skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   [17 July 1865]1



My dear Huxley

Forgive my writing in pencil, as I can do so lying down— I have read Buffon:— whole pages are laughably like mine.2 It is surprising how candid it makes one to see one’s views in another man’s words— I am rather ashamed of the whole affair, but not converted to a no-belief— What a kindness you have done me with your “vulpine sharpness”.—3

Nevertheless there is a fundamental distinction between Buffon’s views & mine. He does not suppose that each cell or atom of tissue throws off a little bud; but he supposes that the sap or blood includes his “organic molecules”, which are ready formed, fit to nourish each organ, & when this is fully formed, they collect to form buds & the sexual elements:—4 It is all rubbish to speculate as I have done; yet, if I ever have strength to publish my next book, I fear I shall not resist “pangenenesis”, but I assure you I will put it humbly enough—5 The ordinary course of development of beings, such as the echinodermata, in which new organs are formed at quite remote spots from the analogous previous parts, seems to me extremely difficult to reconcile on any view, except the free diffusion in the parent of the germs or gemmules of each separate new organ; & so in cases of alternate generation.—6 But I will not scribble any more. Hearty thanks to you, you best of critics & most learned man.

Yours most truly | C. Darwin

I was delighted to see the 3rd Editn. advertised of your “Man”.7

Your last note made us all laugh.— The future rummager of my papers will I fear, make widely opposite remarks—8


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from T. H. Huxley, 16 July 1865. The Monday after 16 July 1865 was 17 July.
Huxley had suggested that Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, had anticipated aspects of CD’s hypothesis of pangenesis (see letter to T. H. Huxley, 12 July [1865] and n. 3). In Variation 2: 375, CD mentioned the second volume of Buffon 1749–82, citing the pages that refer to the theory of organic molecules.
For a brief description of CD’s hypothesis of pangenesis, see the letter to T. H. Huxley, 27 May [1865] and n. 7. For CD’s comparison of his own and Buffon’s theory of organic molecules, see Variation 2: 375.
Variation was published in 1868. Pangenesis was discussed in chapter 27 (Variation 2: 357–404). For a description of the differences between the final version of the section on pangenesis and the original manuscript version, see Olby 1963, p. 252.
The development of Echinodermata is not discussed in the manuscript on pangenesis that CD sent to Huxley. Evidently, the phenomenon of new organs developing in different locations from analogous previous parts occurred to CD as an additional support to his theory after he received Huxley’s remarks on his manuscript; he added the discussion of alternate generation, including his example of echinoderm growth, to the final version of the section on pangenesis (see Variation 2: 366–7).
The reference is to Evidence as to man’s place in nature (T. H. Huxley 1863a). A pirated American edition was published in 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from T. H. Huxley, 2 July 1863 and n. 14) and a second English edition was published in 1864 (English catalogue of books, vol. 2), but no third edition appeared in 1865. However, a ‘Select list of works’ published by Williams and Norgate in May 1865 contained a notice of the ‘Third Thousand’ of Evidence as to man’s place in nature. The list appeared at the back of Lubbock 1865, a book that CD had been reading around this time (see letter to John Lubbock, 11 June [1865]).


Has read Buffon; whole pages are like his own. But CD is not converted to non-belief. There is a fundamental distinction between Pangenesis and Buffon. Fears he may not resist publishing it, but will be cautious.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine Archives (Huxley 5: 221)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4872,” accessed on 22 February 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13