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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. B. Carpenter   18 November [1859]1

Wells Terrace | Ilkley Otley | Yorkshire

Nov. 18th

My dear Carpenter

I must thank you for your letter on my own account & if I know myself, still more warmly for the subject sake.2 As you seem to have understood my last chapter without reading the previous chapters, you must have maturely & most profoundly self-thought out the subject; for I have found the most extraordinary difficulty in making even able men understand at what I was driving.

There will be strong opposition to my views. If I am in the main right (of course including partial errors unseen by me) the admission of my views will depend far more on men, like yourself, with well established reputations, than on my own writings. Therefore, on the supposition that when you have read my volume you think the view in the main true, I thank & honour you for being willing to run the chance of unpopularity by advocating the view. I know not in the least whether anyone will review me in any of the Reviews. I do not see how an author could enquire or interfere: but if you are willing to review me anywhere, I am sure from the admiration which I have long felt & expressed for your Comparative Physiology,3 that your review will be excellently done & will do good service in the cause for which I think I am not selfishly, deeply interested.4

I am feeling very unwell today & this note is badly, perhaps hardly intelligibly expressed; but you must excuse me; for I could not let a Post pass, without thanking you for your note. You will have the tough job even to shake in slightest degree Sir H. Holland. I do not think (privately I say it) that the great man has knowledge enough to enter on subject.—5

Pray believe me, with sincerity, Yours truly obliged | C. Darwin

As you are not a practical geologist, let me add that Lyell thinks the chapt. on the Imperfection of the Geological Record not exaggerated.—


The years for this and the letter to W. B. Carpenter, 19 November [1859], are given by the ref-erences to Origin and to CD’s visit to Ilkley (see ‘Journal’; Appendix II).
Carpenter’s letter has not been found.
Carpenter 1839. CD’s annotated copy of the fourth edition (Carpenter 1854) is in the Darwin Library–CUL. CD had studied Carpenter’s work closely (see Correspondence vol. 5, letters to J. D. Hooker, 27 May [1855] and 14 [July 1855]).
Carpenter reviewed Origin in two publications: The National Review (January 1860) and the British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review (April 1860). A copy of the latter is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. See also letter to W. B. Carpenter, 3 December [1859].
CD expressed the same opinion about Henry Holland in his letter to Charles Lyell, 25 October [1859].


Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1839. Principles of general and comparative physiology. London: John Churchill.

Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1854. Principles of comparative physiology. 4th edition. London: John Churchill.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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.


Comments on WBC’s response to the Origin. Hopes he will review it. Acceptance will depend more on men like WBC, with well-established reputations, than on his own writings.

"Lyell thinks the chapter on the Imperfection of the Geological Record not exaggerated."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Benjamin Carpenter
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.6: 1 (EH 88205918)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2535,” accessed on 25 February 2021,

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