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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. B. Innes   31 August 1868

Milton Brodie

31st. Augt. 1868

Dear Darwin,

I see by a cheque Osborne has sent me that you have returned home.1 I hope much recruited by your trip.

I have paid the amount due by Mr. Horsman to the Sunday School, £5–3; and am ready to pay the balance for the day School.2 I had an application from Langly and Gibbon3 32 Great James St. Bedford row for payment of his stipend, less School dues, but as School dues were not correctly stated I have not yet paid; any way I bear the school clear of loss.

I have been reading your new book with the greatest interest. I dont know that I ever was so charmed with a natural history work. I jotted down a memorandum or two, which I send you, and wish I could have done more.4

It is strange how differently the same facts appear to different people. As I read your book I became more and more impressed with the idea that you had abandoned the theory that what I should unscientifically call different brutes had probably come from a common origin, as every fact seemed to shew there was no evidence of the least trace of change from one kind to another, but that a horse is always a horse, whether big or little, &c. So it was with no little surprise that I came to your summing up; and I was lost in admiration that a man with a theory published a book to upset it, with all facts so carefully investigated and so truthfully told. I have not the book at hand, but I think you suggest whales and mice as having a common ancestor.5 If you succeeded in getting a cross between these Scotch cousins6 would the hybrid be fertile? The Theological difficulty of the predestination of variations had never occurred to me; nor do I think it is really any difficulty.7 We know we do as we please with what we have, and certain results follow; we cause plants and animals to improve or deteriorate; we make corn into bread or spirits &c, the power to do so having been placed in our hands—

We know there must be a First Cause; that there must be infinite space, unlimited time; and it has never been a difficulty with me to understand that my powers of thought are totally unfit to understand what is so far above me, and that while I know those things must be I cannot form an idea about them or how they are, infinite wisdom as far above our best learning as eternity is above a second of time—

I did not mean to write all this when I began, I hope you will excuse my remarks.

I don’t know if the election is to bring me up. If I felt sure you would muster courage to go to Bromley, I would offer to pair with you. If you don’t go I sincerely hope it will not be sickness that keeps you at home. I knew Talbot long ago and he was a good man in my view—8

With Mrs. Innes9 kindest regards to you all Believe me Dear Darwin | Yours faithfully | J Brodie Innes—

We congratulate you on your well deserved Prussian decoration. You must be a blaze of stars when you are in full fig—10


CD wrote a cheque to John Osborne, the parish clerk, for £14 7s. 1d. on 28 August (CD’s Account books–banking account (Down House MS)). The family had returned from Freshwater on the Isle of Wight on 21 August (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Innes refers to Samuel James O’Hara Horsman. See letter from J. B. Innes, 18 June [1868]. The day school: i.e., the National School for Boys.
Langley and Gibbon were a firm of solicitors in London (Post Office London directory 1868).
Innes’s memoranda on Variation have not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL.
There is no specific reference to whales and mice having a common ancestor in Variation. In Origin, p. 184, CD had suggested the possibility of an aquatic race of bears arising, ‘till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale’.
Scotch cousin: ‘a distant relative (in allusion to the practice in Scotland of tracing kinship to remote degrees)’ (OED).
Innes refers to Variation 2: 432: If we assume that each particular variation was from the beginning of all time preordained, the plasticity of organisation, which leads to many injurious deviations of structure, as well as that redundant power of reproduction which inevitably leads to a struggle for existence, and as a consequence, to the natural selection or survival of the fittest, must appear to us superfluous laws of nature.
John Gilbert Talbot was one of two Conservative candidates in West Kent in the general election held in November 1868 (The Times, 21 November 1868, p. 7). Innes assumed that CD would wish to vote for his friend John Lubbock, one of the Liberal candidates.
Innes refers to the Prussian Order of Merit in the Sciences and Arts (see letter from the Commission générale des Ordres Royaux, 24 January 1868).


OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

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.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.

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


JBI has been charmed with Variation. Does not think there is really any theological difficulty in the "predestination of variation".

Letter details

Letter no.
John Brodie Innes
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Milton Brodie
Source of text
DAR 167: 18
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6335,” accessed on 31 March 2023,

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