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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. G. Stokes to T. H. Huxley   7 December 1864

Lensfield Cottage Cambridge

7th Decr 1864

My dear Huxley

Of course I cannot say that it is mathematically certain that in reading from a printed page I did not through inadvertence read “excluded” for omitted, but it is most violently improbable that I should have made such a change and the President, knowing as he must his own words, would be sure to have noticed it.1 It does not seem to me at all improbable that in your recollection of what was rapidly read you should have substituted for one word another which you deem of similar import.

However you agree to accept “omitted” and the question arises whether this correctly describes what passed.

Now by the rules of the R.S. the award of the medals is as you know made by the Council alone. Therefore the “we” cannot mean the Royal Society at large but the Council. The question then is, are the words “We have expressly omitted” a correct account of what passed.2

The proposal of the Copley Medal to Darwin was as you know made by Falconer who rested his claims on other grounds.3 The work on the origin of species was however too important to be passed sub silentio, and therefore he gave reasons for not including that among the grounds of the award. When the matter thus came formally before the Council the President from the Chair used words of this general purport:— “Then we are to understand that the work on the origin of species is not included among the grounds of the award of the Copley Medal to Mr Darwin”   This was assented to,4 and the Council considered and voted on Mr Darwin’s claims accordingly.

Now there are two modes of omission, by silence, or by express mention. If the naming of a work by the proposer of a medal and saying why he did not included it, followed by a formal statement made from the Chair and assented to that work was not included among Mr. Darwin’s claims for the Medal be not an “express” omission I don’t know what is.

But what are Mr Darwin and his friends to understand by this “express” omission? That the Council have passed any censure on the book? No such thing; but only that while the Council were not prepared, or at least were not asked, to reward it with the Copley Medal, it was too important to be passed sub silentio, and had to be mentioned in order to guard the Council from being committed to it.

Yours very truly | G. G. Stokes


Stokes refers to Edward Sabine, president of the Royal Society of London, and his anniversary address, which was evidently read, in whole or in part, by Stokes at the meeting on 30 November 1864 (see first letter from G. G. Stokes to T. H. Huxley, 5 December 1864 and nn. 1, 2, and 3, and letter from T. H. Huxley to G. G. Stokes, 6 December 1864 and n. 1).
George Busk nominated CD for the Copley Medal; the nomination was seconded by Hugh Falconer (Royal Society, Council minutes, 23 June 1864). In his letter to the secretary of the Royal Society, William Sharpey, 25 October 1864, Falconer specifically mentioned Origin, under the heading of ‘genetic biology’, as a reason to award CD the Copley Medal. In his letter of 3 November 186[4], reporting the Council’s decision, Falconer told CD that his ‘friends . . . did not fail to stand up for “the Origin of Specs”—as establishing a strong claim’. The Council minutes record that CD was awarded the medal for his ‘important Researches in Geology, Zoology, and Botanical Physiology’ (Royal Society, Council minutes, 3 November 1864).
Edward Sabine’s remarks and the Council’s assent were not recorded in the Council minutes (Royal Society, Council minutes, 3 November 1864). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 December 1864, n. 6, and Appendix IV.


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.


It is improbable that he changed the wording of Sabine’s address without his noticing. Proceeds to defend the passage by quoting the rules of the award of the Copley Medal and the Royal Society Council’s action in this case, which is accurately presented in the wording of the award.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Gabriel Stokes, 1st baronet
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 99: 81–4
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4704,” accessed on 22 April 2021,

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