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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Alfred Newton   30 October 1865

Magd: Coll: Cambridge

30 Oct. 1865.

My dear Sir,

I beg leave to assure you that no apology is needed for declining my request that on the present occasion you should give me a testimonial—1 I have to thank you much for the courteous terms in which your refusal is couched— In justice to myself, however, I hope you will allow me to state that I am well aware of the absolute necessity there is for a would-be Professor of Zoology to be acquainted with Comparative Anatomy. It is true that I have hitherto published little or nothing of value bearing upon this subject—but it is not the less true that for more than twenty years Comparative Anatomy has formed an important part of my studies—and that on this basis I have always endeavoured to ground any investigations I have made into Zoology.

I may be entirely wrong in my opinion, but I have long thought that the difficulties which meet Zoological students are the same both in kind and degree whatever be the branch of the science investigated. I have also thought that an attempt to master one branch of the science was a good sort of training for one who aspired to teach the remainder to others. This has been the reason why I have chiefly, though not exclusively, confined my attention to ornithology.

Of histology, I freely confess, I know nothing—perhaps in the present case it is of less importance, because I expect it to form the subject of some of the lectures of the Professor of Human Anatomy & Physiology

You are no doubt right in saying that a recommendation from you might possibly be injurious to me as regards a few members of the University. This idea had occurred to me before—but it also seemed to me that the cause of truth was better than success, and as I had never cared to conceal my opinions on former occasions,2 I did not think it honest to do so now.

With deep respect | believe me to remain | Yours very truly | Alfred Newton

C. Darwin Esqre. F.R.S.


See letter from Alfred Newton, 27 October 1865, and letter to Alfred Newton, 29 October [1865]. For more on Newton’s election to the professorship, see A. F. R. Wollaston 1921, pp. 133–5.
Newton had been an early supporter of CD’s views. Four days after the publication of the paper by CD and Alfred Russel Wallace on the tendency of species to form varieties (C. Darwin and Wallace 1858), he communicated his favourable impression in a letter of 24 August 1858 to a fellow ornithologist, Henry Baker Tristram (the letter is reproduced in part in A. F. R. Wollaston 1926, pp. 115–17). Newton commented favourably on Origin in A. Newton 1860, and supported CD’s dispersion theory in A. Newton 1863. He suggested that natural selection was the cause of an apparent increase in the numbers of Pallas’s sand-grouse in its native territory in A. Newton 1864 (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Alfred Newton, 2 April 1864 and n. 6).


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

Newton, Alfred. 1860. On some hybrid ducks. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 28: 336–9.

Newton, Alfred. 1863. On an illustration of the manner in which birds may occasionally aid in the dispersion of seeds. [Read 21 April 1863.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1863): 127–9.

Newton, Alfred. 1864. On the irruption of Pallas’s sand-grouse (Syrrhaptes paradoxus) in 1863. Ibis 6: 185–222.

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.

Wollaston, Alexander Frederick Richmond. 1921. Life of Alfred Newton, professor of comparative anatomy, Cambridge University, 1866–1907. With a preface by Sir Archibald Geikie. London: John Murray.


CD need not apologise for not writing a testimonial for him. He knows comparative anatomy, although he has confined his publication to ornithology. Agrees that with a few members of the University a recommendation from CD would be harmful.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Newton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Magdalene College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 172: 45
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4927,” accessed on 18 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13