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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Sabine to John Phillips   12 November 1863

The Royal Society, | Burlington House, London. W.

Nov. 12 1863.

Dear Phillips

I thank you heartily for your improvements, all of which I have adopted and will with your leave send you the part which relates to Sedgwick in type, that you may have a second opportunity of touching up.1 I am endeavoring to have the whole address ready for the printer by the 19th.; so that if possible I may have a proof on Saturday the 22d: and a revised sheet on Saturday the 29th. at latest.

Sedgwick will attend himself which will be a great pleasure to us all here. Murchison will not be present; which is so far well that we shall avoid embarrassment;—to say the least.2 Will you not come up to sit by your friend at dinner. The Society meets, as you know, at 4 PM. It would be a most gratifying circumstance to Sedgwick, and we, of the council, should feel the benefit of such an evidence of your thorough approval of the Award.3

It may be that I do not partake sufficiently, by reason of my age, of the spirit of the opinions which appear to have taken a strong hold of the younger Geologists and Zoologists. With all respect for Darwin’s great services, and recognising that his recent work on Orchids must be classed amongst these, I cannot see without extreme concern the efforts of a very strong party to obtain the award of the Copley Medal to him expressly on the ground of his conclusions as to the “Origin of Species”.4 A more decided interference that I desire to exercise a second time with the thorough independence of the votes of individual members of the Council, was required to prevent such an award being made in this year instead of to Sedgwick.5 We may not have so good an alternative next year;6 and I cannot but deem it a great misfortune to the RS. that we cannot prevail on the older, & may I say more soberminded of the naturalists to give us their aid in the Council. It is the only source from which I have any present anticipation of trouble.

always truly yours | Edward Sabine


Sabine evidently sent Phillips drafts of the anniversary address that he was to give on 30 November 1863 as the President of the Royal Society (Sabine 1863). The anniversary meeting was to include the presentation of medals; see Sabine 1863, pp. 31–5, for the presentation of the Copley Medal to Adam Sedgwick. The medal was awarded (Sabine 1863, p. 31) for Sedgwick’s: observations and discoveries in the Geology of the Palæozoic Series of Rocks, and more especially for his determination of the characters of the Devonian System, by observations of the order and superposition of the Killas Rocks and their Fossils, in Devonshire. For a discussion of the significance of medals in Victorian science, particularly the Royal Medal, see MacLeod 1971.
Sedgwick and Roderick Impey Murchison had disagreed over the classification of British Palaeozoic rocks since the 1840s; the two men, once collaborators, were no longer on speaking terms (see Secord 1986, pp. 262–8). Murchison had publicly defended his classification as recently as 1861, when he gave the presidential address to the geology section of the thirty-first meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Manchester (Murchison 1861). Murchison had received the Copley Medal in 1849.
The council of the Royal Society, composed of twenty-one members including Sabine, voted on recipients of medals (Record of the Royal Society of London, pp. 227–8). Phillips was professor of geology at Oxford University, and had been president of the Geological Society in 1859 and 1860 (DNB). For Phillips’s recollections of his friendship with Sedgwick, see Phillips 1873. See also Secord 1986, pp. 295–6.
Sabine refers to Orchids and Origin. At the 11 June 1863 meeting of the Royal Society council, John Lubbock nominated CD for the Copley Medal, and William Benjamin Carpenter seconded the nomination. Two others were also nominated at that meeting (Henri Victor Regnault and August Wilhelm von Hofmann), but it was not until the following meeting on 18 June 1863 that Sedgwick was nominated by Richard Owen; Philip de Malpas Grey-Egerton seconded the nomination. The other members of the council of the Royal Society in 1863 were Benjamin Guy Babington, George Bowdler Buckton, Warren De la Rue, Douglas Strutt Galton, Robert Godwin-Austen, Joseph Henry Green, Joseph Dalton Hooker, James Clerk Maxwell, William Allen Miller, William Hallowes Miller, William Sharpey, Henry John Stephen Smith, George Gabriel Stokes, James Joseph Sylvester, Charles Wheatstone, and Robert Willis. See Royal Society, Council minutes, 6 November 1862, 11 June, 18 June, and 5 November 1863. See also letter from E. A. Darwin to Emma Darwin, 11 November [1863] and n. 5.
Sabine wrote ‘that’ before ‘I desire’ when presumably he meant ‘than’. See also letter from E. A. Darwin to Emma Darwin, 11 November [1863]. For a discussion of Sabine’s presidency of the Royal Society, see Hall 1984, pp. 104–9.
CD received the Copley Medal in 1864. See, for example, Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Edward Sabine, 3 November 1864, and letter from Charles Lyell, 4 November 1864.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 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.

Hall, Marie Boas. 1984. All scientists now: the Royal Society in the nineteenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Phillips, John. 1873. Sedgwick. Nature 7: 257–9.

Record of the Royal Society of London: The record of the Royal Society of London for the promotion of natural knowledge. 4th edition. London: Royal Society. 1940.

Sabine, Edward. 1863. [Aniversary address, 30 November 1863.] Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 13: 22–39.

Secord, James Andrew. 1986. Controversy in Victorian geology: the Cambrian–Silurian dispute. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.


Preparation for his address with particular concern that JP approve the part relating to [Adam] Sedgwick. Urges JP to sit at dinner with him as a sign of approval of the award [of the Copley Medal].

Admits his own dismay regarding the efforts of the younger geologists and zoologists to obtain the Copley Medal for CD on the grounds of the Origin and his anxiety about the next year’s award.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Sabine
John Phillips
Sent from
Royal Society, Burlington House, London W.
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Misc. MS collection: Mss.Ms.Coll.200)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4340F,” accessed on 4 February 2023,

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