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Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. W. Farrar   6 November 1865


Nov 6. 1865.

Dear Sir,

I can say with perfect sincerity that your word of approval is to me the most pleasant result which my “Chapters on Language” have yet procured me.1 That the theory which I have advocated appears to you to rest on secure grounds is to my mind a great confirmation of its reasonableness.

With regard to the “Origin of Species⁠⟨⁠”⁠⟩⁠ I am not vain enough to claim the right of attaching any great value to my own opinion.2 Perhaps my Polygenist prejudices may have led me to it, although I am aware that your views are not absolutely incompatible with a belief in the primordial diversity of the present families of the human race,—since it is of course conceivable that there may have been different lines of development each terminating in a specific human type.3 Still I suppose that you would hardly hold this view, & I see that Prof. Huxley in the little book which you name, & which I possess, distinctly gives in his adhesion to Monogenism.4 Now I confess that, so far as I can see, History, & even Tradition, as far back as their primeval dawn, prove to us the existence of the several human races unchanged from their present physical characteristics; & if it be demonstrable that, under every possible variety of external influence & physical condition, the chief existing races have remained unaltered for say 5000 years—is not this a very strong argument for the Polygenist?—5

My state of mind however on this question is a mere suspension of assent & nothing would surprise me less than the discovery of some fresh palæontological fact, or the artificial production of some new species, which would practically decide the question in favour of your hypothesis.6

I am so ignorant on these subjects that I only hope that I have been saying nothing absurd. Pray pardon me if I have. Since in your former note you were so good as to mention some Ethnological papers of mine,7 I have taken the liberty of enclosing one of my anonymous contributions to the Anthropological Review, which may possibly have a moment’s interest for you, though I fear it is very crude.8

I hope that you will not take the trouble to acknowledge it, and that you will believe me to be, with very great respect, | Your’s very faithfully, | Frederic W Farrar.


For CD’s views on the origin and classification of human races, see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to A. R. Wallace, 28 [May 1864], and this volume, letter from Henry Denny, 23 January 1865, n. 3. CD did not publicly advocate monogenism, the view that humans originated as a single race, until 1871 (see Descent 2: 388). Many of the leading proponents of polygenism, however, were opposed to CD’s transmutation theory (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from A. R. Wallace, 10 May 1864 and n. 7).
See letter to F. W. Farrar, 2 November [1865] and n. 7. Thomas Henry Huxley had stated that there was ‘no evidence whatever for saying, that mankind sprang originally from any more than a single pair’ (T. H. Huxley 1863b, p. 117). Huxley went on to describe how distinct races and varieties could arise through the operation of natural selection (ibid., pp. 121–3). See also letter to T. H. Huxley, 12 July [1865], n. 8.
Some of Farrar’s objections to monogenism were expressed in papers delivered at the Ethnological and Anthropological Societies of London in 1864. Farrar rejected the alleged universality of cultural traditions, such as the belief in God, which was often appealed to as evidence in support of monogenism (Farrar 1864a and 1864b). He also argued that the fertility of the offspring of unions between different human races was inconclusive (Farrar 1864c). CD cited Farrar 1864b on the absence of belief in God among some human races in Descent 1: 65 n.
CD discussed the imperfection of the geological record in Origin, pp. 279–311. Huxley was the first to advance the view that CD’s theory of transmutation could not be fully accepted until proved by the production of new species by means of artificial selection (see, for example, [T. H. Huxley] 1860b and T. H. Huxley 1863b, pp. 147–9). Huxley’s suggestion was considered at length by CD and served as a partial impetus for some of his botanical experiments on cross and hybrid sterility (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI).
Farrar may refer to one of several anonymous articles that appeared in the 1864 and 1865 volumes of the Anthropological Review. The article ‘Pott on myths of the origin of man and language’ (Anthropological Review 2 (1864): 24–30), included a discussion of criticisms by German philologists of Friedrich Max Müller’s theory of language. The article ‘On the phenomena of hybridity’ (ibid., pp. 164–73), reviewed the work of the French anthropologist Paul Broca for its bearing on the monogenist theory of human descent. The May 1865 issue carried an article titled ‘On the plurality of the human race’ (Anthropological Review 3 (1865): 120–32).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Farrar, Frederic William. 1865. Chapters on language. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

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.


Grateful for CD’s approval of Chapters on language.

Is inclined to believe that the races of man were primordially distinct.

Letter details

Letter no.
Frederic William Farrar
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 164: 35
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4933,” accessed on 19 May 2024,

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