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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Patrick Matthew   3 December 1862

Gourdie hill, Errol, N.B.

Dec. 3 /62

Dear Sir,

When in London last summ⁠⟨⁠er⁠⟩⁠ it was only for a few days, engrossed with mercantile concerns so that I could not bestow that attention to scientific thought that I should have liked; I also learned from Prof. Huxley,1 that by coming up to London you were sometimes rendered unwell. I would have been sorry to bring you from home least I might do you injury, & therefore did not reply to your letter.2 I also could not but feel that I was an intrud⁠⟨⁠er⁠⟩⁠ & that there existed in scientific me⁠⟨⁠n⁠⟩⁠ a strong vis inertiæ & retiring inclin⁠⟨⁠ation⁠⟩⁠ which I had no right to disturb, ⁠⟨⁠more⁠⟩⁠ especially as I believed I could ⁠⟨⁠be of⁠⟩⁠ no service in advancing your p⁠⟨⁠resent⁠⟩⁠ pursuit. While you have been making advances in vegetable science, I have been attempting to promote a ⁠⟨⁠be⁠⟩⁠tter system of land occupancy by the ⁠⟨⁠f⁠⟩⁠armer—that there might be protection ⁠⟨⁠of⁠⟩⁠ property created by the farmer in ⁠⟨⁠e⁠⟩⁠nriching the vegetable mould. This is a question of the highest importance to the British Empire & Race. My line lies more in the political & social, Your’s in tracing out the admirably balanced scheme of Nature all linked together in dependant connection—the vital endowed with a variation-power in accommodation to material change. Altho’ this is a grand field for contemplation, yet am I tired of ⁠⟨⁠it⁠⟩⁠— of a world where my sympathies ⁠⟨⁠are⁠⟩⁠ intended to be bounded almost ⁠⟨⁠exclu⁠⟩⁠sively to my own race & family. ⁠⟨⁠I am⁠⟩⁠ not satisfied with my existence ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ to devour & trample upon my ⁠⟨⁠fellow⁠⟩⁠ creature. I cannot pluck a flower without regarding myself a destroyer. At present we feel some enjoyment in tracing out the scheme of Nature. Since I have paid attention to the progress of discovery, so much has been done that comparatively little remains to do. What will become of man when all the great facts of material & vital science are pointed out? We may be satisfied that we have lived in the great age of discovery & in the country & of the Race in which & by whom these discoveries have been made. Man cannot advance much higher. A reaction such as attended Babylonian, Egyptian, Grecian & Roman civilizations must soon ensue. The same powers that have reached high civilization cannot support it. Fall we must.

We have had a very bleak & unpleasant summer in Scotland, yet another season may be more propitious. Change of air & scene if the change is not too great acts a salutory part in the human constitution & a journey to Scotland might next summer be of service to you or any of your family. You mentioned you had a Son unwell. I hope he soon recovered.3 Should you think of a jaunt to Scotland I would be most happy in pointing out the little I know of the character of the country. There is something in the change of place which stimulates mental conception.

I enclose one or two pieces which I have been amusing myself with,4 & remain | Dear Sir | Yours truly | P. Matthew.

Charles Darwin Esq.


Leonard Darwin was ill with scarlet fever during the summer of 1862 (see letter to Patrick Matthew, 13 June [1862] and n. 3).
The enclosures have not been found.


Apologises for not writing last summer. Scientific progress is all but complete. Our civilisation will fall now that it has reached the peak of its development.

Letter details

Letter no.
Patrick Matthew
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 91
Physical description
ALS 4pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3843,” accessed on 23 July 2024,

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