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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   11 April [1864]1

Down Bromley Kent

April 11

My dear Huxley

I am very much obliged for your present of your Comp. Anatomy.2 When strong enough I am sure I shall read it with greatest interest. I cd not resist the last chapter, of which I have read a part, & have been much interested about the “inspired idiot”.3 If Owen wrote article “Oken” & the French work on the Archetype (points which you do not put quite clearly) he never did a baser act, & that is saying a good deal.4 You are so good a Christian that you will hardly understand how I chuckle over this bit of baseness.—

I hope you keep well & hearty: I honour your wisdom at giving up at present Society for Science.5 But, on other hand, I feel it in myself possible to get to care too much for Nat. Science & too little for other things—

I am getting better, I almost dare to hope permanently; for my sickness is decidedly less— for 27 days consecutively I was sick many times daily; & lately I was five days free—6 I long to do a little work again.

The magnificent (by far the most magnificent & too magnificent) compliment which you paid me at end of your Origin of Species I have met with reprinted from you two or three times lately.7

My dear Huxley | Yours most sincerely | C. Darwin


The year is established by the discussion of T. H. Huxley 1864c (see nn. 2–4, below).
CD’s lightly annotated copy of Lectures on the elements of comparative anatomy (T. H. Huxley 1864c) is in the Darwin Library–CUL; a sheet of indexed notes is attached to the back page (see Marginalia 1: 425).
The last chapter, or Lecture XIV, of Huxley’s book was titled ‘The theory of the vertebrate skull’ (T. H. Huxley 1864c, pp. 278–303). Huxley wrote that when reading the works of the naturalist and leading exponent of ‘Naturphilosophie’, Lorenz Oken, he was reminded of the epithet ‘inspired idiot’, which was commonly applied to Oliver Goldsmith (ibid., p. 282).
In his article (signed ‘R. O.’) on Oken in the eighth edition (1853–60) of Encyclopædia Britannica, Richard Owen referred to an earlier dispute over priority in which he accused Johann Wolfgang von Goethe of having appropriated Oken’s theory of the vertebral composition of the skull, or the notion that each part of the skull was homologous to particular structures of the spinal column (Oken 1807; see also Di Gregorio 1984, p. 41, and Rupke 1994, p. 109). Huxley defended the priority of Goethe’s unpublished hypothesis (T. H. Huxley 1864c, pp. 279–81), and noted the suggestion in Owen’s Encyclopædia Britannica article (16: 502) that it was Owen himself who had demonstrated the vertebral constitution of the skull, without having been influenced by Oken: ‘Thus does the moralist upon Goethe’s supposed delinquencies think it just to depreciate the merits of Oken, and exalt his own’ (T. H. Huxley 1864c, p. 288). In the second article CD mentions, the French edition of On the archetypes and the homologies of the vertebrate skeleton (R. Owen 1848), Owen praised Oken’s theory of the skull, and wrote that Oken was the first to have understood it (R. Owen 1855, pp. 158, 161, quoted in T. H. Huxley 1864c, pp. 288–9). Huxley concluded: ‘Professor Owen’s own contributions to this question [the doctrine of the segmentation of the skull] are the merest Okenism, remanié [reformulated]’ (T. H. Huxley 1864c, p. 289). See also ML 1: 246 and Rupke 1994, p. 230. For Oken’s influence on Owen, see Correspondence vol. 6, letter from T. H. Huxley, [before 3 October 1857]; Correspondence vol. 11, letter to J. D. Hooker, [29 March 1863] and n. 5, and Appendix VII; Huxley’s contribution, pp. 272–332, to R. S. Owen 1894; and Rupke 1994, pp. 167–70, 175–7, 192–3. For Huxley’s opposition to Owen’s vertebral theory of the skull, see T. H. Huxley 1858; see also A. Desmond 1982, pp. 27, 192–3, di Gregorio 1984, pp. 40–3, and Rupke 1994, pp. 205–8, 294.
See letter from T. H. Huxley, 16 January 1864.
CD reported in his ‘Journal’ that his ‘Last sickness’ was on 13 April 1864 (see Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix II). See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 [–7] March [1864] and nn. 2, 3, and 10.
CD refers to Huxley’s On our knowledge of the causes of the phenomena of organic nature (T. H. Huxley 1863; see also letter to John Lubbock, [1 January 1864] and n. 3). One publication which reprinted the last sentences of Huxley 1863a was John Lubbock’s review of the work ([Lubbock] 1864; see letter from John Lubbock, 10 January 1864, n. 3.


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

Desmond, Adrian. 1982. Archetypes and ancestors: palaeontology in Victorian London, 1850–1875. London: Blond & Briggs.

Di Gregorio, Mario A. 1984. T. H. Huxley’s place in natural science. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

[Lubbock, John.] 1864b. Huxley’s lectures on the origin of species. Natural History Review n.s. 4: 37–43.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

ML: More letters of Charles Darwin: a record of his work in a series of hitherto unpublished letters. Edited by Francis Darwin and Albert Charles Seward. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1903.

Oken, Lorenz. 1807. Ueber die Bedeutung der Schädelknochen. Ein Programm beim Antritt der Professur an der Gesammt-Universität zu Jena. Bamberg: J. A. Göbhardt.

Owen, Richard. 1848. On the archetypes and homologies of the vertebrate skeleton. London: John Van Voorst.

Owen, Richard Startin. 1894. The life of Richard Owen … With the scientific portions revised by C. Davies Sherborn; also an essay on Owen’s position in anatomical science by the Right Hon. T. H. Huxley, F.R.S. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Rupke, Nicolaas A. 1994. Richard Owen, Victorian naturalist. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.


Thanks for Lectures on the elements of comparative anatomy [1864].

If Owen wrote article on "Oken" [Encyclopaedia Britannica, 8th ed.] and French work on archetype he never did a baser act [see ML 1: 246 n.].

Bad health lately.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine Archives (Huxley 5: 203)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4459,” accessed on 18 January 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12