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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Andrew Crombie Ramsay1 21 February 1860

21. Feb. 1860

I had for years been using to myself the terms mutability of species, and transmutation of species, for want of better words to express the feeling, (amounting to a conviction) that in Time species passed insensibly into each other instead of being produced by separate acts of creation. But the idea implied by your principle of Natural Selection taken in connection with the struggle for existence is very different indeed from the vague gropings towards the light in which myself and others with various degrees of hesitation indulged.2

My faith such as it was, was founded on the following considerations. The disputes among Naturalists as to what constitutes a species the wranglings as to whether such & such were distinct species or varieties, the acknowledgment of permanent varieties, the existence of specific & still more of generic centres, of representative species in space, & in time in a geological sense, & the links (especially the rudimentary organs) that bind genera together, especially in the higher Mammalia, when living & fossil forms are considered together. The succession of small miracles required to produce certain species in a formation just a very little different from those in the preceding formation went sadly against my mental stomach & I never could reconcile myself to the idea of a Creator making a number of small experiments as it were of feeling his way in the work of Creation—   And when asked where are the perfect gradations, that show the passage of fossil species, I have always maintained that the record as shown in the succession of formations was too imperfect for us to find this & that it is not till an aberrant branch, multiplied to a vast extent, that we were likely to find fossilized any of its representatives at all.


The letter has not been found. The text has been transcribed from Charles Lyell’s scientific journal. It has also been published in Wilson ed. 1970, pp. 355–6. The entry in Lyell’s journal is headed: ‘Extract of Letter from A. C. Ramsay to C. Darwin, 21. Feb. 1860’.
CD sent Ramsay a presentation copy of Origin (see Appendix III). Thomas Henry Huxley had mentioned to CD that Ramsay was favourably inclined towards the book. See Correspondence vol. 7, letter to T. H. Huxley, 27 November [1859].


ACR has for years had a belief in mutability and transmutation of species, prompted by disputes over the nature of species and varieties, and the existence of representative species in space and in the geological record. Could not accept a Creator employing small miracles to make species differ just a little between formations. Has maintained that one would not expect to find fine gradations between forms in the fossil record, but only representatives of very populous forms. [See 2711.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Ramsay, A. C.
Darwin, C. R.
Source of text
Kinnordy MS, Charles Lyell’s journal V, pp. 112–16
Physical description
5pp inc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2706A,” accessed on 19 January 2017,