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Darwin Correspondence Project

From B. D. Walsh   [28 November 1866]1

– – a favorable review of what the author is pleased facetiously to call the Darwinian Theory.2 Funnily enough, the writer makes the same silly mistake that Agassiz made, & argues throughout on the supposition that Darwinism means the transmutation of species through the “conditions of life”, utterly ignoring Natural Selection.3 Certainly the fools are not all dead yet.

As you may see from the heading of this Paper, I am now Sole Editor of the “Practical Entomologist”.4 I have sent you a number or two of it, which I thought contained matter that might possibly interest you.5 I wish you would correct any errors into which you may notice that I have fallen there or elsewhere. For example, Osten Sacken tells me that modern research has shown that Ornithorhynchus parodoxus is not oviparous. Is this so? And how came such a mistake to be made?6 I have seen the statement in I don’t know how many books.

If you happen to know any Ornithologist who wishes to exchange European Birds for North American birds, I have a particular friend here, “Dr. Velie, Rock Island, Illinois”, who has a very fine collection & is an excellent manipulator of bird’s-skins.7 He is also an honorable man to exchange with, which is more than can be said of certain naturalists. But don’t put yourself to any trouble on account of this matter.

The conclusion of my Paper on Willow Galls is at last about to be printed. It was finished last summer, but the Society being short of funds could not print it until now. When published I shall of course do myself the pleasure to send you a copy.8

Yours ever very truly, | Benj. D. Walsh.

Chas. Darwin Esq.

P.S. I suppose you heard long ago of the Human Skull found in California in Pliocene rock, covered by two solid strata of lava. Authority Prof. Whitney, one of our best geologists.9 Casts said to have been sent to Europe.

CD annotations

1.1 a favorable … books. 2.7] crossed pencil
4.1 The conclusion … Europe. 7.3] crossed pencil


The date is established by Walsh’s endorsement on the envelope of the letter to B. D. Walsh, 20 August [1866], ‘answered Nov. 28, 1866’.
The review has not been further identified.
Walsh refers to arguments in Louis Agassiz’s Methods of study (J. L. R. Agassiz 1863), which he had criticised at length in an article in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Philadelphia (Walsh 1864a: see especially pp. 223–5; see also Correspondence vols. 12 and 13 for earlier discussions between CD and Walsh on this topic). CD’s lightly annotated copy of J. L. R. Agassiz 1863 is in the Darwin Library–Down House (see Marginalia 1: 13); his heavily annotated copy of Walsh 1864a is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
The monthly periodical Practical Entomologist began publication in October 1865 and ended in September 1867. Walsh’s title, on the front page of each issue, was ‘associate editor’.
CD’s copy of the issue for 29 September 1866 is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. An article by Walsh on the gooseberry saw-fly (Walsh 1866a) is heavily annotated.
Walsh refers to Carl Robert Romanovich von der Osten Sacken. Evidence that Ornithorhynchus paradoxus (now O. anatinus, the platypus) laid eggs was provided in 1884 by William Hay Caldwell. Earlier studies based on dissection of the reproductive system of the platypus had suggested that it might be ovoviviparous (Griffiths 1978, p. 5).
Walsh refers to Jacob W. Velie. CD forwarded a page from this letter to Philip Lutley Sclater (see letter to P. L. Sclater, 24 December [1866], and letter to B. D. Walsh, 24 December [1866]).
The reference is to the second part of a paper on insects inhabiting the galls of certain species of willow (Walsh 1866b), published in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Philadelphia. CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Walsh had sent CD the first part of the paper the previous year (Walsh 1864b; see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from B. D. Walsh, 1 March 1865 and n. 14).
The reference is to the ‘Calaveras skull’, found in February 1866 in a mine in Calaveras County, California. The skull was 130 feet below the surface, beneath a layer of lava. Josiah Dwight Whitney, state geologist of California, acquired the skull and announced its discovery in July 1866 at a meeting of the California Academy of Sciences (Whitney 1866). He claimed that it was evidence of the existence of Pliocene age humans in North America. For more on the discovery and the ensuing controversy about the authenticity of the skull, see Dexter 1986.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Dexter, Ralph W. 1986. Historical aspects of the Calaveras skull controversy. American Antiquity 51: 365–9.

Griffiths, Mervyn. 1978. The biology of the monotremes. New York: Academic Press.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Whitney, Josiah Dwight. 1866. Notice of a human skull recently taken from a shaft near Angels, Calaveras County. [Read 16 July 1866.] Proceedings of the California Academy of Natural Sciences 3 (1867): 277–8. [Reprinted in American Journal of Science and Arts 43 (1867): 265–7.]


Says Jacob W. Velie wants to exchange birds’ skins with European naturalist.

Comments on meaning of "Darwinism".

Encloses papers from Practical Entomologist.

Discusses Ornithorhynchus paradoxus

and his paper on willow galls.

Mentions human skull found in California.

Letter details

Letter no.
Benjamin Dann Walsh
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.324a)
Physical description
2pp inc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5319,” accessed on 19 January 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14