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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Hugh Falconer   22 April [1863]1


April 22nd

My dear Falconer

It was very good of you to tell me about Quatrefages (who has been very good- natured towards me) and especially about the Brazilian beast.2 I do hope a cast will be procured for this country. What an extraordinary creature it must be.3 If it turns, out as is too probable, a comparatively modern cave-fossil, the fact will not be altogether so pleasant for me, seeing how intermediate it is. I must coolly assume it is a very old form & like one of the Ganoid fishes, which are so comparatively common in S. America,4 that has lived almost to the present day. It is a converse case of unpleasantness to that of Plagioaulax.5 Nevertheless so intermediate a form is very glorious. I have been, as you supposed, grieved as a man of science, and as a very sincere friend of Lyell and you, at the quarrel in the Athenæum.6 But there is no need for me to say anything. With many thanks for your note

My dear Falconer | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin.


The year is established by the reference to letters in the Athenæum (see n. 6, below).
Following his return from France, Falconer conveyed Armand de Quatrefages’s ‘very best salutation’ to CD (see letter from Hugh Falconer, 20 April [1863]). He also informed CD of a large fossil mammal skull that the palaeontologist Auguste Bravard had sent to Paris from South America.
Falconer described the head of Bravard’s ‘Mammal-fossil’ (named Typotherium) as ‘bigger than that of a Lama’ and displaying features of a marsupial and rodent (see letter from Hugh Falconer, 20 April [1863]).
The majority of Palaeozoic and Mesozoic fossil fishes were classified as members of the primitive order Ganoidei, as was the living South American lungfish (Lepidosiren paradoxa) (Owen 1861b, pp. 139–69; see especially p. 147). This order is no longer recognised in fish classifications, and the species are placed in other orders (Wheeler 1985).
The Jurassic mammal Plagiaulax exhibited specialised dentition but was discovered in a stratum far more ancient (the Purbeck or upper Oolite) than those in which most other mammals had been found (see Falconer 1857b and C. Lyell 1857, pp. 18–23). Conversely, Bravard’s mammal appeared to be a primitive form found in more recent, Tertiary strata. See Correspondence vol. 6, letter to JD. Dana, 5 April [1857], and Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Hugh Falconer, 14 November [1862].
Falconer and Charles Lyell had exchanged letters in the Athenæum, arguing about the attribution of credit for research reported in C. Lyell 1863a; see letter to Charles Lyell, 18 April [1863] and nn. 7–9.


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

Wheeler, Alwyne. 1985. The world encyclopedia of fishes. New edition. London and Sydney: Macdonald.


Good of HF to tell him about Brazilian beast. So intermediate a form is "very glorious". Must assume it is very old.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Hugh Falconer
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 144: 31
Physical description
C 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4121,” accessed on 28 September 2023,

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