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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Henry Lewes   2 March 1868

The Priory, | 21. North Bank, | Regents Park.

2nd. March 68

My dear Sir

I understand that you did not disapprove the little notice I wrote of your last book in the Pall Mall Gazette, and as I am now engaged in a more elaborate consideration of it for the Fortnightly Review I venture to appeal to your greater experience to enlighten me on a morphological detail of interest—1 Are there not some animals with nails, or hooks, at the tip of the tail? I have an indistinct remembrance of such a thing, but cannot feel sure whether it exists out of my fancy—or in what animal. The suggestion arose in my mind when considering the analogical position of nails, claws, hooks, beaks & horns—always at extremities & never anywhere else.2

While I am troubling you let me also ask in what way you understand Natural Selection to have determined the modification of leaves into flowers? Is there any advantage to the plant in having petals rather than leaves & variously coloured petals rather than green? While I think every unbiassed naturalist whose rational organs are not ‘rudimentary’ must admit your principle, I am disposed to think that many organic details are the simple consequences of organic combination & are quite irrespective of advantage.3

Apologising for trespassing on your valuable time but glad of the opportunity of expressing my gratitude to you | Believe me | Yours very truly | G H Lewes

Charles Darwin Esq

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Appendage to jaw of Pigs | All used’ pencil


Lewes’s review of Variation appeared in three parts in the Pall Mall Gazette on 10, 15, and 17 February 1868 ([Lewes] 1868a). His essay review ‘Mr. Darwin’s hypotheses’ was published in four instalments in the Fortnightly Review on 1 April, 1 June, 1 July, and 1 November 1868 (Lewes 1868b). CD’s heavily annotated copy of Lewes 1868b is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
No reply to this letter has been found, but CD discussed the development of nails and claws in his letter to Lewes of 7 August [1868].
For CD’s response to similar objections, made by Carl Wilhelm von Nägeli, that natural selection could not be responsible for changes that conferred no competitive advantage, see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to C. W. von Nägeli, 12 June [1866] and nn. 7–10.


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

Lewes, George Henry. 1868b. Mr. Darwin’s hypotheses. Fortnightly Review n.s. 3: 353–73, 611–28; 4: 61–80, 492–509.

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


Is engaged on an article for Fortnightly Review on Variation ["Mr Darwin’s hypotheses", n.s. 9: 353–73, 611–28; n.s. 10: 61–80, 492–509]. Asks CD some questions.

While he agrees with natural selection, he believes many "organic details" develop irrespective of advantage.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Henry Lewes
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Regents Park
Source of text
DAR 106: D5–6
Physical description
ALS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5969,” accessed on 13 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16