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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hugh Falconer   24–7 September [1862]1

21 Park Crescent N.W. | Portland Place.

24th.–27th Sept.

My Dear Darwin.

Do not be frightened at the enclosure.2 I wish to set myself right by you—before I go to press. I am bringing out a heavy memoir on Elephants—an Omnium gatherum affair—with observations on the fossil & recent specs. One section is devoted—to the persistence in time of the specific characters of the mammoth.3 I trace him—from before the Glacial period—through it—and after it—unchangeable & unchanged, so far as the organs of digestion (teeth) & locomotion are concerned. Now the glacial period was no joke— it would have made ducks and drakes of your dear pigeons & doves.4

With all my Shortcomings, I have such a sincere & affectionate regard for you—& such admiration of your work, that I should be pained to find that I had expressed my honest convictions, in a way that would be open to any objection by you. The reasoning may be very stupid—but I believe that the observation is sound. Will you therefore, look over the few pages which I have sent, and tell me whether you find any flaw—or whether you think I should change the form of expression.5 You have been so unhandsomely and uncandily dealt with by a blackguard friend of yours and mine,6 that I should be sorry to find myself in the position of an opponent to you—and more particularly with the chance of making a fool of myself.

I met your brother yesterday who tells me you are coming to town.7 I hope you will give me a hail. I long for a jaw, with you, and have much to speak to you about.

You will have seen the eclaircissement—about the Eocene monkeys of England. By a touch of the conjuring wand they have been metamorphosed—a la Darwin—into Hyracotherian Pigs.8 —Would you believe it— this even is a gross blunder. They are not pigs

Kindly return the Enclosed & believe me, my Dear Darwin | Yours ever Sincly | H. Falconer

I hope this will find you at Bournemouth. I have not got your exact address.9 | H F

27th. Your note just come to hand—and I dispatch the Cover.10


The year is established by the reference to the manuscript of Falconer 1863 (see n. 2, below).
Falconer enclosed with his letter a portion of the manuscript of a paper on fossil and living species of elephant, that was later published in the January 1863 number of the Natural History Review (Falconer 1863; see letter to Charles Lyell, 1 October [1862]).
Falconer 1863, pp. 77–81.
Between 1855 and 1858, CD had made a detailed study of artificial selection in domestic pigeons, concluding that all the breeds kept by pigeon-fanciers were descended from a single ancestral species (see Origin, pp. 20–9 and Secord 1981). Falconer had assisted CD with the osteological comparison of the various breeds (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to T. C. Eyton, 4 October [1858] and n. 4).
Falconer sought to show that European fossil elephants from successive geological strata displayed a marked persistence of specific characters. Conceding that his conclusions did not oppose the ‘leading propositions of Darwin’s theory’ (Falconer 1863, p. 80), Falconer, nevertheless, argued: The whole range of the Mammalia, fossil and recent, cannot furnish a species, which has had a wider geographical distribution, and at the same time passed through a longer term of time, and through more extreme changes of climatal conditions, than the Mammoth. If species are so unstable, and so susceptible of mutation through such influences, why does that extinct form stand out so signally a monument of stability? For CD’s response, see the letter to Hugh Falconer, 1 October [1862].
Richard Owen.
CD stayed in London with his brother, Erasmus Alvey Darwin, on the night of 29 September 1862, on the way home from his holiday in Bournemouth (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)).
The reference is to Richard Owen’s retraction, in the September number of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History (R. Owen 1862b), of his earlier identification of certain fossil remains from the Eocene sand at Kyson, Suffolk, as being those of a species of the monkey genus Maeacus (R. Owen 1844); Owen concluded that the remains were in fact probably those of Hyracotherium cuniculus.
CD spent September 1862 at Cliff Cottage, Bournemouth (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)).
CD’s letter has not been found.


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.

Secord, James Andrew. 1981. Nature’s fancy: Charles Darwin and the breeding of pigeons. Isis 72: 162–86.


Encloses MS ["On the American fossil elephant", Nat. Hist. Rev. (1863): 43–114]. Shows persistence of specific characters through glacial period.

Eocene monkeys mistakenly described as pigs.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hugh Falconer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Park Crescent, 21
Source of text
DAR 164: 6
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3737,” accessed on 26 October 2020,

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