From Patrick Matthew 12 March 1871
Gourdiehill, Errol, Scotland,
To Charles Darwin Esq.
I am Glad to see by the Newspapers that you have had health & strength so as be able to bring out full illustrations of the variation & selection Laws of Nature.1 Of which I would desire to be able to write a critique, but am so much taken up with political and agricultural affairs that I fear I will not have time, more especially as I intend in a few weeks to go over to Germany where one of my sons has been settled as an agriculturist for many years & has a large family; and as being known quite as much in Germany as in Britain I may remain some time.2 I also fear that I am not sufficiently a restricted Naturalist as be able to enter into the minutiæ of the science.
I am now engaged with the cutivation of Peace & of Climate, Also the Philosophy of Agriculture, in which being above 4 score it is probable I may not be able to complete, as you have been able to do in your province. I enclose an Article from the Scotsman Newspaper which will shew I am not yet quite effete.3 I hope your family are now all well, When you wrote to me long ago, one of your sons was very unwell. I hope he reovered.4
I have not had time to give the subject—the modification of life to circumstances—sufficient attention. One strange character of Rye, acquired we may suppose by being so very long cultivated in fields, of taking a gregarious nature, was observed by me when over in Germany. I walking through wheat fields searching for new varieties of wheat, I found a few scattered plants of rye, which being nearly ripe, had only 2 or 3 grains in the Ear, the other spaces being empty chaff. Also on a few solitary ears of Rye on the high way I found equally unfruitful. This did not seem to be from bird depredation. At the blooming time of fields of Rye, Rye grass, pinus sylvestris & pinaster,5 in time of a soft S. West Zephyr, there is often seen a pollen mist 〈cl〉oud sweeping along, which in the rye seems necessary to the fecundation probably from being so long used to it.
There cannot be a doubt that in the scheme of nature there exists high design & constructive power carried out by general Laws, And the great probability is that these laws are everlasting, as Nature itself is, tho’ under these laws subject to revolution. It is also probable that the spark of life, like light, & heat &c., is radiated from the sun & has a power of building up to itself a domicile suited to existing circumstances & disseminating sparks of its own kind, but possessed of a variation power. That there is a principle of beneficence operating here the dual parentage and family affection pervading all the higher animal kindom affords proof. A sentiment of beauty pervading Nature, with only some few exceptions affords evidence of intellect & benevolence in the scheme of Nature. This principle of beauty is clearly from design & cannot be accounted for by natural selection. Could any fitness of things contrive a rose, a lily, or the perfume of the violet.6 There is no doubt man is left purposely in ignorance of a future existence. Their pretended revelations are wretched nonsense.
It is a beautiful parable, the woman walking through the City of Damascus bearing fire in the one hand & water in the other, crying, with this water I will burn heaven & with this water extinguish hell that man may worship God for his own sake & not as mercen〈ary〉 labourers.7 We are gifted with a moral sense & it is delightful to do good. It is a pleasure to me to wish you & yours the enjoyment of doing good. I regret I cannot do more than wish it.
P.S. I see it stated that you cannot account for useless parts by the laws of variation & competition, general laws cannot provide against accidents in all cases8
Encloses an article he wrote for the Scotsman [9 Mar 1871, p. 5].
Wishes he had time to write a critique of Descent. There is evidence of design and benevolence in nature. Beauty cannot be accounted for by natural selection.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7576,” accessed on 13 February 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-7576