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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. E. Gray   29 January 1862

My Dear Darwin

Are you in existence? if you are I am glad, but I think Owen thought he had snuffed you & your theory out, last night in some observation tagged to a Paper on the Aye Aye1

This paper is a long one ocupped more than an hour at a preceding meeting & 2 hours last night. and ends in shewing what every one who has seen the Animal knew that it is a Lemur with anomalous teeth as it has all the other characters of the Primates.2

The Paper no doubt is good contribution to Science but why it was all to be read is another question   The Secretary went fast asleep3 and I fear the Chairman your humble servant felt very much inclined to do the same but duty prevented him. However the Methaphysic and the religious? observations suited the minds of some of the Audience & they applauded. There was no discussion as Huxley & Busk (who has broken his arm)4 could not be there & it was so late (11. oclock) that I was not inclined to sit & listen to the observations of Capt Altherly the only person present who seemed inclined to say anything5

Ever Yours Sincerely | J. E Gray

29 Jan 1862


R. Owen 1862a. Richard Owen read his paper on the aye-aye at meetings of the Zoological Society of London held on 14 and 28 January 1862. In his conclusion, Owen endorsed the idea ‘of the origin of species by a continuously operative secondary cause or law’ (ibid., p. 91) but used the case of the aye-aye, as he put it, to ‘test’ some of the ‘different hypotheses, guesses, and beliefs … propounded in explanation of the way of the origin of species’ (ibid., p. 92). After denying the validity of George Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon’s and Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet de Lamarck’s theories, Owen attacked natural selection in harsh terms, arguing that it was inadequate to explain the origin of the aye-aye, and concluding: ‘Darwin seems to be as far from giving a satisfactory explanation … as Lamarck’ (ibid., p. 96). Owen later repeated the substance of these remarks in a paper with the title ‘On the characters of the aye-aye as a test of the Lamarckian and Darwinian hypotheses of the transmutation and origin of species’ (R. Owen 1862b), which was read before the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Cambridge in October 1862.
The aye-aye had formerly been classified by some naturalists as a rodent (R. Owen 1862a, pp. 33–7).
Philip Lutley Sclater was secretary of the society (Scherren 1905, pp. 104, 143).
Thomas Henry Huxley and George Busk. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [25 January 1862] and n. 7.
The reference is probably to Francis Henry Atherley.


Scherren, Henry. 1905. The Zoological Society of London: a sketch of its foundation and development and the story of its farm, museum, gardens, menagerie and library. London: Cassell.


Owen’s paper on the aye-aye [Rep. BAAS 32 (1862) pt 2: 114–16];

his attacks on CD and his theories.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Edward Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 165: 205
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3419,” accessed on 3 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10