.  Autograph Letters to Henslow by both Darwin and John James Audubon also sold at auction in the 1980s, but other letters to Henslow have not appeared recently on the antiquarian market.

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