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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Fritz Müller   11 January 1866

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Jan 11 1866

My dear Sir

I received your interesting letter of Nov 5. some little time ago,1 & despatched immediately a copy of my Journal of researches.2 I fear that you will think me troublesome in my offers; but have you the 2nd German Edition of the Origin? which is a translation with additions of the 3rd English Ed.3 & is I think considerably improved compared with the 1st Ed.4 I have some spare copies which are of no use to me & it wd be a pleasure to me to send you one, if it wd be of any use to you. You wd never require to re-read the book, but you might wish to refer to some passage. I am particularly obliged for your photograph, for one likes to have a picture in one’s mind of any one about whom one is interested.5 I have received & read with interest your paper on the Spunge with horny Spicula.6 Owing to ill-health & being busy when formerly well, I have for some years neglected periodical scientific literature & have lately been reading up & have thus read translations of several of your papers;7 amongst which I have been particularly glad to read & see the drawings of the Metamorphoses of Peneus. This seems to me the most interesting discovery in embryology which has been made for years.8

I am much obliged to you for telling me a little of your plans for the future; what a strange but to my taste, interesting life you will lead when you retire to your estate on the Itajahi!9 You refer in your letter to the facts which Agassiz is collecting, against our views, on the Amazons.10 Though he has done so much for science, he seems to me so wild & paradoxical in all his views that I cannot regard his opinions as of any value—11

Believe me my dear Sir | yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. I did not at all know that your island had lately risen.12 Near Rio I cd find no such evidence;13 you ought to collect & send the paper to some Geolog. Journal—14


No request by Müller for a copy of Journal of researches has been found. For CD’s offer to send the book to Müller, see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to Fritz Müller, 20 September [1865]; for Müller’s receipt of the book, see this volume, letter from Fritz Müller, 13 February 1866 and n. 2.
Christian Friedrich Schweizerbart of Stuttgart published the German editions of Origin during CD’s lifetime. The second German edition appeared in 1863; the first and second German editions were translated by Heinrich Georg Bronn, who died in 1862. John Murray published the third English edition of Origin in 1861.
For CD’s additions and corrections to the second German edition, see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VIII. On the additional material incorporated in the third English edition, including the ‘Historical sketch of the recent progress of opinion on the origin of species’, see Origin 3d ed., pp. xi–ii, and Peckham ed. 1959, p. 20. The first and second German editions (Bronn trans. 1860 and 1863) included a final chapter containing Bronn’s own comments, which CD addressed in the third English edition of Origin (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to H. G. Bronn, 5 October [1860]).
CD had asked for a photograph of Müller in his letter of 10 August [1865] (Correspondence vol. 13), and Müller promised to send one when he had had one made (ibid., letter from Müller, 10 October 1865). It is likely that the photograph was enclosed with the letter from Fritz Müller, 5 November 1865 (Correspondence vol. 13). Although the photograph has not been found in the Darwin Archive, it was probably a copy of the photographic ‘carte’ or ‘carte de visite’ reproduced in Möller 1915–21, 3: 84 with the caption ‘ca. 1866’ (see plate opposite p. 185). Earlier in 1865, CD had sent a photograph of himself to Müller (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from Fritz Müller, 10 October 1865).
CD refers to F. Müller 1865a. In his letter of 10 October 1865 (Correspondence vol. 13), Müller mentioned that Max Johann Sigismund Schultze of Berlin would be sending an offprint of the paper to CD. In the same letter, Müller discussed the content of F. Müller 1865a, including his application of CD’s theory to his study of Brazilian sponges. For CD’s response to Müller’s conclusions about spicules, see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to Fritz Müller, 9 December [1865]. An offprint of F. Müller 1865a, with a note in CD’s hand on the front cover, is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
In the summer of 1865, CD had been reading back issues from the previous ten years of Annals and Magazine of Natural History (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to A. R. Wallace, 22 September [1865] and n. 4, and letters to J. D. Hooker, 27 [or 28 September 1865] and n. 12, and 22 and 28 [October 1865]). Between 1857 and 1865, the journal published twelve translations of papers by Müller, all on crustaceans.
The reference is to F. Müller 1864a, a paper in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History describing and illustrating metamorphosis in a species of the prawn Peneus. In the paper, Müller illustrated the free-swimming nauplius larva of Peneus for the first time (F. Müller 1864a, plate IV and p. 115); in Für Darwin, he interpreted it as the earliest developmental stage of the higher crustaceans (Malacostraca) and argued that it had been suppressed by natural selection in other species of prawn (F. Müller 1864c, pp. 38–41, 82–4, and Dallas trans. 1869, pp. 57–62, 123–26). CD revised the fourth edition of Origin during the spring of 1866 (see ‘Journal’, Appendix II), adding references to Müller’s work on Peneus (Origin 4th ed., pp. 523–4, 530–1). CD made further reference to Peneus, citing F. Müller 1864c, in describing his provisional hypothesis of pangenesis in Variation 2: 368.
Müller was working as a mathematics teacher at Destêrro (now Florianópolis), on Santa Catarina island, Brazil; he had written to CD that, in 1870 or 1871, he intended to return to his ‘small homestead’ beside the Itajahy river (now called Itajaí Açu), where he had lived from 1854 to 1856 (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from Fritz Müller, 5 November 1865 and n. 13). The river is in the north-east of Santa Catarina state in Brazil (Columbia gazetteer of the world); Müller’s homestead was later incorporated within the town of Blumenau. See plate opposite p. 56. For more on Müller’s life in Brazil, see West 2003.
Müller had informed CD of Louis Agassiz’s expedition to Brazil, and his intended challenge to CD’s transmutation theory using evidence gained from the geographical distribution of fish in the Amazon River basin (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from Fritz Müller, 5 November 1865 and n. 14). The expedition, which left New York on 1 April 1865 and returned on 6 August 1866, was financed by Nathaniel Thayer and received substantial support from steamship companies and the Brazilian government (see Lurie 1960, pp. 345–9). The Amazon expedition was conceived as part of Agassiz’s wider programme to disprove Darwinian theory empirically by collecting fish from every river system in the world (Lurie 1960, pp. 336–7; Winsor 1991, pp. 66–76). Agassiz never published a formal description of the expedition’s specimens, or an analysis of their variation and distribution (see Winsor 1991, pp. 66–76). His informal comments on the fish of South America are given in J. L. R. Agassiz and Agassiz 1868, pp. 216–27, 237–41, and 377–84.
In his most recent book, Agassiz had stated his opposition to ‘the transmutation theory’: in his view it was ‘opposed to the processes of Nature, … [and] contradicted by the facts of Embryology and Paleontology’; he added that the experiments upon domesticated animals and cultivated plants, on which its adherents based their views, were ‘entirely foreign’ to the ‘processes of Nature’ (J. L. R. Agassiz 1863, pp. iii–v; there is a lightly annotated copy in the Darwin Library–Down (see Marginalia 1: 13)). For CD’s recent comments on Agassiz and his work, see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to B. D. Walsh, 4 December [1864], and Correspondence vol. 13, letter to Fritz Müller, 20 September [1865] and n. 12. On Agassiz’s controversial professional style and deteriorating reputation through the 1860s, see Winsor 1991, pp. 27–42 and 44–65.
In his letter to CD of 5 November 1865, Müller referred to the landscape and vegetation of Santa Catarina island (see Correspondence vol. 13). The source of CD’s information on the island having risen has not been found. However, in a letter to M. J. S. Schultze dated 11 March 1865 (Möller 1915–21, 2: 62), Müller described finding old tubes of Vermetus on rocks above the shoreline of the island. The Vermetidae are a family of marine molluscs that inhabit worm-like shell tubes usually attached to rocks (George and George 1979, p. 89). Müller argued that the island had risen by at least four feet because the old tubes were that much higher than their present habitat.
During the Beagle voyage, CD made a series of observations of the uplift of land along the eastern coast of South America (see South America, pp. 1–26), and wrote: ‘Between Rio de Janeiro and Cape Frio, I crossed sandy tracts abounding with sea-shells, at the distance of a league from the coast; but whether these tracts have been formed by upheaval, or through the mere accumulation of drift sand, I am not prepared to assert’ (ibid., p. 3, n. 6). CD’s extensive interpretations of uplift on both the eastern and western seaboards of South America are in South America, pp. 1–57.
No publication by Müller about either Vermetus or the rising of Santa Catarina island has been found.


Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

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

George, J. David and George, Jennifer J. 1979. Marine life: an illustrated encyclopedia of invertebrates in the sea. London: Harrap.

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.

Lurie, Edward. 1960. Louis Agassiz: a life in science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Möller, Alfred, ed. 1915–21. Fritz Müller. Werke, Briefe und Leben. 3 vols in 5. Jena: Gustav Fischer.

Origin 3d ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 3d edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1861.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

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.

South America: Geological observations on South America. Being the third part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1846.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

West, David A. 2003. Fritz Müller. A naturalist in Brazil. Blacksburg, Va.: Pocahontas Press.

Winsor, Mary Pickard. 1991. Reading the shape of nature. Comparative zoology at the Agassiz museum. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.


Has read FM’s paper on sponges ["Über Darwinella aurea", Arch. Miskrosk. Anat. 1 (1865): 344–53] with interest.

Has also read FM’s work on the metamorphoses of Peneus [Ann. & Mag. Nat. Hist. 3d ser. 14 (1864): 104–15], an interesting and important embryological discovery.

CD regards Louis Agassiz’s opinions as valueless.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Johann Friedrich Theodor (Fritz) Müller
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Loan MS 10 no 5)
Physical description
LS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4972,” accessed on 26 September 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14