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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hugh Falconer   20 April [1863]1

21 Park Crescent.

20th. April

My Dear Darwin

I have been on a trip to France—down the Loire examining the Faluns with Prestwich & Evans—and Galton.2 I passed a day at Abbeville with Quatrefages—3 who has no great affection for people on this side the channel—but makes a special exception in your favour. He desired me to offer his very best salutation to you and Huxley4—and I discharge my conscience by communicating it to you.

You will have seen—with grief I am sure—the sharp rencontre in the Athenæum between me and a great friend of yours. I will say no more5

Yours ever Sinly | H Falconer

PS. I was nearly forgetting the most important point. Bravard sent home from Brazil, to Paris, the head of a Mammal-fossil bigger than that of a Lama.6 The Archæopteryx is a joke to it—for singularity.7 The molar teeth nearest Toxodon essentially—but in form of crown, like those of a gigantic Insectivore, in contour of crown & overlapping. Upper incisors two—bigger than those of an Indian Rhinoceros—but in form & position like those of a Rodent. Brain case somewhat like that of a marsupial koala. Lower jaw with 4 incisors, the two central large, like the upper & 1 smaller on either side. Serres—by a happy inspiration proposed calling it Mesotherium—as being a common centre towards which all mammalia got happily confounded:8 Bravard sent it home under the name of Typotherium as being the central type from which all mammals diverged.9 Gratiolet told me he considered it as of the Toxodon family.10 We shall probably soon have a cast of it in England. I have got Flower to apply for one11—Gratiolet having promised to assent. So much for Typotherium—being a hybrid between Toxodon & a kola in the first degree crossed in the Second with an Insectivore and 〈a〉 Rodent.


The year is established by the reference to letters in the Athenæum (see n. 5, below).
Falconer refers to Joseph Prestwich and John Evans; he also refers to Douglas Strutt Galton, an engineer and public servant who was a close friend of Prestwich’s, often accompanying him on excursions (G. A. Prestwich ed. 1899, pp. 148, 162, 196). This trip to France is referred to in Falconer et al. 1863, and Van Riper 1993, p. 135, in regard to the examination of the recently discovered human jaw at Moulin-Quignon, near Abbeville (see n. 3, below). A term originally introduced to English geology by Charles Lyell (C. Lyell 1833, 3: 203), the ‘Faluns’ are Miocene strata composed largely of Tertiary mollusca.
Falconer examined the recently discovered Moulin-Quignon fossil jaw at Abbeville, and discussed it with Armand de Quatrefages on 15 April 1863 (see Falconer et al. 1863, pp. 424–5). See letter from Hugh Falconer, 24 April [1863] and n. 6.
Thomas Henry Huxley. Quatrefages was a correspondent of CD’s (see, for example, letter to Armand de Quatrefages, [14 April 1863]).
The reference is to CD’s friend and mentor Charles Lyell. Falconer’s letter in the Athenæum, 4 April 1863, pp. 459–60, criticised C. Lyell 1863a (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [17 April 1863] and n. 3). CD also discussed the ‘horrid’ affair in his letter to Lyell of 18 April [1863]. See also letter to Hugh Falconer, 22 April [1863].
Auguste Bravard was a French palaeontologist living in South America. A decade earlier, CD had offered him advice on fossil hunting derived from his experience on the Beagle voyage (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to G. R. Waterhouse, 8 September [1852]).
Falconer refers to Archaeopteryx, the fossil Jurassic bird recently discovered in the slate quarries of Solenhofen, Bavaria (see letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 January [1863]).
See Serres 1857, p. 961. Antoine Etienne Reynaud Augustin Serres propounded the view (sometimes called the Serres–Meckel Law) that there was only one underlying animal type and that, in the course of their development, the organs of the higher animals repeated the forms of the equivalent organs in lower organisms (DSB).
Both Serres’s Mesotherium and Bravard’s Typotherium have been used for this genus of Pleistocene notoungulates (hoofed mammals, largely from South America); Mesotherium is now the accepted name (Simpson 1980, p. 121). Serres later published a detailed description of the fossil (Serres 1867).
Louis Pierre Gratiolet. Toxodon is a genus of Pliocene and Pleistocene rhinoceros-like notoungulate mammals from Argentina (EB). CD had collected specimens of Toxodon on the Beagle voyage (see Correspondence vol. 2, and South America, pp. 180–1).
William Henry Flower was curator of the Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons (DNB).


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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.

DSB: Dictionary of scientific biography. Edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie and Frederic L. Holmes. 18 vols. including index and supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1970–90.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Serres, Antoine Etienne Reynaud Augustin. 1857. Note sur une collection d’ossements fossiles recueillis par M. Séguin dans l’Amérique du Sud. Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences 44: 954–62.

Serres, Antoine Etienne Reynaud Augustin. 1867. De l’ostéographie du Mesotherium et des ses affinités zoologiques. Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences 65: 6–17, 140–8, 273–8, 429–37, 593–9, 740–8, 841–8.

Simpson, George Gaylord. 1980. Splendid isolation: the curious history of South American mammals. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.

South America: Geological observations on South America. Being the third part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1846.

Van Riper, A. Bowdoin. 1993. Men among the mammoths: Victorian science and the discovery of human prehistory. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.


Has been in France, conveys good wishes from Quatrefages.

Describes the fossil of an unusual mammal head from Brazil.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hugh Falconer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Park Crescent, 21
Source of text
DAR 164: 14
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4113,” accessed on 10 July 2020,

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