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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Thomas Henry Huxley   10 [January 1863]1

Down Bromley Kent

Dec. 10th

My dear Huxley

You will be weary of notes from me about the little book of yours.2 It is lucky for me that I expressed, before reading no VI, my opinion of its absolute excellence, & of its being well worth wide distribution & worth correction (not that I see where you could improve), if you thought it worth your valuable time. Had I read no VI, even a rudiment of modesty would, or ought to, have stopped me saying so much.3 Though I have been well abused, yet I have had so much praise, that I have become a gourmand, both as to capacity & taste; & I really did not think that mortal man could have tickled my palate in the exquisite manner with which you have done the job.4 So I am an old ass, & nothing more need be said about this.— I agree entirely with all your reservations about accepting the doctrine,5 & you might have gone further with further safety & truth. Of course I do not wholly agree about sterility.6 I hate beyong all things finding myself in disagreement with any capable judge, when the premises are the Same; & yet this will occasionally happen.

Thinking over my former letter to you,7 I fancied (but I now doubt) that I had partly found out cause of our disagreement, & I attributed it to your naturally thinking most about animals, with which the sterility of the hybrids is much more conspicuous than the lessened fertility of the first cross.8 Indeed this could hardly be ascertained with mammals, except by comparing the product of whole life; & as far as I know this has only been ascertained in case of Horse & ass, which do produce fewer offspring in lifetime than in pure breeding. In plants the test of first cross seems as fair, as test of sterility of hybrids. And this latter test applies, I will maintain to the death, to the crossing of vars. of Verbascum & vars, selected vars, of Zea.—9 You will say go to the Devil & hold your tongue.— No I will not hold my tongue; for I must add that after going for my present book all through domestic animals;10 I have come to conclusion that there are almost certainly several cases of 2 or 3 or more species blended together & now perfectly fertile together. Hence I conclude that there must be something in domestication,—perhaps the less stable conditions,—the very cause which induces so much variability,—, which eliminates the natural sterility of species, when crossed.11 If so, we can see how unlikely that sterility should arise between domestic races. Now I will hold my tongue.—

p 143. ought not “Sanscrit” to be “Aryan”?12

What a capital number the last N.H. Review is.13 That is a grand paper by Falconer.14 I cannot say how indignant Owen’s conduct about E. Columbi has made me.15 I believe I hate him more than you do,16 even perhaps more than good old Falconer does. But I have bubbled over to one or two correspondents on this head, & will say no more.—17 I have sent Lubbock a little Review of Bates’ paper in Linn. Transact. which L. seems to think will do for your Review.—18 Do inaugurate a great improvement, & have pages cut, like the Yankees do;19 I will heap blessings on your head. Do not waste your time in answering this.—

Ever yours | C. Darwin


The date is established by the reference to T. H. Huxley 1863a (see n. 2, below), and by the relationship between this letter and the letter to T. H. Huxley, 28 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10; see nn. 3 and 7, below). CD wrote ‘Dec.’ in error.
Between 10 November and 15 December 1862, Huxley delivered six lectures at the Museum of Practical Geology in London. The lectures were transcribed by the shorthand writer J. Aldous Mays and published in six parts by Robert Hardwicke in 1862; they were subsequently bound together and sold as a separate volume (T. H. Huxley 1863a). Huxley sent the first three parts with his letter to CD of 2 December 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10); for CD’s comments, see Correspondence vol. 10, letters to T. H. Huxley, 7 December [1862], 18 December [1862], and 28 December [1862]. CD’s annotated copies of the six parts of T. H. Huxley 1863a are in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 425).
See Correspondence vol. 10, letter to T. H. Huxley, 28 December [1862]. Huxley’s sixth lecture was entitled: ‘A critical examination of the position of Mr. Darwin’s work, “On the Origin of Species,” in relation to the complete theory of the causes of the phenomena of organic nature’ (T. H. Huxley 1863a, pp. 133–57).
In the last lecture of the series (see n. 3, above), Huxley examined CD’s method of inquiry in Origin, and concluded (T. H. Huxley 1863a, pp. 156–7) by comparing CD’s work to that of Georges Cuvier (Cuvier 1817) and Karl Ernst von Baer (Baer 1828–37): Mr. Darwin’s work is the greatest contribution which has been made to biological science since the publication of the ‘Règne Animal’ of Cuvier, and since that of the ‘History of Development,’ of Von Baer. I believe that if you strip it of its theoretical part it still remains one of the greatest encyclopædias of biological doctrine that any one man ever brought forth; … it is destined to be the guide of biological and psychological speculation for the next three or four generations.
Huxley argued that CD had yet to demonstrate sterility between the offspring of hybrids to prove the role of natural selection in speciation (T. H. Huxley 1863a, pp. 146–9, and n. 6, below); Huxley added that he ‘provisionally’ accepted CD’s general hypothesis (ibid., pp. 151–2).
For Huxley, CD’s views would not be ‘beyond the reach of all possible assault’ (T. H. Huxley 1863a, p. 147), until CD could demonstrate: the possibility of developing from a particular stock, by selective breeding, two forms, which should either be unable to cross one with another, or whose cross-bred offspring should be infertile with one another. Only then, Huxley argued, would artificial selection have proved the role of natural selection in the origin of new species (see T. H. Huxley 1863a, pp. 146–50, and Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI).
Letter to T. H. Huxley, 28 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10). CD and Huxley had been debating the significance to natural selection of hybrid sterility since January 1860 (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI). See also n. 6, above.
In his letter to Huxley of 28 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10), CD wrote: ‘To get the degree of sterility you expect in recently formed varieties seems to me simply hopeless’.
CD refers to Karl Friedrich von Gärtner’s experiments with two varieties of maize (Zea mays) that were found to be almost completely infertile when crossed (see Origin, pp. 269–70). CD also described in Origin Gärtner’s experiments with Verbascum (pp. 270–1): yellow and white varieties of the same species of Verbascum when intercrossed produce less seed, than do either coloured varieties when fertilised with pollen from their own coloured flowers. Moreover, … when yellow and white varieties of one species are crossed with yellow and white varieties of a distinct species, more seed is produced by the crosses between the same coloured flowers, than between those which are differently coloured. See also Variation 2: 105–7.
CD had been intermittently preparing the first volume of Variation (published in 1868) since January 1860 (see Correspondence vols. 8–10, Appendix II). The domestic breeds that CD discussed included dogs and cats (chapter 1), horses and asses (chapter 2), pigs, cattle, sheep, and goats (chapter 3), domestic rabbits (chapter 4), domestic pigeons (chapters 5 and 6), fowls (chapter 7), and other birds and fish (chapter 8).
In Variation 1: 2–3, CD discussed the conditions imposed on cultivated plants and domesticated animals in contrast to organic beings living under natural conditions. He developed this idea further in a later chapter of Variation entitled: ‘On the advantages and disadvantages of changed conditions of life: sterility from various causes’ (Variation 2: 145–72).
T. H. Huxley 1863a, pp. 142–3. Huxley contrasted the doctrines of special creation and descent by modification, illustrating his point by references to the fossil record, homologies in the parts of animals, and the derivation of languages from pre-existing languages. In the passage to which CD refers, Huxley had written that the English and Greek languages were derived from Sanskrit. There is an annotated copy of T. H. Huxley 1863a in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 425).
CD refers to the number of the Natural History Review for January 1863. Huxley became editor-in-chief of the new series of the Natural History Review in 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9).
CD refers to Hugh Falconer’s paper on American fossil elephants (Falconer 1863a).
CD refers to a priority dispute between Richard Owen and Falconer regarding the naming of the fossil elephant Elephas columbi (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 January [1863] and n. 1, letter to John Lubbock, 4 January [1863], and letter to Hugh Falconer, 5 [and 6] January [1863]).
For details of the disputatious relationship between Owen and Huxley, see A. Desmond 1982 and 1994–7, and Rupke 1994.
See n. 15, above.
Henry Walter Bates’s account of mimetic butterflies, which had appeared in the Transactions of the Linnean Society of London (Bates 1861), was reviewed by CD for the Natural History Review (‘Review of Bates on mimetic butterflies’); it appeared in the number of the journal for April 1863. See Correspondence vol. 10, letter from John Lubbock, 15 December 1862, and letter to John Lubbock, 16 [December 1862], and this volume, letter to John Lubbock, 4 January [1863].
Like many periodicals, the Natural History Review was printed in octavo (that is, with eight leaves to a sheet); subsequent folding made it necessary for the reader to cut some of the page edges. From the 1850s, North American publications had the pages trimmed after binding (see Tebbel 1972, pp. 260–1).


Baer, Karl Ernst von. 1828–37. Über Entwickelungsgeschichte der Thiere. Beobachtung und Reflexion. 2 vols. in 1. Königsberg: Gebrüder Kornträger.

Bates, Henry Walter. 1861. Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley. Lepidoptera: Heliconidæ. [Read 21 November 1861.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 23 (1860–2): 495–566.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Desmond, Adrian. 1982. Archetypes and ancestors: palaeontology in Victorian London, 1850–1875. London: Blond & Briggs.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

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.

‘Review of Bates on mimetic butterflies’: [Review of "Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley", by Henry Walter Bates.] [By Charles Darwin.] Natural History Review n.s. 3 (1863): 219–24. [Collected papers 2: 87–92.]

Rupke, Nicolaas A. 1994. Richard Owen, Victorian naturalist. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.

Tebbel, John. 1972. A history of book publishing in the United States. Vol. 1, The creation of an industry, 1630–1865. New York and London: R. R. Bowker.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


CD overwhelmed by THH’s praise.

Agrees with his reservations about species theory but not wholly about sterility and gives his reasons for differing.

On Natural History Review, Hugh Falconer, and R. Owen.

Has written a review [Collected papers 2: 87–92] of H. W. Bates’s paper ["Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley", Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond. 23 (1862): 495–566].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine Archives (Huxley 5: 183)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3852,” accessed on 4 June 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11