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Darwin Correspondence Project

From [C. P.]1   29 April 1864

Roseden. | Jersey.

Ap. 29. 1864


I perhaps need not apologise for troubling you with one or two suggestions occurring to me, on re-reading your book on the ‘origin of Species’,2 as I am well aware of your honest love of truth, and the unusual opportunities you have enjoyed of obtaining a varied knowledge of specific forms;—yet in stating your hypothesis, it seems to me at least, that you scarcely appreciate at their full value, two disturbing causes or forces, which must operate to retard, or even to neutralise in many cases that mode of action, which you conceive to have originated mutation of specific forms and which must have equally operated to protect the individuality of species, through all time; the first being the extreme uncertainty which must have attended the transmission of an acquired peculiarity by the neutralising effect of the first modification generating with an unmodified form, and so causing a step of ‘progress’ to be diminished or annihilated;—and 2nd. the tendency of every species to elude excessive, or superior competition, by seeking a habitat favourable to its own normal growth, for if it accidentally intrudes on an area where developement becomes unduly luxuriant (I speak now particularly of vegetable life) it is sure to be encountered by others having greater vigour from greater adaptibility, and when it enters an unfavourable or barren locality, it is diminished in growth, and circumscribed in extent by physical conditions, as, for example Epilobium tetragonum immediately occupies here heavy damp soil which is at all neglected, & flourishes beyond measure, but if the neglect be carried forth, is driven to drier banks & stone walls, by the competition of Ranunculus repens, & coarse grasses, which cannot follow it—

Competition of a species with itself is checked not only or principally by hostile action from without, but by weakness, and disease within, and in such cases as the rat & rabbit by the tendency to devour its own offspring

But your proposition if true will of course include and explain all objections, nor do I think it is strengthened or weakened by specific instances alleged by yourself, or objections of the same sort by others: the extreme variability of the Pigeon and Rabbit among vertebrates, and of Pelargonium, Calceolaria, Rubus, Rosa among plants can only be maintained by the most careful artificial treatment, and, abandoned to natural conditions of soil & exposure, revert to their types, & are examples of the luxury, not of the economy of nature—

I have thought that the first germ of your idea, or its most apparent confirmation was derived from the Geospizæ of the Galapagos, but you do not cite them in your ‘origin’, though they must have struck you powerfully in your Naturalists voyage—3

I have written solely from a love of truth, without any mere desire to criticise, and am totally indifferent to any reputation as a Naturalist, though I have long enjoyed the unutterable delight of Naturalistic Studies—

[C. P].


‘C. P.’ has not been identified. The initials are in doubt due to their illegibility.
CD collected finches (later known as ‘Darwin’s finches’), including the Geospiza, from three islands of the Galápagos while on the Beagle voyage; with the help of his shipmates’ collections, he later began to recognise the significance of the finches’ diversity (see Ornithological notes; ‘Habits of the genera Geospiza’ (Collected papers 1: 40); Journal of researches, pp. 461–2; Zoology p. 3; Journal of researches 2d ed., pp. 379–80; Journal of researches (1860), p. vii, Natural selection, p. 257; and Sulloway 1982a; see also Correspondence vol. 1, letter to J. S. Henslow, [28–9] January 1836 and n. 2). When CD wrote Origin, information on the feeding habits and geographical distribution of the Galápagos finches was still limited; at that time, he did not consider what he knew about them to be crucial to his theory (see Sulloway 1982a, pp. 36–9, Sulloway 1982b, pp. 345–8, Sulloway 1984, pp. 39–42, and Browne 1995, pp. 303–5, 339, 359–60). In the second edition of Journal of researches pp. ?, and in the 1860 edition, p. 380, after describing the different beaks of the different finch species, CD wrote: ‘Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.’


Browne, Janet. 1995. Charles Darwin. Voyaging. Volume I of a biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Journal of researches (1860): Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle around the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. By Charles Darwin. Reprint edition. London: John Murray. 1860.

Journal of researches 2d ed.: Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. 2d edition, corrected, with additions. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1845.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.

Ornithological notes: Darwin’s ornithological notes. Edited by Nora Barlow. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History). Historical Series 2 (1959–63): 203–78.

Sulloway, Frank J. 1984. Darwin and the Galapagos. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 21: 29–59.

Zoology: The zoology of the voyage of HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. Edited and superintended by Charles Darwin. 5 pts. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1838–43.


On rereading the Origin, he offers a criticism on two grounds: 1. Blending inheritance; 2. The tendency of species to elude competing species. Also competition within species eliminates the weak and thus preserves the species.

Letter details

Letter no.
P., C.
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Roseden, Jersey
Source of text
DAR 174: 1
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4476,” accessed on 21 November 2019,

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