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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. V. Wollaston   6 June [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

June 6th

My dear Wollaston

I have to thank you for your note & Lyell’s letter.—2 Mr. Janson shall be properly attended to—3 I have been very glad to see Lyell’s letter: it is a capital one, & how well he seems to have read your Book.4 I agree with almost everything which he says there as far as I have gone, which is not half through yet.5 With respect to your Book, I may say that all which I have read has been most interesting (notwithstanding that I remembered well the passages quoted from I.M.6) & several of your facts & views have already given me quite devilish puzzles, which you ought to take as a compliment. What Lyell says about links being destroyed, I think, is very true.7 I did snigger at your “legitimate variation” & I see I dashed the word with a (!).8

I have heard Unitarianism called a feather-bed to catch a falling Christian;9 & I think you are now on just such a feather bed, but I believe you will fall much lower & lower.10 Do you not feel that “your little exceptions” are getting pretty numerous?11 It is a funny argument of yours that I (& other horrid wretches like me) may be right, because we are in a very poor minority. anyhow it is a comfort to believe that some others will soon be with me.

Adios | Your’s very sincerely | C. Darwin12


Dated by CD’s notes about a letter from Charles Lyell to Wollaston (see n. 2, below).
The letter from Lyell to Wollaston concerned Lyell’s view of Wollaston 1856. CD’s notes on this letter survive in DAR 205.1: 61, 62. The notes are headed: ‘Lyell letter to Wollaston. June 1856’.
Perhaps a reference to CD’s intention to read Edward Westley Janson’s paper on the occurrence of rare Coleoptera in Britain (Janson 1848).
CD’s annotated copy of Wollaston 1856, presented to him by the author, is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The work was dedicated to CD, ‘Whose researches, in various parts of the world, have added so much to our knowledge of Zoological geography’. CD entered it into his reading notebook on 5 June 1856 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 18).
Among his comments on points raised by Lyell in Lyell’s letter to Wollaston, CD made the following note (DAR 205.1: 61v.): Lyell says that in [interl] the transmutationists the weakest point is the appearance of fresh organs.— *true, but what an example [added pencil] (Oh how weak for he instances tail, that man might get tail by wishing, because he has rudiment—but how first get the vertebræ—oh oh—look at [increase] in vertebræ—if he mean how ever get vertebræ, I have nothing to do with it
A reference to Wollaston’s Insecta Maderensia (Wollaston 1854).
Probably a reference to something said by Lyell in his letter to Wollaston (see n. 2, above). Wollaston had cited Lyell’s views on the effects of exterminating species in Wollaston 1856, p. 179.
The passage occurs in Wollaston 1856, p. 35, where Wollaston discussed his belief in the ultimate fixity of species: We should remember, also, that the boundaries of insect instability are restricted; and, although we would advocate freedom of development within limits which are more or less comprehensive according to the species, to pass beyond them would be confusion, and such as could result from a lapsus Naturæ only, rather than from a power of legitimate variation. CD underlined the last two words and added an exclamation mark in the margin.
Erasmus Darwin had defined Unitarianism in this way (LL 2: 158).
CD’s expectation that Wollaston would be converted to transmutation was disappointed. Wollaston’s review of the Origin (Wollaston 1860) was one of the more hostile ones.
Wollaston had stated that ‘where there is a law there must be an exception to it’ (Wollaston 1856, pp. 72–3).
Attached to the original of this letter in the Edinburgh University Library is one from Wollaston to Lyell, indicating that Wollaston was forwarding CD’s letter to Lyell.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Janson, Edward Westley. 1848. Notice of the occurrence of rare Coleopterous insects, with observations on their habits; to which is appended the description of a species hitherto unrecorded as British. Zoologist 6: 2108–10.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

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.

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1854. Insecta Maderensia; being an account of the insects of the islands of the Madeiran group. London: John van Voorst.

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1856. On the variation of species with especial reference to the Insecta; followed by an inquiry into the nature of genera. London: John van Voorst.

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1860b. On certain musical Curculionidæ; with descriptions of two new Plinthi. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 6: 14–19.


Comments on TVW’s book [On the variation of species with special reference to the Insecta (1856)].

On TVW’s Unitarianism. Predicts TVW will fall further away from Christianity.

[Letter sent by TVW to Charles Lyell.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Vernon Wollaston
Sent from
Source of text
Edinburgh University Library, Centre for Research Collections (Gen. 1999/1/30)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1893,” accessed on 22 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6