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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Raphael Meldola   25 November 1878

Offices, | 50, Old Broad Street. | E.C. | Atlas Works, | Hackney Wick, | London, N.E.

Nov. 25th. 1878

My dear Sir,

I am extremely obliged to you for your preface which I received this morning.1 May I be permitted to offer a suggestion?— When the work is completed (i.e. the translation) I shall have made myself perfectly acquainted with all the details of Weismann’s investigations & the exact value (evolutional) of his arguments & I shall then be in a position to point out to you the portions of your “Origin” & other works which have touched upon the same grounds in the abstract as Weismann’s investigations in the concrete form.2 In this manner it will be possible to dovetail (so to speak) Weismann’s observations with your generalizations & so make the book upon which I am engaged a direct outcome of these generalizations. This I am very anxious to do & you will perhaps be so kind as to permit me (when my task is completed) to hand you such a list of references, so that a little expansion of your prefatory notice may be made therefrom. I promise to do this without giving you the least trouble & will wait till you have leisure time to consider the matter. In other words—I am anxious to engraft Weismann’s observations thoroughly upon your Descent Theory. At my fastest possible rate of working however I should not be ready for a great many months to offer you anything for consideration so that you need take no further trouble in the matter for the present.

I am obliged for your kind consideration in mentioning another publisher to me— should there be any difficulty with my own publishers I will go to the firm you suggest.3

I take the liberty of enclosing for your inspection (samples not the slightest value) specimens on wool of the colours ‘evolved’ from coal-tar by chemical processes. I hope their “non-æsthetic” qualities will not excite the horror of Miss Darwin. The green on silk is a new colouring matter which I have just discovered.4

When you last permitted me the honour of an interview with you5 I brought away with me a lively recollection of your appreciation of humour— you will therefore see the teleological bearing of this story:—

An American gentleman was shown a huge mass of meteoric iron— “Do you mean to tell me” said he “that that chunk fell on to this earth?”— “undoubtedly” replied the exhibitor. “Well” (after reflection) “God is good—but careless!”

Yours sincerely, | R. Meldola.


See letter to Raphael Meldola, 25 November [1878] and n. 2. CD had contributed a short prefatory note for a proposed English translation of essays by August Weismann.
In the introduction to his translation of Weismann’s evolutionary essays, Studies in the theory of descent, Meldola noted that the principle of ‘degeneration’ as an element in descent theory proposed in Weismann’s essay ‘The transformation of the Mexican axolotl into Amblystoma’ had been prefigured in Origin (Weismann 1882, p. xii). Meldola added two further notes referring to CD’s work (Weismann 1882, 1: 274–5, and 2: 583).
In addition to ‘viridine’, an alkaline-green dye, Meldola had recently developed a blue dye, later known as ‘Meldola’s blue’, from naphthalene, a product of carbolic oil which was derived from coal tar (DSB; Meldola 1882). See also letter from Raphael Meldola, 3 May 1878. Elizabeth Darwin and her parents were visiting Henrietta Emma Litchfield in London (see n. 5, below).
The date of Meldola’s visit is not known, but he had been invited to lunch with the Darwins while they were visiting London; they had arrived on 19 November (letter to Raphael Meldola, 19 November [1878] and n. 1).


DSB: Dictionary of scientific biography. Edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie and Frederic L. Holmes. 18 vols. including index and supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1970–90.

Meldola, Raphael. 1882a. Contributions to the chemical history of the aromatic derivatives of methane. Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions 41: 187–201.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Weismann, August. 1882. Studies in the theory of descent. Translated by Raphael Meldola. 2 vols. London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington.


Thanks for preface. When RM’s translation is complete, would like CD to expand it slightly to refer to overlap between Weismann’s observations and CD’s theories.

Letter details

Letter no.
Raphael Meldola
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Atlas Works, Hackney
Source of text
DAR 171: 132
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11758,” accessed on 30 November 2023,