From Hensleigh Wedgwood [January? 1860]1
not seen it myself and cannot get a very distinct account of the extent of the complaint.
I feel the origin of things wholly beyond the scope of our imagination and should by no means be surprised if there never was any beginning The difficulties of that hypothesis do not seem to me to be greater than the converse. But to my mind the problem is not in the least degree smoothed by supposing that life began with a single cell. If you suppose a cell started in a mineral world with only such a tendency to variation in the offspring as we are acquainted with I cannot think that an infinity of ages would have made any material advance in organisation.2
Is it a fact that we have any geological evidence of a gradual progress in organisation? I think that when the Vestiges were in discussion the opinion of scientific people was that there was not.3 As far as I see the only positive evidence we have is of degradation, not of advance as in the loss of sight in cave animals moles &c. loss of limbs by snakes and other rudimentary cases. If all vertebrate animals have descended from a common ancestor I should think it must have been of the complete four limbed type, otherwise we might expect to find the fundamental vertebra with utterly discordant modifications. Because we recognise the same senses in the lower animals and in vertebrates does not seem to me to tend towards evidence of their original identity. They both have to live in the same world and to avail themselves of the same powers of nature and one would expect ‘a priori that there should be resemblance in the organs with which they are furnished for that purpose.
I am rather ashamed of sending my crude speculations to you who have thought so much on these subjects but it is well for you to see the light in which they strike all sorts of people
Many thanks for your criticism on my dictionary.4 It agreed for the most part all too well with my own conviction at the time of writing. Video meliora but I cannot reach them. If I could illustrate and fill out as I ought to do my book on the Understanding would be recognised as having attained what Locke aimed at.5
Adieu | H W.
Prepared to think world infinitely old, but not that life originated with a single cell. Questions whether geological evidence supports gradual progress in organisation. HW thought scientific opinion during Vestiges debate was against this hypothesis. Argues that presence of same senses in lower animals and vertebrates does not imply descent; assumes resemblance is due to living in same world and thus having organs for the same purposes. Wants CD to know how others may see these questions.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2389,” accessed on 23 March 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-2389