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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Gabriel Stokes to T. H. Huxley   5 December 1864

Lensfield Cottage Cambridge

Decr. 5th 1864

Dear Huxley,

It seems that my ears were right after all, in spite of the concurrent testimony of three or four of you. The words “expressly excluded” do not occur in the address,1 so that Falconer need not have been so ready to attribute his not hearing them to his deafness, and I my not hearing them to the physical exertion consequent on continued loud reading after a bad cold.2 Genl. Sabine has sent me both the page of his original MS and the printed proof from which I read,3 and the words run thus. After referring to the work on the Origin of Species, and saying that notwithstanding some difference of opinion “all will allow that it contains a mass of observation bearing upon the habits .... of animals perhaps unrivalled for interest, minuteness, and patience of observation”, and saying that some among us might be inclined to accept and others to refuse or postpone the acceptance of the theory contained in it, he adds “Speaking generally and collectively, we have expressly omitted it from the grounds of our award”.

Now this is a plain matter of fact; the work was not, could not well have been, ignored before the Council. Darwin’s supporters “expressly omitted” this work, about which there was as we know much difference of opinion, from among the grounds of the award.4 His claims were put forward with the distinct and avowed omission of this work. In the case of a minor work it would be sufficient to pass it sub silentio. But that could not be done in the case of a work which has made so much stir as “the origin of Species. All the world would say the medal had been given for that book; that it had been endorsed by the formal and solemn approval of the Royal Society.

Now there is a wide interval between putting a book in an index expurgatorius5 and declining to honour it with the Copley Medal of the Royal Society. Had no notice been taken of the express omission which as a matter of fact was made, any member of the Council would have a just cause of complaint, that the understanding on the strength of which alone, it may be, he voted for Darwin, namely that the Council should not be considered as committed in any way to that particular book had been practically violated.

On the whole I submit

1. That as a matter of fact the work on the origin of species was “expressly omitted” from the grounds on which the award of the medal was asked to be made.

2. That good faith and truthfulness require that this omission should be stated.

3. That the words read imply this and no more, and neither were intended nor are calculated to have the effect of placing the work in a sort of index expurgatorius.

Yours very truly | G. G. Stokes


Edward Sabine’s anniversary address delivered to the Royal Society of London on 30 November 1864 included remarks on Origin that were a matter of dispute. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 December 1864, and letter from T. H. Huxley to J. D. Hooker, 3 December 1864; see also Appendix IV for a discussion of the controversy over the wording of Sabine’s address.
Stoke’s letter to Huxley of 7 December 1864 suggests that he read the anniversary address (in whole or in part) to the Royal Society on behalf of Sabine, who was suffering from influenza (see letter from E. J. Sabine, 7 December [1864]).
Stokes refers to the original manuscript of Sabine’s address and to the printed proof that was read to the Royal Society at the anniversary meeting of 30 November 1864. The printed proof was probably distributed to the Reader, the Athenæum, and other periodicals after the meeting (see Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix IV). Neither the original manuscript nor the printed proof of Sabine’s address have been found.
The formal motion of the Council to award the Copley Medal to CD made no mention of Origin (Royal Society, Council Minutes, 3 November 1864).
Index expurgatorius: a list of books prohibited to Roman Catholic readers. Huxley had used this expression at the anniversary meeting of the Royal Society when he questioned Sabine’s remarks on Origin (see letter from T. H. Huxley to G. G. Stokes, 6 December 1864).


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

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

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.


Sabine’s Royal Society address [awarding the Copley Medal to CD], in referring to the Origin, did not contain the words "expressly excluded". The actual words were "expressly omitted from the grounds of our award". This was not meant to place the Origin on a sort of index expurgatorium, but was a simple statement of fact.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Gabriel Stokes, 1st baronet
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 99: 72–5
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4700,” accessed on 21 April 2021,

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