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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   [before 25 February 1863]1

Lecture IV P. 89   Atavism2

Lecture VI P. 151 line 7 from top   wetting feet: bodies?3

Miss Henrietta Darwin’s criticisms.—4

You here & there use Atavism=Inheritance.—5 Duchesne, who, I believe invented word in his Strawberry Book,6 confined it, as everyone else has since done, to resemblance to grandfather or more remote ancestor, in contradistinction, to resemblance to parents.—

C. Darwin.


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the following letter.
The reference is to the published version of Huxley’s 1862 lectures to working men at the Museum of Practical Geology (T. H. Huxley 1863a, p. 89), where he wrote: We notice the same thing occurring in the cases of the domestic animals—dogs, for instance, and their offspring. In all these cases of propagation and perpetuation, there seems to be a tendency in the offspring to take the characters of the parental organisms. To that tendency a special name is given—and as I may very often use it, I will write it up here on this black-board that you may remember it—it is called Atavism; it expresses this tendency to revert to the ancestral type, and comes from the Latin word atavus, ancestor. The passage remained unchanged when the lectures were republished (T. H. Huxley 1893, pp. 397–8).
In T. H. Huxley 1863a, p. 151, it was stated that: Lamarck thought that by a very simple supposition … he could explain the origin of the various animal species: he said, for example, that the short-legged birds which live on fish, had been converted into the long-legged waders by desiring to get the fish without wetting their feet, and so stretching their legs more and more through successive generations. The reference to ‘feet’ was changed to ‘feathers’ when the lectures were republished (T. H. Huxley 1893, p. 468).
Henrietta Emma Darwin. Huxley sent CD copies of his lectures, as they became available, in six separate parts (T. H. Huxley 1863a). CD commented on the first five lectures in his letters to Huxley of 7 December [1862], 18 December [1862], and 28 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10). CD’s annotated copies of the six parts of T. H. Huxley 1863a are in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 423–4).
See n. 2, above. CD had been working on atavism in the course of preparing a draft of the chapters on inheritance for Variation (see Variation 2: 28–61, and letter from Henry Holland [10 February 1863]).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Duchesne, Antoine Nicolas. 1766. Histoire naturelle des Fraisiers contenant les vues d’économie réunies à la botanique; et suivies de remarques particulières sur plusieurs points qui ont rapport à l’histoire naturelle générale. Paris: Didot le jeune.

Huxley, Thomas Henry. 1893. Darwiniana. Vol. 2 of Collected essays. By T. H. Huxley. 9 vols. London: Macmillan. 1893–4.

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.

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


Two criticisms (one by Henrietta Darwin) of THH’s Lectures [to working men].

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: 181)
Physical description
ALS inc 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3896,” accessed on 22 May 2022,

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