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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   3 October [1857]1

Down Bromley Kent

Oct. 3d.

My dear Huxley.

I know you have no time for speculative correspondence; & I did not in the least expect an answer to my last.2 But I am very glad to have had it, for in my eclectic work, the opinions of the few good men are of great value to me.—

I knew, of course, of the Cuvierian view of Classification, but I think that most naturalists look for something further, & search for “the natural system”,—“for the plan on which the Creator has worked” &c &c.— It is this further element which I believe to be simply genealogical.

But I shd. be very glad to have your answer (either when we meet or by note) to the following case, taken by itself & not allowing yourself to look any further than to the point in question.

Grant all races of man descended from one race; grant that all structure of each race of man were perfectly known—grant that a perfect table of descent of each race was perfectly known.— grant all this, & then do you not think that most would prefer as the best classification, a genealogical one, even if it did occasionally put one race not quite so near to another, as it would have stood, if allocated by structure alone. Generally, we may safely presume, that the resemblance of races & their pedigrees would go together.

I shd. like to hear what you wd. say on this purely theoretical case.

Ever your’s very truly | C. Darwin

It might be asked why is development so all-potent in classification, as I fully admit it is: I believe it is, because it depends on, & best betrays, genealogical descent; but this is too large a point to enter on.3


Dated by the relationship to earlier correspondence with Huxley (see letters to T. H. Huxley, 15 September [1857] and 26 September [1857]).
In Origin, CD included a long section on embryology, arguing that since ‘the embryo is the animal in its less modified state’, it therefore ‘reveals the structure of its progenitor … Thus, community in embryonic structure reveals community of descent.’ (Origin, p. 449).


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.


Thinks naturalists look for something further than Cuvier’s view of classification. Poses a theoretical problem on the classification of the races of man to prove that a genealogical system is best.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine Archives (Huxley 5: 139)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2150,” accessed on 29 September 2023,

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