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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Thomas Henry Huxley   [before 7 January 1867]1

Geological Survey of Great Britain

My dear Darwin

A happy new year to you— may you be eupeptic through 1867 & your friends & the world in general will profit—

I have been making holiday & though I took your letter away with me purposing to answer it—I need hardly say I did not2

I have read a good deal of Haeckels book—not thoroughly but as I best could—and my present judgment very much coincides with yours—3 It is a very good methodical ab ovo, statement of the case—excellent for the Germanic mind— But I fear it would never do for these latitudes   The terminology would frighten every Englishman who should look at it into fits—4

Like you, I find but little new in either fact or speculation except the attempt to reduce animal forms to geometric plans5—and the applications of the developmental view to the details of Botany & Zoology   The former I have not read with care; indeed if I did I doubt if I have enough geometry to understand them

As regards the latter they are undoubtedly marked by very great & accurate knowledge—& are full of interesting suggestion—6 But I have tried so many ‘trees’ of my own & found it is hopeless to apply any criterion by which one ‘tree’ could be shewn to be better than another, that I entertain a certain shyness of these speculations—7

I got up a very fair genealogy of the Mammalia in my last Hunterian course; but I have never mustered up courage to publish it elsewhere—8

I have not written to Haeckel yet as I promised to do but I think I shall tell him that it is useless to attempt an English translation— I don’t believe he would sell 100 copies & the expense would be great9

I am glad to get a pat on the back for ‘Man’s Place’10 as Giebel has been making an awful onslaught on it and on me!11 But he really says nothing which is of the least consequence or has not been said already and I really believe that the main argument is quite impregnable— I will get out a second Edition some of these days12

The Physiology book is purely elementary & hardly worth your reading13

I will read the Hybridism chapter again with all care—14 Depend upon it the gates are wide open to any one who will storm the castle— I should be too happy to see the argument in favour of your views logically complete— But until you can show that B & C have been selectively produced from A—& that B & C are infertile in the first or second degree there must be a hole in the ballad15   Some may think it big & some may think it little but there it is—

I take the theological line & jump over the hole, by an Act of Faith—but I cant forget the hole & I wish it were not as big as even a pins point—

Have you read the Dukelets book? I hear he is down on both of us—16 But you know what Lord Derby said to him17

Ever yours faithfully | T H Huxley


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to T. H. Huxley, 7 January [1867], and by the reference to ‘1867’ in the New Year greeting.
Huxley refers to CD’s letter to him of 22 December [1866] (Correspondence vol. 14).
CD had expressed his opinion of Ernst Haeckel’s Generelle Morphologie der Organismen (Haeckel 1866) in his letter to Huxley of 22 December [1866] (Correspondence vol. 14); see also letter to Ernst Haeckel, 18 August [1866] (ibid.). For Haeckel’s discussions with CD about his work on the book, see Correspondence vols. 12–14. There is an annotated copy of Haeckel 1866 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 355–7).
In his letter to Huxley, CD commented on Haeckel 1866, and wrote: ‘The number of new words … is something dreadful. He seems to have a passion for defining, I daresay very well, & for coining new words’ (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to T. H. Huxley, 22 December [1866] and n. 3).
Huxley refers to what Haeckel described as ‘promorphology’, the description and explanation of the external form of an organism and all its constituent parts, and the reduction of this form to basic geometric forms (see Haeckel 1866, 1: 46–9).
Huxley refers to Haeckel’s discussion of the development of the plant and animal kingdoms; Haeckel represented the various branches of the kingdoms in eight genealogical trees inside the back cover of the second volume of Haeckel 1866; these represented the possible relationships of all living organisms. For Haeckel’s theoretical discussion of his phylogenetic categories, see Haeckel 1866, 2: XVII–XX, XXXI–XXXII, XLVIII–L, 406–17. Haeckel’s genealogical trees established a standard iconography for phylogeny (see, for example, S. J. Gould 1990, pp. 263–7). CD had used a tree-like diagram to illustrate the divergence of offspring from parental types (Origin, facing p. 117). See Correspondence vol. 14, letter from Ernst Haeckel, 11 January 1866 and n. 8.
For Huxley’s early resistance to constructing genealogical classifications in the form of a tree, see A. Desmond 1994–7, 1: 262, 354–6.
As Hunterian Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons, Huxley was required to deliver an annual course of twenty-four lectures (see L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 254). Manuscript versions of the 1863 lectures are in the Huxley papers 39: 1 (Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine Archives).
CD had expressed scepticism about the possibility of translating Haeckel 1866 in the letter to Ernst Haeckel, 20 January [1866], the letter to Fritz Müller, [before 10 December 1866], and the letter to T. H. Huxley, 22 December [1866] (Correspondence vol. 14). Haeckel 1866 has never been translated into English.
CD had just read Man’s place in nature (T. H. Huxley 1863a) for the second time (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to T. H. Huxley, 22 December [1866]). CD’s annotated copy of T. H. Huxley 1863a is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 424). For CD’s earlier praise for the book, see Correspondence vol. 11.
Huxley refers to Christoph Gottfried Andreas Giebel and his recent attack on Huxley’s comparison between human and ape anatomy in T. H. Huxley 1863a (see Giebel 1866). He accused Huxley of prejudging the familial relationship between humans and apes and of not giving the reader sufficient facts upon which to make an independent assessment (Giebel 1866, p. 401). After comparing human and orang-utan skulls in detail, Giebel concluded with an extensive critique of Huxley’s views, without, however, referring specifically to Man’s place in nature or to its German translation (Carus trans. 1863; see Giebel 1866, pp. 415–19).
A second edition of T. H. Huxley 1863a never appeared.
Huxley had sent Lessons in experimental physiology (T. H. Huxley 1866) for Henrietta Emma Darwin to read (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter from T. H. Huxley, 11 November 1866); CD commented in his letter of 22 December [1866] (ibid.) that he had read only one chapter. For Henrietta’s interest in Huxley’s publications, see Correspondence vol. 11 and Correspondence vol. 13, letter from T. H. Huxley, 1 May 1865 and n. 2.
CD had urged Huxley to read the revised chapter on hybridity in the fourth edition of Origin (Origin 4th ed., pp. 292–338) in his letter of 22 December [1866] (Correspondence vol. 14); see also n. 15, below. CD made extensive additions to the chapter in the fourth edition, especially to the section headed (in the fourth edition) ‘Origin and causes of the sterility of first crosses and of hybrids’; he also added a new section, ‘Reciprocal dimorphism and trimorphism’ (see Origin 4th ed., pp. 310–26, and Peckham ed. 1959, pp. 443–59).
In his review of Origin ([T. H. Huxley] 1860), in subsequent publications, and privately, Huxley asserted that the principle of natural selection could not be regarded as proved until varieties of a species that were infertile with one another had been produced by selective breeding, thereby creating new ‘physiological’ species; Huxley’s critique served as an important impetus to CD’s investigations into cross- and self-pollination and hybrid sterility (see Correspondence vols. 8–14, especially Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI). In Origin 4th ed., p. 323, CD observed: ‘the physiological test of lessened fertility, both in first crosses and in hybrids, is no safe criterion of specific distinction’.
Huxley refers to George Douglas Campbell, eighth duke of Argyll, and to The reign of law (G. D. Campbell 1867). For Campbell’s recent criticism of CD’s theory in articles that contributed to G. D. Campbell 1867, see Correspondence vols. 13 and 14.
Huxley probably refers to Edward George Geoffrey Smith Stanley, fourteenth earl of Derby, who became prime minister for the third time in 1866. Campbell, a Liberal, and Stanley, a Conservative, sometimes opposed each other in the House of Lords (see I. E. Campbell ed. 1906 and DNB). Stanley’s comment has not been identified.


Campbell, George Douglas. 1867. The reign of law. London: Alexander Strahan.

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

Desmond, Adrian. 1994–7. Huxley. 2 vols. London: Michael Joseph.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Giebel, Christoph Gottfried Andreas. 1866. Eine antidarwinistische Vergleichung des Menschen- und der Orangschädel. Zeitschrift für die gesammten Naturwissenschaften 27: 401–19.

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1990. Wonderful life. The Burgess Shale and the nature of history. London: Hutchinson Radius.

Haeckel, Ernst. 1866. Generelle Morphologie der Organismen. Allgemeine Grundzüge der organischen Formen-Wissenschaft, mechanisch begründet durch die von Charles Darwin reformirte Descendenz-Theorie. 2 vols. Berlin: Georg Reimer.

[Huxley, Thomas Henry.] 1860a. Darwin on the origin of species. Westminster Review n.s. 17: 541–70.

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.

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.


On Haeckel’s Generelle Morphologie; the logical argument for natural selection is still incomplete. THH jumps over the hole by an act of faith.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Huxley
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 134a–d
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5343,” accessed on 14 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15