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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Richard Owen1   12 November 1859

Nov. 12/59.

I thank you in advance for your kind recollection of me, and shall welcome your work with the close & continuous perusal you recommend,—but which it certainly would have had on its own merits. I am, and have been, disposed to believe in the operation of existing influences or causes in the “ordained becoming and incoming of living species'.2

No attempt, therefore, to demonstrate the nature of such continuously operative creating forces can be ‘heterodox’, in any way, to my feelings. I have, indeed, received grave rebukes from some Masters in Philosophy for publishing my present state of belief in such terms as the subjoined extract from ‘Palæontology’, in Encyclo. Brita.3 To wh. remonstrances I reply that I am free to to test any propounded idea of a present operating creative—i.e. species-making, force, by the conditions of any given species under immediate study & to express the result of my considerations on the equivalency or otherwise of the hypothetical cause to the effects produced & under review

For the application of your rare gifts to the solution of this supreme question I shall ever feel my very great indebtedness.

yours sincerely,


The correspondent is identified by the reference to Owen’s article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (see n. 3, below).
Owen had discussed CD and Alfred Russel Wallace’s paper (Darwin and Wallace 1858) favourably in his presidential address at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in 1858, referring to CD’s illustrations of the principle of natural selection as ‘ingenious suppositions’ (R. Owen 1858, pp. xci--xcii). Owen’s public response to Origin, however, was hostile. CD came to consider him his ‘bitter enemy’ (Autobiography, pp. 104--5).
The enclosure has not been found. It was the concluding paragraph of Owen’s article on palaeontology for the eighth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica 17 (1859): 176: As to the successions, or coming to be, of new species, one might speculate on the possibility of a variety of auk being occasionally hatched with a somewhat longer winglet and a dwarfed stature,—of such a variety better adapting itself to the changed climatal conditions than the old type,—of such an origin, for example, of Alca torda;—but to what purpose? Past experience of the chance aims of human fancy, unchecked and unguided by observed facts, shows how widely they have ever glanced away from the gold centre of truth.


Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

Encyclopaedia Britannica: Encyclopaedia Britannica online.

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.


Will welcome CD’s work [Origin] with a "close & continuous perusal".

Believes in the "operation of existing influences or causes in the ordained becoming and incoming of living species" and so could not regard CD’s attempt to demonstrate the nature of such influences as "heterodox".

Letter details

Letter no.
Richard Owen
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
Shrewsbury School, Taylor Library
Physical description
ADraft 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2526,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

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