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Darwin Correspondence Project

To H. E. Strickland   [4 February 1849]

Down. Farnborough Kent


My dear Strickland

I am in truth greatly obliged to you for your long, most interesting & clear letter & the Report.—1 I will consider your arguments, which are of greatest weight, but I confess I cannot yet bring myself to reject very well-known names not in one country, but over world for obscure ones; simply on the ground that I do not believe I shd. be followed. Pray believe that I shd. break law of priority only in rare cases: will you read the enclosed (& return it) & tell me whether it does not stagger you: (NB I promise that I will not give you any more trouble) I want simple answers, & not for you to waste your time in reasons: I am curious for your answer in regard to Balanus.

I put case of Otion &c to W. Thompson,2 who is fierce for law of priority, & he gave it up in such-well known names. I am in a perfect maze of doubt on nomenclature. In not one large genus of Cirripedia has any one species been correctly defined: it is pure guess work, (being guided by range & commonness & habits) to recognize any species: thus I cannot make out from Plates or descriptions hardly any of the British sessile cirripedes: I cannot bear to give new names to all the species, & yet I shall perhaps do wrong to attach old names by little better than guess: I cannot at present tell the least which of two species all writers have meant by the common Anatifera lævis; I have therefore given that name to the one which is rather the commonest.

Literally not one species is properly defined: not one naturalist has ever taken the trouble to open the shell of any species to describe it scientifically, & yet all the genera have 12 a dozen synonyms. For “argument” sake suppose I do my work thoroughly well; anyone who happens to have the original specimens named I will say by Chenu,3 who has figured & named hundreds of species, will be able to upset all my names according to law of priority (for he may maintain his descriptions are sufficient) do you think it advantageous to science, that this shd be done; I think not, & that convenience & high merit, (here put, as mere argument) had better come into some play.— The subject is heart-breaking.—

I hope you will occasionally turn in your mind my argument of evil done by the “mihi” attached to specific names: I can, most clearly see the excessive evil it has caused: in mineralogy I have myself found there is no rage to merely name; a person does not take up the subject, without he intends to work it out, as he knows that his only claim to merit rests on his work being ably done & has no relation whatever to naming. I give up one point, & grant that reference to first describer’s name shd be given in all systematic works but I think something wd. be gained, if a reference was given without authors name being actually appended as part of the binomial name, & I think, except in systematic works or reference, such as I propose, wd damp vanity much.—

I think a very wrong spirit runs through all natural History, as if some merit was due to a man for merely naming & defining a species; I think scarcely any or none is due: if he works out minutely & anatomically any one species, or systematically a whole group credit is due, but I must think the mere defining a species is nothing, & that no injustice is done him if it be overlooked, though a great inconvenience to natural History is thus caused. I do not think more credit is due to a man for defining a species than to a carpenter for making a box.— But I am foolish & rabid against species mongers or rather against their vanity; it is useful & necessary work which must be done; but they act as if they had actually made the species, & it was their own property.—

I use Agassiz’s nomenclator;4 at least 23 of dates in Cirripedia are grossly wrong.—

I shall do what I can in fossil Cirripedia & shd be very grateful for specimens; but I do not believe that species (& hardly genera) can be defined by single valves; as in every recent species yet examined their forms vary greatly: to describe a species by valves alone is the same as to describe a crab from small portions of its carapace alone, these portions being highly variable & not as in Crustacea modelled over viscera.—

I sincerely apologise for the trouble which I have given you, but indeed I will give no more.

Yours most sincerely | C. Darwin

In conversation I found Owen & Andrew Smith5 much inclined to throw over the practice of attaching author’s names; I believe if I agitated I cd get a large party to join— W. Thompson agreed some way with me, but was not prepared to go nearly as far as I am.—


Cases submitted by Mr Darwin.

A. Lister in 1686,7 made genera Anatifera & Balanus. Hill in 1748 8 called Anetifera Pentalasmis; a second Edit. of Hill was published in 1773. Linnæus incorrectly united Antifera & Balanus under Lepas. Bruguiere in 1782,9 called Antifera, Anatifa. Leach in 1817, regave name of Pentalasmis:10 de Blainville called genera in 1824 Pentalepas &c.—11 Now according to your Rule, as X Edit. of Linnæus was published in 1758,12 Lister’s name & Hills must be rejected, but what are we to say about Hills 2d. Edit. in 1773?— Again if Hills name be rejected as being practically before binomial system, must Anatifa be received, it having been evidently reprobated & rejected as unclassical; or may not Anatifera (as I thought of doing) be taken as strictly oldest and as being so like to Anatifa as not to cause mistake? I should have said, that, take the world, Antifa is now the far most generally accepted name.—

B. Lister published in 1685 Balanus; Bruguiere in 1792 proposed Balanites which not one human being has accepted, must I reject Balanus, which name is in every Book and in every Museum in the world. Would you here follow law of priority, & if you would can you honestly say that you think the name of Balanites could be followed Indeed the rule of strict priority must bend sometimes, I think, to “human infirmity” as in case of incorrect names: So Coronula is in every Museum & Book.13 How signally Loudon & others failed in calling the Dahlia Georgina!14 Again, I find that often Law of priority cannot practically be applied from names coming out in works which appeared during long course of years.—

C. Leach, called sessile cirripedes Acamptosomata and pedunculate ones Campylosomata; these names have never, & I believe never will be followed from egregious length; must one be burthened with such terms in place of pedunculate and sessile, which they certainly preceded?—

D. One other question. Is an excellent plate with first name but no description, to be superseded by a second name & bad description?


See letter from H. E. Strickland, 31 January 1849.
William Thompson, who was preparing a work on the natural history of Ireland. This correspondence has not been located.
Jean Charles Chenu. The plates of Balanidae in Chenu 1842–54 are cited several times in Living Cirripedia (1854).
Agassiz 1842–6. CD’s copy of the second edition of this work, Agassiz 1848, is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Andrew Smith was an authority on the zoology of South Africa.
The enclosure is a copy made by Strickland. The original has not been located.
Lister 1685–92.
J. Hill 1748–52.
Bruguières 1789–92. A copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Leach 1817.
Blainville ed. 1824.
The tenth edition of Linnaeus’s Systema naturae (Linnaeus 1758) was the first in which the binomial system of nomenclature was used. The ‘Rules of Nomenclature’, however, specified the twelfth edition (Linnaeus 1766–8) as the standard and excluded all names used before that edition. See letter to H. E. Strickland, [19 February 1849], n. 1.
See letter to H. E. Strickland, 29 January [1849], n. 5.
John Claudius Loudon attempted to rename the genus Dahlia in Loudon ed. 1830, pp. 488, 520, 522. He wished it to be known as Georgina in honour of the Russian naturalist Johann GottliebGeorgi.


HES’s arguments are of great weight, but CD cannot yet bring himself to reject well-known names for obscure ones. Sends four cases that he thinks will stagger HES. Cites his problems in classifying cirripedes. CD cannot bear to give new names, yet may do wrong to attach old ones. Not one species is correctly defined. The harm done by "species mongers".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Hugh Edwin Strickland
Sent from
Source of text
University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge
Physical description
5pp encl (copy by HES) 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1221,” accessed on 26 April 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4