To Henry Wentworth Acland 8 December 1
Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.
My dear Professor Acland
I am much obliged for your kind note & present.2 I remember perfectly & with much pleasure our short acquaintance at Oxford.3
I have read your Oration with great interest, & much in it about Hervey &c was new to me.4 I believe we entirely agree that purpose or design is one of the surest & simplest roads to discovery in Natural History.5
I have been the more interested in your Oration from having a few years ago corresponded a good deal on the subject with Professor Asa Gray but I confess I finished in hopeless confusion of mind.6 On the one hand it grates against one’s common sense to look at this world with all its inhabitants especially man as originating without express design. On the other hand I cannot believe that any one structure is expressly designed, in the common meaning of the word. Asa Gray, who believes in Nat. Selection, believes that the initial variations are designed, but he could not maintain that the variations of domestic animals, such as those by which the Pouter pigeon has been formed, were expressly designed; nor did he dispute that the variations under domestication & under nature are of the same order & follow the same laws.7 So that looking at the subject from two opposite points of view, I am driven to two opposite conclusions.
I send by this post a little book on climbing plants which wd only be worth your looking at as shewing how much power of movement, both spontaneous & from various stimuli, there is in plants of all kinds.8
With very sincere thanks believe me yours very faithfully
My health continues so bad that I have done no work for the last 8 months.
Acknowledges HWA’s oration.
Discusses design in nature, Asa Gray’s views, and his own confusion.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4948,” accessed on 17 January 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-4948