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Charles Darwin letter set to sell at auction

The previously unseen four page note is the only known document where Darwin discusses the challenging evolution of the flatfish, and is signed "Ch. Darwin."

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(Julius Jääskeläinen via Wiki Commons)

By Ed Cullinane via SWNS

Charles Darwin letter detailing "the eyes of a flatfish" which was a ''thorn in the side'' in his theories of evolution is set to sell for 20K.

The letter, written by Darwin's wife Emma and dictated by the naturalist, was found in an old photo album by chance.

The previously unseen four page note is the only known document where Darwin discusses the challenging evolution of the flatfish, and is signed "Ch. Darwin."

Darwin is known to have been baffled by the anatomy of the flatfish, which is born with two eyes on either side of its head but grows to migrate one eye to the other side.

The letter's discussion of the evolution of the fish's eye makes it an exceptionally rare glimpse into Darwin's thought process while solving one of his most difficult evolutionary puzzles.

Auctioneer Chris Albury, from Dominic Winter auctioneers, said the references to God and the flatfish made it an extra special find.

He said: "Any Darwin letter is exciting but any which mentions discusses evolution is extra special.

"The flatfish problem was a thorn in Darwin's side until he died and he would have been ecstatic to see the research that has been done in the last 20 years which help prove his theory of evolution by natural selection.

"This is an unpublished and previously unrecorded letter by Darwin and the only one he is known to have written that talks about flatfish."

Expected to raise anywhere between £15,000-20,000 ($19,683- $26,244) the letter will go up on sale alongside letters from Churchill, Charles Dickens and Christina Rossetti all found in the same bundle.

The astonishingly rare and valuable collection was only recently discovered by their owner in an old photo album provided to him by a great aunt decades before.

The letter is in response to correspondence from Rev Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) a novelist and social reformer who lectured at Cambridge.

Despite being religious, Kingsley and Darwin worked closely together and his promotion of Darwin's evolutionary theories was a key part in Darwin's rise to prominence.

In the letter, Darwin dictates: "‘I can form no opinion about the wonderful case of the migration of the eye in flat-fish;

"Whether Steenstrup is right who seems to think that the eye itself moves by absorption on one side and growth on the other;

"Or whether Thompson [sic] is right who thinks that the eye itself does not move, but thinks that the adjoining parts are developed in a wonderfully unequal manner on the two sides of the head.

"The power of development on either side seems to me one of the most curious points of the case.

"When I read the paper I speculated how the unequal development c[oul]d have originated.

"I imagined that a fish feeding on the ground with its body held laterally might be benefited by the eye on the lower side becoming deeper and deeper embedded in the skull and instead of becoming blind and useless, travelling to the upper side, but this is all baseless speculation."

The letter will be sold at Dominic Winters Auctioneers on Wed, April 6, 2022 at 10:00 as part of their Printed Books, Maps & Documents, Early English and Continental Literature & Science action.

For more information visit their website here.

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