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Darwin Correspondence Project

To the Duke of Argyll   23 September 1878

Down Beckenham

September 23, 1878.

Dear Duke of Argyll,—

The problem which you state so clearly is a very interesting one, on which I have often speculated. As far as I can judge, the improbability is extreme that the same well-characterized species should be produced in two distinct countries, or at two distinct times. It is certain that the same variation may arise in two distinct places, as with albinism or with the nectarine or peach-trees. But the evidence seems to me overwhelming that a well-marked species is the product, not of a single or of a few variations, but of a long series of modifications, each modification resulting chiefly from adaptation to infinitely complex conditions (including the inhabitants of the same country) with more or less inheritance of all the preceding modifications. Moreover, as variability depends more on the nature of the organism than on that of the environment, the variations will tend to differ at each successive stage of descent. Now it seems to me improbable in the highest degree that a species should ever have been exposed in two places to infinitely complex relations of exactly the same nature during a long series of modifications. An illustration will perhaps make what I have said clearer, though it applies only to the less important factors of inheritance and variability, and not to adaptation—viz. the improbability of two men being born in two countries identical in body and mind. If, however, it be assumed that a species at each successive stage of its modification was surrounded in two distinct countries or times by exactly the same assemblage of plants and animals, and by the same physical conditions, then I can see no theoretical difficulty to such a species giving birth to the new form in the two countries. If you will look to the sixth edition of my ‘Origin’, at p. 100, you will find a somewhat analogous discussion perhaps more intelligible than this letter.

“Yours faithfully, | Charles Darwin”.


Doubts that "the same well-characterized species should be produced in two distinct countries, or at two distinct times".

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Argyll, Duke of
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143: 20
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11706,” accessed on 23 January 2017,