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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Emma Darwin to Patrick Matthew   21 November [1863]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Nov 21.

Dear Sir

Mr Darwin begs me to thank you warmly for your letter which has interested him very much.2 I am sorry to say that he is so unwell as not to be able to write himself.

With regard to Natural Selection he says that he is not staggered by your striking remarks. He is more faithful to your own original child than you are yourself.3 He says you will understand what he means by the following metaphor.

Fragments of rock fallen from a lofty precipice assume an infinitude of shapes—these shapes being due to the nature of the rock, the law of gravity &c— by merely selecting the well-shaped stones & rejecting the ill-shaped an architect (called Nat. Selection could make many & various noble buildings.4

Mr Darwin is much obliged to you for sending him your photograph.5 He wishes he could send you as good a one of himself. The enclosed was a good likeness taken by his eldest son but the impression is faint.6

You express yourself kindly interested about his family. We have 5 sons & 2 daughters, of these 2 only are grown up.7 Mr Darwin was very ill 2 months ago & his recovery is very slow, so that I am afraid it will be long before he can attend to any scientific subject.

Dear Sir | yours truly | E. Darwin


The year is established by the references to CD’s illness, and by a similar description of CD’s ‘metaphor’ having been sent to Asa Gray earlier in 1863 (see letter to Asa Gray, 4 August [1863], and n. 4, below).
The letter from Matthew has not been found. CD and Matthew also corresponded in 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Patrick Matthew, 13 June [1862] and letter from Patrick Matthew, 3 December 1862).
Matthew claimed that he anticipated CD’s concept of natural selection in his work on naval timber and arboriculture (Matthew 1831). CD conceded Matthew’s priority in correspondence (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [13 April 1860], and letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker, 13 [April 1860]). CD also discussed Matthew’s views in the ‘Historical sketch’ that prefaced the third edition of Origin, pp. xiv–xv. See also Dempster 1996.
Darwin’s metaphor appears in Variation 2: 248–9 and 430. See also letter to Asa Gray, 4 August [1863].
The photograph has not been found.
CD’s photograph was taken by William Erasmus Darwin in April 1861; the photograph is reproduced as the frontispiece to Correspondence vol. 9.
The references are to William and Henrietta Emma Darwin, who were 23 and 20 years old respectively; George Howard was 18, Elizabeth was 16, Francis was 15, Leonard was 13, and Horace was 12 (Freeman 1978).


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

Dempster, W. J. 1996. Natural selection and Patrick Matthew. Evolutionary concepts in the nineteenth century. Durham: Pentland Press.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Matthew, Patrick. 1831. On naval timber and arboriculture; with critical notes on authors who have recently treated the subject of planting. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green. Edinburgh: Adam Black.

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.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


CD is too ill to write.

As for natural selection, he is more faithful to PM’s "own original child" than PM is himself. To illustrate, CD relates the metaphor of an architect selecting well-shaped stones and rejecting ill-shaped ones. [See Variation 2: 431.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Emma Wedgwood/Emma Darwin
Patrick Matthew
Sent from
Source of text
National Library of Scotland (Acc.10963)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4344,” accessed on 13 July 2024,

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