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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   18 December [1862]1

Down Bromley Kent

Dec. 18th

My dear Huxley

I have read nos IV & V. They are simply perfect.2 They ought to be largely advertised; but it is very good in me to say so; for I threw down nor IV with this reflexion. “What is the good of my writing a thundering big book, when everything is in this green little book so despicable for its size”? In the name of all that is good & bad I may as well shut up shop altogether.3 You put capitally & most simply & clearly the relation of animals & plants to each other at p. 122.—4

Be careful about Fantails; their tail-feathers are fixed in radiating position but they can depress & elevate them:5 I remember in a pigeon-book seeing withering contempt expressed at some naturalist for not knowing this important point!6

p. 111. seems a little too strong, viz 99 out of hundred, unless you except plants7

p. 118. you say the answer to varieties when crossed being at all sterile is “absolutely a negative”.8 Do you mean to say that Gärtner lied, after experiments by the hundred (& he a hostile witness) when he showed that this was the case with Verbascum & with Maize (& here you have selected races):9 does Kölreuter lie when he speaks about the vars. of Tobacco.10 My God is not the case difficult enough, without its being, as I must think, falsely made more difficult? I believe it is my own fault—my d—d— candour; I ought to have made ten-times more fuss, about these most careful experiments.11 I did put it stronger in 3d. Edition of Origin12

If you have a new Edit. do consider your second Geological section:13 I do not dispute the truth of your statement; but I maintain that in almost every case the gravel would graduate into the mud; that there would not be a hard straight line between the mass of gravel & mud. That the gravel in crawling inland, would be separated from the underlying beds by oblique lines of stratification. A nice idea of the difficulty of geology your section would give to a working man!— Do show your section to Ramsay & tell him what I say,14 & if he thinks it a fair section for a beginner, I am shut up & “will for ever hold my tongue”.15

Good Night— | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

My 2d son George (who is no fool & his Master says would be a wrangler at Cambridge, if now examined)16 is reading your Lectures & likes them very much— I asked him whether he understood the Geological bit; he answered he thinks he could have done so, without that second diagram.—17


The year is established by the reference to T. H. Huxley 1862c (see n. 2, below).
CD refers to the published version of Huxley’s lectures to working men at the Museum of Practical Geology (T. H. Huxley 1862c, pp. 83–132; see letter from T. H. Huxley, 2 December 1862 and nn. 1 and 2). The fourth and fifth lectures were delivered on 1 and 8 December respectively, and were entitled: ‘The perpetuation of living beings, hereditary transmission and variation’ and ‘The conditions of existence as affecting the perpetuation of living beings’. CD’s lightly annotated copy of the lectures is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 425).
In the introduction to his lectures, Huxley stated that they were intended to present Origin ‘in a true light’ (T. H. Huxley 1862c, p. 5). See also letter from T. H. Huxley, 10 October [1862].
The passage to which CD refers (T. H. Huxley 1862c, p. 122) is part of a section in which Huxley sought to demonstrate that the ‘CONDITIONS OF EXISTENCE … exercise an influence which is exactly comparable to that of artificial selection.’ In considering the influence on an organism of ‘the state of the rest of organic creation’, Huxley divided organic beings into ‘indirect opponents’ (or ‘rivals’), ‘direct opponents’ (or ‘enemies’), and ‘helpers’. CD marked this section in his copy of the lectures with a marginal line, noting ‘very good on Relation of all Beings in Struggle for life’.
T. H. Huxley 1862c, p. 103; CD noted this correction in his copy of the work.
Dixon 1851, pp. 90–1; there is an annotated copy of this work in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 199–201). The relationship between naturalists and breeders, and their differing views of pigeons, is discussed in Secord 1981, pp. 166–70.
CD refers to Huxley’s statement that the crossing of two hybrids would, ‘in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred’, result in ‘no offspring at all’ (T. H. Huxley 1862c, p. 111). In his copy of the lectures CD noted that this statement was ‘too strong’.
CD wrote ‘p. 118’ in error; the statement appears on p. 113, and is underlined in CD’s copy of the lectures. CD and Huxley had a long-standing disagreement over Huxley’s statement, in his review of Origin ([T. H. Huxley] 1860, pp. 552–5), that a significant, if inconclusive test of whether two individuals represented distinct ‘physiological’ species was to attempt to hybridise them: distinct species would often either be infertile inter se or produce infertile offspring, whereas varieties of the same species would give rise to fertile progeny. Huxley argued that the lack of positive evidence that any group of animals had, ‘by variation and selective breeding’, given rise to another group which was ‘even in the least degree infertile with the first’, was the weakest point in CD’s hypothesis of natural selection ([T. H. Huxley] 1860, pp. 567–8). Huxley reiterated the first of these points in T. H. Huxley 1862c, pp. 108–113 (and the second on pp. 146–50). See also Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI.
For the results of Karl Friedrich von Gärtner’s experiments on Verbascum and Zea, see Gärtner 1844 and 1849. CD’s heavily annotated copies of these works are in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 248–98). There is also an abstract of Gärtner 1849 in DAR 116. In Origin, p. 270, CD explained that Gärtner and Joseph Gottlieb Kölreuter were ‘hostile witnesses’ since they in all other cases considered ‘fertility and sterility as safe criterions of specific distinction.’
Kölreuter 1761–6; CD’s heavily annotated copy of this work is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 458–71).
In Origin, pp. 269–71, CD described the crossing experiments carried out by Gärtner and Kölreuter on varieties of Verbascum and Nicotiana respectively, citing them as important evidence that in some cases varieties of the same species are found to be somewhat sterile when crossed.
Partly in response to Huxley’s criticisms, but also in the light of his work on dimorphism, CD made a number of minor alterations throughout the chapter on hybridism in the third edition of Origin, serving to increase the force of his argument against the view espoused by Huxley (see Peckham 1959, pp. 424–74). In introducing Gärtner’s and Kölreuter’s experiments, he changed the sentence: ‘But it seems to me impossible to resist the evidence of the existence of a certain amount of sterility in the few following cases’ to read: ‘But it is impossible …’ (Origin 3d ed., p. 292). CD’s annotated copies of the six editions of Origin are in the Rare Books Room–CUL.
See letter to T. H. Huxley, 7 December [1862] and n. 7, and T. H. Huxley 1862c, p. 40 and fig. 5. Although Huxley ‘more than once’ set about the task of revising these lectures (T. H. Huxley 1893–4, 2: vii), he did not do so, and they were reproduced, unaltered, in his Collected essays (T. H. Huxley 1893–4, 2: 303–474).
Andrew Crombie Ramsay was a colleague of Huxley’s at the Government School of Mines, Jermyn Street, London.
‘Let him speak now, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace’ (Book of common prayer, Solemnization of matrimony, ‘Banns’).
George Howard Darwin was a student at Clapham Grammar School, the then headmaster of which was Alfred Wrigley; he graduated as second wrangler at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1868 (DNB).
See n. 13, above.


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

Dixon, Edmund Saul. 1851. The dovecote and the aviary: being sketches of the natural history of pigeons and other domestic birds in a captive state, with hints for their management. London: John Murray.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1844. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Befruchtungsorgane der vollkommeneren Gewächse und über die natürliche und künstliche Befruchtung durch den eigenen Pollen. Pt 1 of Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Befruchtung der vollkommeneren Gewächse. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1849. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Bastarderzeugung im Pflanzenreich. Mit Hinweisung auf die ähnlichen Erscheinungen im Thierreiche, ganz umgearbeitete und sehr vermehrte Ausgabe der von der Königlich holländischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

[Huxley, Thomas Henry.] 1860a. Darwin on the origin of species. Westminster Review n.s. 17: 541–70.

Huxley, Thomas Henry. 1893–4. Collected essays. 9 vols. London: Macmillan.

Kölreuter, Joseph Gottlieb. 1761–6. Vorläufige Nachricht von einigen das Geschlecht der Pflanzen betreffenden Versuchen und Beobachtungen. Leipzig: Gleditschischen Handlung.

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 3d ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 3d edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1861.

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.

Peckham, Morse, ed. 1959. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: a variorum text. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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


Enthusiastic about Lectures IV and V [Lectures to working men (1863)].

Sends specific comments on fantail pigeon,

sterility of hybrids,

the geological section diagram.

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: 186)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3866,” accessed on 1 June 2023,

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