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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Henslow   28 March 1868

St Joh〈ns Pars〉onage | St Johnswood | NW


My dear Sir

let me thank you very much for your candid critcisms on my paper:1 they shew me where I have not only failed to convey my meaning but I think failed in reasoning also. Still on carefully reading your chapters 22 & 23 in yr new Book: I think your conclusions are in reality not different from mine2

I wished to imply 〈    〉 paper is so crampedQQQQ that I have not expressed myself clearly.

1.) With regard to variation I wish for no better guide than yourself. What I meant to imply was, that if external circumstances,—especially you add perhaps, lots of food,—induce variation; What is the link between the former & the latter? upon what in the body do they act? if, on reproductive system, how? What is the internal cause of variability 〈    〉 offspring?3 This I 〈    〉 from your book is a question at present unanswerable. With regard to the Duke of Argyll saying your term “Origin of Species” is incorrect; it seems to me optional upon what link in the chain you set your finger & call it the “Origin”.!4

〈2.〉 With regard to “Grotesque & Fun”, I said that we are not called upon to say whether the Deity sees or appreciates the grotesque forms of organisms; but what I should look upon as intentional is the love of fun: in the creature, & for its benefit.— the playfulness of animals seems referable to law as much as everything else; if at least the stereotyped way in which all of the same species amuse themselves is any ground for assuming it e.g. Flies pirouetting near the ceiling— gnats on a summer eveng—Kittens after their own tails: but as a rule I think not puppies(?) porpoises, shrimps &c &c &c—& so on throughout animal life.5

I shall hope to find you at home about 12.45 p.m. on Tuesday next: if unsuccessful I will call again6

yrs very sincerely | Geo: Henslow


See letter from George Henslow, 20 March 1868 and nn. 1 and 2. CD evidently returned Henslow’s article (Henslow 1867) with his comments, but these have not been found.
Henslow refers to Variation 2: 250–92. The chapters concern the causes of variability and the direct action of external conditions.
For Henslow’s discussion of the causes of variation, see Henslow 1867, p. 270. Henslow had argued that no one could explain the immediate origin of variation.
See Henslow 1867, p. 269. Henslow refers to George Douglas Campbell and Campbell 1867, p. 230.
For Henslow’s remarks on humorous and grotesque elements in nature, see Henslow 1867, pp. 268–9.
The Tuesday following 28 March 1868 was 31 March. CD returned to Down on 1 April (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix II)).


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–.

Henslow, George. 1867. Natural theology, considered in reference to its present position. [Read 20 November 1867.] Educational Times 11: 267–72.

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


Thanks for criticism of his paper [on Variation].

If external conditions induce variability, what is the internal cause?

Does not agree with Duke of Argyll that "Origin of Species" is an incorrect term.

Sees playfulness of animals as a mark of the Deity’s creative playfulness.

Will visit soon.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Henslow
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
St John’s Wood
Source of text
DAR 166: 165
Physical description
4pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6063,” accessed on 6 March 2021,

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