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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hugh Falconer   29 August 1863

British Association for the Advancement of Science | Meeting 1863. | Newcastle upon Tyne +

29 Augt. 1863

My Dear Darwin,

Thanks for your note.1 I am distressed to learn from it that you have suffered so much during the Summer. Your pluck—to hold out with such indomitable perseverance, with your researches—under such adverse conditions, is truly admirable. Long may it last.

With regard to the value of the pliocene species—identical with a living one—to be of any value the instances must be sound, and unquestionable: and if a sufficient number of good cases is adduced, there is a very wholesome basis for a generalization. With regard to the Badger, I cannot say.2 As soon as I get back to London I will send you Suess paper.3 I was not a little surprized to find myself so precisely formulated for so decided a Conclusion.4 Had I not thought that Suess must have sent it to you, I should have forwarded it to you. He deals directly with natural selection, under its German designation5

Armstrong, gave the best address I ever listened to here:6 i.e. limited in the main to a single point upon which he was strong—and touching lightly and modestly on other matters. I send you a copy.7 You will have already seen it in the Times8—but a detached copy may be convenient, as he took you gently in hand—with high appreciation and much modesty.9

I will not touch on the remark in the opening part of your note—except to say that nothing in the course of my life ever gave me so much pain, as the reclamation. It was no spurt of sudden feeling. But.... I will not trust myself to say more on paper, about it.10

My Dear Darwin | Yours very Sinly | H Falconer


See letter from Hugh Falconer, 24 August [1863], and letter to Hugh Falconer, [25–6 August 1863] and n. 3. Falconer was interested in the stability of specific characteristics over long periods of geological time (see Falconer 1863a, p. 80).
See n. 3, above.
Suess summarised the conclusions of a number of palaeontologists on the subject of variation in Tertiary land fauna. His article concluded with a discussion of natural selection (‘natürliche Auswahl’) that was critical of Falconer’s comments on natural selection in Falconer 1863a (Suess 1863, pp. 330–1). With some reservations, Suess was in agreement with Falconer’s belief that the period during which new species emerge is very brief compared with the period over which a species occurs with constant characteristics. Suess emphasised the importance of external conditions in generating new species, but maintained that there was as yet no satisfactory explanation of the forces which come into play in that process, whether by ‘natural selection’ or by other processes.
The industrialist William George Armstrong was president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1863; the presidential address (Armstrong 1863) was delivered on the evening of 26 August (Report of the thirty-third meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Newcastle-upon-Tyne). Armstrong discussed the progress of science and industry, and dealt particularly with the history of coal formations, coal consumption, the mining industry, and improvements in the efficiency of energy use.
The copy of Armstrong 1863 has not been found.
The Times, 27 August 1863, p. 7.
In the conclusion to his address, Armstrong briefly referred to Origin, and to the doctrine of natural selection (Armstrong 1863, p. lxiii): The novelty of this ingenious theory, the eminence of its author, and his masterly treatment of the subject have perhaps combined to excite more enthusiasm in its favour than is consistent with that dispassionate spirit which it is so necessary to preserve in the pursuit of truth. Mr. Darwin’s views have not passed unchallenged, and the arguments both for and against have been urged with great vigour by the supporters and opponents of the theory.... In the present instance we may without difficulty suppose it to have been part of the great scheme of creation that natural selection should be permitted to determine variations amounting even to specific differences where those differences were matters of degree; but when natural selection is adduced as a cause adequate to explain the production of a new organ not provided for in original creation, the hypothesis must appear, to common apprehensions, to be pushed beyond the limits of reasonable conjecture.
The first part of the letter to Hugh Falconer, [25–6 August 1863], is missing. Falconer refers to his letter in the Athenæum, 4 April 1863, pp. 459–60, which was highly critical of Charles Lyell’s Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a). See letter from W. H. Dixon, 16 April 1863 and n. 3, and letter to Charles Lyell, 18 April [1863].


Armstrong, William George. 1863. [Presidential address.] Report of the 33d meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, pp. li–lxiv.

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

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.

Suess, Eduard. 1863. Über die Verschiedenheit und die Aufeinanderfolge der tertiären Landfaunen in der Niederung von Wien. Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Classe 47 (pt 1): 306–31.


HF will send E. Suess’s paper [Edouard Suess, "Über die Verschiedenheit und die Aufeinanderfolge der tertiären Landfaunen in der Niederung von Wien", Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien (Math–nat. Klasse) 47 (1863): 306–31] which deals directly with natural selection.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hugh Falconer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
BAAS, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Source of text
DAR 164: 17
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4284,” accessed on 19 June 2021,

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