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Letter 7576

Matthew, Patrick to Darwin, C. R.

12 Mar 1871


Encloses an article he wrote for the Scotsman [9 Mar 1871, p. 5].

Wishes he had time to write a critique of Descent. There is evidence of design and benevolence in nature. Beauty cannot be accounted for by natural selection.


Gourdiehill, Errol, Scotland,

March 12/71

Dear Sir,

I am Glad to see by the Newspapers that you have had health & strengthso as be able to bring out full illustrations of the variation & selectionLaws of Nature.f1 Of which I would desire to be able to write a critique,but am so much taken up with political and agricultural affairs that Ifear I will not have time, more especially as I intend in a few weeks togo over to Germany where one of my sons has been settled as an agriculturistfor many years & has a large family; and as being known quite as muchin Germany as in Britain I may remain some time.f2 I also fear that I amnot sufficiently a restricted Naturalist as be able to enter into theminutiæ of the science.

I am now engaged with the cutivation of Peace & of Climate, Also thePhilosophy of Agriculture, in which being above 4 score it is probableI may not be able to complete, as you have been able to do in your province.I enclose an Article from the Scotsman Newspaper which will shew I amnot yet quite effete.f3 I hope your family are now all well, When you wrote tome long ago, one of your sons was very unwell. I hope he reovered.f4

I have not had time to give the subject—the modification of lifeto circumstances—sufficient attention. One strange character of Rye,acquired we may suppose by being so very long cultivated in fields,of taking a gregarious nature, was observed by me when over in Germany.I walking through wheat fields searching for new varieties of wheat, Ifound a few scattered plants of rye, which being nearly ripe, had only2 or 3 grains in the Ear, the other spaces being empty chaff.Also on a few solitary ears of Rye on the high way I found equally unfruitful.This did not seem to be from bird depredation. At the bloomingtime of fields of Rye, Rye grass, pinus sylvestris & pinaster,f5 in time ofa soft S. West Zephyr, there is often seen a pollen mist ⟨cl⟩oudsweeping along, which in the rye seems necessary to the fecundation probablyfrom being so long used to it.

There cannot be a doubt that in the scheme of nature there exists highdesign & constructive power carried out by general Laws, And the greatprobability is that these laws are everlasting, as Nature itself is,tho’ under these laws subject to revolution. It is also probable thatthe spark of life, like light, & heat &c., is radiated from thesun & has a power of building up to itself a domicile suited to existingcircumstances & disseminating sparks of its own kind, but possessed of avariation power. That there is a principle of beneficence operating herethe dual parentage and family affection pervading all the higher animalkindom affords proof. A sentiment of beauty pervading Nature, with onlysome few exceptions affords evidence of intellect & benevolence in thescheme of Nature. This principle of beauty is clearly from design &cannot be accounted for by natural selection. Could any fitness of thingscontrive a rose, a lily, or the perfume of the violet.f6 There is nodoubt man is left purposely in ignorance of a future existence. Theirpretended revelations are wretched nonsense.

It is a beautiful parable, the woman walking through the City of Damascusbearing fire in the one hand & water in the other, crying, with this water Iwill burn heaven & with this water extinguish hell that man may worship Godfor his own sake & not as mercen⟨ary⟩ labourers.f7 We are giftedwith a moral sense & it is delightful to do good. It is a pleasureto me to wish you & yours the enjoyment of doing good. I regret Icannot do more than wish it.

Patrick Matthew

P.S. I see it stated that you cannot account for useless parts by thelaws of variation & competition, general laws cannot provide againstaccidents in all casesf8

Natural History Museum (Gen. Lib.)



Matthew refers to Descent.
Alexander Matthew managed his father’s estate in Holstein (Dempster1996, p. 3).
The enclosure has not been found but the article referred to, atwo-column unsigned review of Descent ([Matthew] 1871),appeared in the Scotsman, 9 March 1871, p. 5.
The reference is to Leonard Darwin (see Correspondence vol. 10,letter to Patrick Matthew, 13 June [1862] and n. 3).
Rye is Secale cereale; rye grass refers to a number of species ofthe genus Lolium. Pinus sylvestris is Scots pine and P. pinasteris the maritime pine. The bloom period for rye is early spring;most rye grasses bloom in early summer. Scots pine flowers in late Mayor early June, with most pollen shed in two or three days; similarly, maritime pine flowers in early June, shedding mostof its pollen in about four days. Environmental factors alsoaffect flowering times.
In Origin 4th ed., pp. 238–41, CD had discussed beauty in natureand offered explanations based on both natural and sexualselection.
The story is taken from the memoirs of Jean de Joinville. For a modernEnglish translation, see Joinville 1906, p. 107.
The source of the statement has not been identified, but mayoriginate in one of the many reviews of Descent. For a list ofreviews of Descent, see Appendix V.
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