Letter From The Editor - Issue 55 - February 2017

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Issue 15
Stories
Body Language
by Mary Robinette Kowal
Lo'ihi Rising
by Geoffrey W. Cole
Sweet as Honey
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Aim for the Stars
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Folk of the Fringe Serialization
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The Report of a Doubtful Creature
    by Ian Creasey
The Report of a Doubtful Creature
Artwork by Anna Repp

As so much of Charles Darwin's correspondence has already been published, it is a rare event to discover a previously unknown letter from him, especially one concerning his seminal work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. By kind permission of the letter's owner and the esteemed editor of this magazine, I am pleased to be able to reprint the letter here, and I will restrict myself to the minimum of prefatory remarks necessary to give context to this intriguing document.

The first edition of the Origin of Species, as it is now more commonly called, was published in November 1859. Darwin finished correcting the proofs of the book on 1 October, and on the following day he set out for the Yorkshire town of Ilkley, where he spent two months undertaking the "water cure" that was so popular during the Victorian era.

It appears to have done him little good, for in his extant correspondence we find him writing, "I have had a series of calamities: first a fall culminating in a sprained ankle, and then a badly swollen leg and face, followed by itching rash and a frightful succession of boils -- a dozen at once. I cannot now walk a step, owing to a hideous boil on my knee. We have been here six weeks, and I feel worse than when I came."

The newly discovered letter dates from soon after Darwin's arrival in Ilkley, prior to the aforementioned sequence of calamities -- which might almost be viewed as a Biblical judgement upon him: after his Fall, a Plague of Boils. The addressee, William Darwin Fox, was Darwin's second cousin and a lifelong friend; they studied theology together at Christ's College, Cambridge, and in 1859 Fox was Rector of Delamere, in Cheshire. Darwin himself originally intended to become a clergyman.

In the transcription below, the letter's spelling and punctuation have been regularised for reading convenience. Some text has been inferred where Darwin employs abbreviations, or where his handwriting approaches illegibility.

As to the provenance and authenticity of the letter, I am personally acquainted with the letter's owner, who wishes to remain anonymous. I trust her absolutely as a scholar and a lady; therefore I take the veracity of the letter on faith. However, I am informed that scientists are currently analysing the manuscript, and their conclusions will be announced soon. In the event of any doubts arising, readers may judge for themselves what to believe.

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