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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hugh Falconer   25 October and 12 November [1859]

31 Sackville St W

25th Octr

My Dear Darwin

It is a full year since we met—or since any friendly missive has passed between us—and strange to say, I am the party this time to break silence and speak the foremost word. I have been dying like all the world besides to see your book upon species out, and think a slight dose of hanging might be administered to John Murray—with much advantage, for keeping it back so long. I met your brother at the Athenæum, a few days ago—and learnt from him, that the book is fairly out of your hands—and that you were still in Yorkshire.

Apropos to species, I have lately been occupied with a case, that ought to have some interest for you. In a newly explored cave in South Wales, we have come upon no fewer than 800 eight hundred antlers of Deer 95 per cent of them shed horns and nearly the same ratio of young animals.1 The variety in form is so great, that had only one or two of each of the most marked types been met with, they would have been described most probably as distinct species. But when the 800 are spread out, the passage from the one into the other is so easily traced, that there is no making out well marked distinctions between them.

Now they all—or at any rate the greater part of them—belong to the Rein-Deer of the Glacial period in England: and some of the horns differ in the most remarkable manner from any form of the modern Rein Deer, that I have been able to get at, either in figures—or in the London Collection. Would it not be nicely to your hand to investigate whether the characters of the species have remained persistent, from the older time down to the present day—or if modified now, what amount of change has taken place during the long lapse of ages, and what direction it has mainly taken? The inquiry would make a pretty pendant to the case of those dreadful pidgeons, upon which you have been practising such tricks of leger-de-main.2

I am still very weak in the bronchiæ and ought to have gone abroad before now—but I have been hanging on—never having felt so reluctant to leave England, or the neighbourhood of London even, as I have a good deal to do with arrears of late work.3 You know what a start the question of the relative antiquity of man has made within the last twelvemonth. Lyell has forgotten all his prudence and thrown himself head long into the bosom of two heresies—the transmutation of species, and glacial homo.4 You are answerable for the one—and I have had a little to do in starting the [scent] of the other.

With kind regards | Yours very sincly | H. Falconer Chas. Darwin Esqre.

12th Novr

P.S. Your note of yesterday just came to hand, & I have sent for the book—the wicked book which you have been so long a-hatching.5

The accompanying note has remained undespatched—to complete the address.6

On Monday I leave for Torquay where I have taken a house for the winter en famille with two of my nieces—instead of fleeing abroad.

With kind regards to Mrs. Darwin | Yours Ever Sincly | H Falconer

CD annotations

crossed pencil
scored pencil
crossed pencil
Top of first page: ‘Variability in Deer’s Horns—sexual change—appears like [‘extinc’ del] distinct species Difference in old Deer from recent— When specimens enough variable formerly’ pencil; ‘Ch VII’7 brown crayon


Falconer was investigating the fossiliferous caves of the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. The study led to a paper on the subject published the following year (Falconer 1860).
CD had consulted Falconer about the differences in the skeletons of wild and domesticated pigeons, and of various breeds of domestic pigeon. See letter to T. C. Eyton, 4 October [1858].
After his return to England from India in 1855, Falconer usually wintered abroad for the sake of his health (DNB).
A reference to Charles Lyell’s address to the geological section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at the meeting in Aberdeen in September 1859 (see letters to Charles Lyell, 2 September [1859] and 20 September [1859]). Lyell expressed his belief that the worked flints discovered in caves in breccia and gravel deposits in France and in caves in England were indeed human tools contemporary with glacial deposits (see C. Lyell 1859b). For Falconer’s part in the investigation of the antiquity of man, see letter to J. D. Hooker, 20 [October 1858].
The postscript was written after CD’s letter to Hugh Falconer, 11 November [1859], had arrived, which mentioned that CD had asked John Murray to send Falconer a copy of Origin.
CD was in Ilkley, Yorkshire, until 7 December 1859 (‘Journal’; Appendix II).
CD refers to chapter 7 of Natural selection, not to Origin. This chapter concerns the laws of variation.


DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.


The antlers of 800 deer of the glacial period have been found in a cave. They show great variety of form, but gradation from one to the other can be traced when all are laid out. Suggests CD study changes that have taken place in the species since glacial period.

Has ordered the wicked book [Origin] CD has been so long a-hatching.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hugh Falconer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Sackville St, 31
Source of text
DAR 47: 215–17
Physical description
ALS 5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2511,” accessed on 13 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7