skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Albert Gaudry1   22 May 1867

Monsieur,

Je vous demande la permission de vous envoyer une note sur un reptile ancien qui semble intermèdiaire entre les vrais reptiles triasiques et les poissons dévoniens.2 Je saisis cette occasion pour vous remercier de la lettre que vous avez bien voulu m’envoyer, il y a quelques mois.3 J’ai été très honoré qu’un naturaliste aussi éminent que vous attache de l’intérêt à mes recherches sur les transitions des animaux fossiles. Ce n’est pas sans raison qu’on me range parmi vos admirateurs, car si je ne partage pas toutes vos vues pour l’explication des transformations des êtres, du moins ces transformations me paraissent chaque jour plus probables, et votre livre sur l’origine des espèces aura puisamment contribué à les mettre en relief.4 Je ne connais pas d’étude plus belle que celle de la filiation des êtres qui se développe pendant la durée indéfinie des âges, et je m’efforcerai d’apporter des preuves de cette filiation tirées de la paléontologie. Quant aux explications des transformations, j’évite de m’en occuper, parcequ’un sujet si difficile peut être abordé seulement par un naturaliste tel que vous, ayant une expérience consommée et une science très vaste. Je vous avouerai même qu’en étudiant l’embryogénie et en voyant qu’il y a bien des causes dont Dieu seul a le secret, je pense que, dans l’évolution des espèces comme dans l’embryogénie des individus, il y a des causes que les plus beaux génies ne sauraient découvrir.

Votre lettre m’a trouvé au Mt Léberon, près de Cucuron (Vaucluse) dans un gisement fort riche où on rencontre la même faune qu’à Pikermi. Je n’ai pas encore dégagé les ossemens que j’ai rapportés; mais ce que j’éntrevois déjà me fait penser que les animaux du Mt Léberon présentent de si légères différences avec ceux de Grèce qu’il est difficile de ne pas admettre entre eux des liens d’une réelle parenté, quoiqu’il n’y ait pas identité.5

Je serais bien heureux, Monsieur, si votre santé et vos grands travaux vous donnaient la possibilité de venir à Paris; je vous montrerais au jardin des plantes des fossiles qui me semblent de curieux intermédiaire.

Je vous prie d’agréer l’expression de mes sentiments les plus respectueux. | Albert Gaudry

12 Rue Taranne. Paris.

22 Mai 1867.

First CD note:6

I quite agree about filiation of species, in a century to come there will be splendid work— I also agree how much unknown in Embryology & causes of each variation—utterly unknown [after del illeg]— | My book in French | I am aware that few follow your views & Most of your leading men are bitterly opposed | Paris—your papers

First CD note:6

I quite agree about filiation of species, in a century to come there will be splendid work— I also agree how much unknown in Embryology & causes of each variation—utterly unknown [after del illeg— | My book in French | I am aware that few follow your views & Most of your leading men are bitterly opposed | Paris—your papers

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Correspondence vol. 15, Appendix I.
Gaudry refers to his ‘Mémoire sur le reptile (Pleuracanthus Frossardi) découvert par M. Frossard à Muse (Saône-et-Loire)’ (Gaudry 1867a). There is an inscribed and scored offprint of this article in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Gaudry also enclosed a second paper; see letter to Albert Gaudry, 27 May [1867] and n. 2. The name Pleuracanthus had already been assigned to a genus of beetles: most members of Pleuracanthus (freshwater sharks) have been reassigned to the genus Xenacanthus.
After excavations at Pikermi in Attica in 1855 and 1860, Gaudry had reconstructed several skeletons of new species that appeared to be intermediate between species already known. He believed that such intermediates were evidence for transmutation, but differed from CD in believing that these transmutations were the result of continuing creation by God. See Gaudry 1862–7, 1: 365–70. Gaudry had sent CD an extract from this work in 1866 (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to Albert Gaudry, 17 September [1866]).
Gaudry published on the fossils of Mont Léberon (now Montagne de Lubéron) in the south of France in Gaudry et al. 1873. He made comparisons with findings at Pikermi and other sites on pp. 75–98.

Translation

From Albert Gaudry1   22 May 1867

Sir,

Permit me to send you a work on an ancient reptile that seems intermediate between true Triassic reptiles and Devonian fish.2 I take advantage of this opportunity to thank you for the letter you were kind enough to send me a few months ago.3 I was very honoured that a naturalist as eminent as you should attach any interest to my research on the transitions of fossil animals. It is not without reason that I am regarded as one of your admirers, since, although I do not share all your views on the explanation of the transformations of living things, at least these transformations seem to me every day more probable, and your book on the origin of species contributed mightily to throw light on them.4 I do not know of a finer study than that of the descent of living beings that occurs during ages of indefinite extent, and I will endeavour to give evidence for this descent drawn from palaeontology. As far as explanations of the transformations are concerned, I avoid addressing them, because such a difficult subject can be approached only by a naturalist such as you, who has thorough experience and extensive knowledge. I will also admit that by studying embryogeny and by seeing that there are indeed causes of which God alone knows the secret, I think that both in the evolution of species and the embryogeny of individuals, there are facts that the greatest geniuses will not be able to discover.

Your letter found me on Mt Léberon, near Cucuron (Vaucluse) in a very rich fossil bed in which there is found the same fauna as in Pikermi. I have not yet cleaned up the bones that I have brought back, but what I can already see makes me think that the animals of Mt Léberon present such small differences from those of Greece that it is difficult not to admit some links of a real kinship, although they are not of identical parentage.5

I would be really pleased, dear Sir, if your health and your great works allowed you the opportunity to visit Paris; I would show you in the Jardin des Plantes some fossils which seem to me curiously intermediate.

Please accept the expression of my most respectful sentiments. | Albert Gaudry

12 Rue Taranne. Paris.

22 May 1867.

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original French, see p. 274.
Gaudry refers to his ‘Mémoire sur le reptile (Pleuracanthus Frossardi) découvert par M. Frossard à Muse (Saône-et-Loire)’ (Gaudry 1867a). There is an inscribed and scored offprint of this article in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Gaudry also enclosed a second paper; see letter to Albert Gaudry, 27 May [1867] and n. 2. The name Pleuracanthus had already been assigned to a genus of beetles: most members of Pleuracanthus (freshwater sharks) have been reassigned to the genus Xenacanthus.
After excavations at Pikermi in Attica in 1855 and 1860, Gaudry had reconstructed several skeletons of new species that appeared to be intermediate between species already known. He believed that such intermediates were evidence for transmutation, but differed from CD in believing that these transmutations were the result of continuing creation by God. See Gaudry 1862–7, 1: 365–70. Gaudry had sent CD an extract from this work in 1866 (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to Albert Gaudry, 17 September [1866]).
Gaudry published on the fossils of Mont Léberon (now Montagne de Lubéron) in the south of France in Gaudry et al. 1873. He made comparisons with findings at Pikermi and other sites on pp. 75–98.

Summary

Sends a notice on a reptile intermediate between true Triassic reptiles and Devonian fishes ["Sur le reptile (Actinodon)", C. R. Hebd. Acad. Sci. 63 (1866): 341–4].

Expresses his admiration for CD, and his growing sense that transformation of species is probable, though he does not share CD’s explanation of the cause. He avoids the question, since he lacks requisite knowledge and is convinced that there are causes of which God alone knows the secret.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-5546
From
Albert-Jean (Albert) Gaudry
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Paris
Source of text
DAR 165: 15
Physical description
4pp (French) †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5546,” accessed on 14 November 2018, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-5546

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15

letter