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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Athenæum   5 May [1863]1

Down, Bromley, Kent, [Hartfield]2

May 5.

I hope that you will grant me space to own that your Reviewer3 is quite correct when he states that any theory of descent will connect, “by an intelligible thread of reasoning,” the several generalizations before specified.4 I ought to have made this admission expressly; with the reservation, however, that, as far as I can judge, no theory so well explains or connects these several generalizations (more especially the formation of domestic races in comparison with natural species, the principles of classification, embryonic resemblance, &c.) as the theory, or hypothesis, or guess, if the Reviewer so likes to call it, of Natural Selection. Nor has any other satisfactory explanation been ever offered of the almost perfect adaptation of all organic beings to each other, and to their physical conditions of life. Whether the naturalist believes in the views given by Lamarck, by Geoffroy St.-Hilaire, by the author of the ‘Vestiges,’ by Mr. Wallace and myself,5 or in any other such view, signifies extremely little in comparison with the admission that species have descended from other species and have not been created immutable; for he who admits this as a great truth has a wide field opened to him for further inquiry. I believe, however, from what I see of the progress of opinion on the Continent, and in this country, that the theory of Natural Selection will ultimately be adopted, with, no doubt, many subordinate modifications and improvements.

Charles Darwin.


The letter was published in the Athenæum, 9 May 1863.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwins stayed at Hartfield Grove in Hartfield, Sussex, the home of Charles Langton, between 27 April and 6 May 1863.
CD was responding to an anonymous letter by Richard Owen in the Athenæum, 2 May 1863, pp. 586–7 (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix VII), which was critical of CD’s letter to the Athenæum of 18 April [1863].
See the anonymous letter in the Athenæum, 2 May 1863, pp. 586–7 (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix VII). The publisher’s marked copy of the Athenæum at the City University, London, reveals the author to have been Owen. Owen had taken the passage quoted from CD’s letter to the Athenæum of 18 April [1863].
CD refers to Lamarck 1801, 1809, and 1815–22, E. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 1829, [Chambers] 1844, and C. Darwin and Wallace 1858. CD discussed the theories of transmutation that had preceded the announcement of his own theory in a historical preface to the third edition of Origin, pp. xiii–xix.


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

[Chambers, Robert.] 1844. Vestiges of the natural history of creation. London: John Churchill.

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

Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne. 1829. Cours de l’histoire naturelle de mammifères. Paris: Pichon & Didier.

Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet de. 1801. Système des animaux sans vertèbres: ou tableau général des classes, des ordres et des genres de ces animaux; … Précédé du discours d’ouverture du cours de zoologie, donné dans le Muséum national d’histoire naturelle l’an 8 de la République. Paris: Deterville.

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.


Replies to a reviewer’s statement, that any theory of descent will connect large classes of facts, by pointing out that no other explanation has been as satisfactory as natural selection. But whatever view is adopted "signifies extremely little in comparison with the admission that species have descended from other species and have not been created immutable".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
Athenæum, 9 May 1863, p. 617

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4142,” accessed on 24 November 2020,

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