skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Murray   3 January [1867]

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

Jan. 3d

My dear Sir

I cannot tell you how sorry I am to hear of the enormous size of my Book.1 I fear it can never pay. But I cannot shorten it now; nor indeed, if I had foreseen its length, do I see which parts ought to have been omitted.

If you are afraid to publish it, say so at once I beg you, & I will consider your note as cancelled. If you think fit get anyone whose judgment you rely on, to look over some of the more legible chapters; viz the Introduction & on Dogs & on Plants; the latter chapters being in my opinion the dullest in the book.2 There is a Hypothetical & curious Chapter called Pangenesis which is legible, & about which I have no idea what the instructed public will think; but to my own mind it has been a considerable advance in knowledge—3 The list of Chapters, & the inspection of a few, here & there, wd give a good judge a fair idea of the whole Book. Pray do not publish blindly, as it would vex me all my life if I led you to heavy loss. I am extremely much vexed at the size; but I believe the work has some value, though of course I am no fair judge.—

You must settle all about type & size according to your own judgment; but I will only say that I think, & hear on all sides incessant complaint of the fashion which is growing of publishing intolerably heavy volumes:—4

I have written my concluding Chapter; whether that on Man, shall appear, shall depend on size of book, on time & on my own strength.5

My dear Sir | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


CD refers to the introduction, chapter 1 (‘Domestic dogs and cats’), and chapters 9 to 11 of Variation.
Chapter 27 of Variation, ‘Provisional hypothesis of pangenesis’, outlined CD’s ideas regarding heredity; CD suggested that minute particles (gemmules) circulated in the bodily fluids and were capable of generating new cells, remaining dormant until required. He thought his hypothesis could explain both sexual and asexual reproduction, as well as reversion and the regrowth of body parts. For CD’s discussion of pangenesis with correspondents, see, for example, Correspondence vol. 13, letter to T. H. Huxley, 27 May [1865], and Correspondence vol. 14, letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 April [1866].
For Murray’s suggestion about the page size of Variation, see the letter from John Murray, 2 January [1867]. For CD’s own complaints about the weight of the sixth edition of Charles Lyell’s Elements of geology (C. Lyell 1865), see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to Charles Lyell, 21 February [1865].
For CD’s possible additional chapter on humans, see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to John Murray, 21 and 22 December [1866]. See also ibid, letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 December [1866]. Ultimately, CD did not add this chapter to Variation, but used the material he had begun collecting for it in Descent.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Lyell, Charles. 1865. Elements of geology, or the ancient changes of the earth and its inhabitants as illustrated by geological monuments. 6th edition, revised. London: John Murray.

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


Sorry about enormous size of Variation MS, but cannot shorten it now. If JM is afraid to publish, CD will consider agreement cancelled. Suggests he ask someone with judgment to read the MS. Has written concluding chapter on man. Whether it will be included depends on size of volume.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Murray
Sent from
Source of text
National Library of Scotland (John Murray Archive) (Ms.42152 ff. 158–160)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5346,” accessed on 25 June 2022,

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