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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Ernst Haeckel   19 November 1868

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

Nov 19. 1868

My dear Haeckel

I must write to you again for two reasons. Firstly to thank you for your letter about your baby, which has quite charmed both me & my wife.1 I heartily congratulate you on its birth. I remember being surprized in my own case how soon the paternal instincts became developed, & in you they seem to be unusually strong. I know well the look of a baby’s “hind legs” but I shd think you were the first father who had ever triumphed in their retaining a resemblance to those of a monkey   What does Mrs Haeckel say to such dreadful doctrines?2

I hope the large blue eyes & the principles of inheritance will make your child as good a naturalist as you are; but judging from my own experience, you will be astonished to find how the whole mental disposition of your children changes with advancing years. A young child & the same when nearly grown sometimes differ almost as much as do a caterpillar & butterfly.

The second point is to congratulate you on the projected translation of your great work—about which I heard from Huxley last Sunday.3 I am heartily glad of it; but how it has been brought about I know not, for a friend who supported the proposed translation at Norwich told me he thought there wd be no chance of it. Huxley tells me that you consent to omit & shorten some parts, & I am confident that this is very wise.4 As I know your object is to instruct the public, you will assuredly thus get many more readers in England. Indeed I believe that almost every book wd be improved by condensation.

I have been reading a good deal of yr last book, & the style is beautifully clear & easy to me;5 but why it shd differ so much in this respect from your great work I cannot imagine. I have not yet read the first part but began with the chapter on Lyell & myself, which you will easily believe pleased me very much. I think Lyell, who was apparently much pleased by your sending him a copy, is also much gratified by this chapter.6 Your chapters on the affinities & genealogy of the animal kingdom strike me as admirable & full of original thought. Your boldness however sometimes makes me tremble, but as Huxley remarks some one must be bold enough to make a beginning in drawing up tables of descent.7

Although you fully admit the imperfection of the Geological record, yet Huxley agreed with me in thinking that you are sometimes rather rash in venturing to say at what periods the several groups first appeared. I have this advantage over you that I remember how wonderfully different any statement on this subject made 20 years ago wd have been to what wd now be the case; and I expect the next 20 years will make quite as great a difference.

Reflect on the monocotyledonous plant just discovered in the primordial formation in Sweden.8

I repeat how glad I am at the prospect of the translation, for I fully believe that this work & all your works will have a great influence in the advancement of Science.

Believe me my dear Häckel | your sincere friend | Charles Darwin


CD had visited Thomas Henry Huxley on 15 November 1868 (see letter from T. H. Huxley, 13 November 1868).
Haeckel had asked Huxley to try to persuade the Ray Society to publish a translation of Generelle Morphologie (Haeckel 1866; letter from Ernst Haeckel to T. H. Huxley, 21 September 1868, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine Archives, Huxley papers, 17: 189). Although Haeckel agreed to remove all the philosophical and polemical parts of the original, the translation was never made (see Krauße 1987, p. 79).
CD refers to Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (Natural history of creation; Haeckel 1868c). The book was a collection of Haeckel’s lectures.
See Haeckel 1868c, pp. 99–201. CD had visited Charles Lyell on 14 November 1868 (see letter to G. H. Lewes, [13 November 1868]).
See Haeckel 1868c, pp. 227–58. Haeckel had included at the end of his book eight tables; these were hypothetical genealogical trees of different groups of organisms.
In Origin 5th ed., p. 380, CD referred to the discovery of remains of monocotyledonous plants in a Swedish formation by Otto Martin Torell. A brief notice of Torell’s discovery of fossils had appeared in the Report of the thirty-eighth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Torell 1868). The discovery of the monocotyledonous plant was not mentioned in the notice, but CD may have heard about it from Joseph Dalton Hooker, who was at the meeting as president of the association for 1868.


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.

Krauße, Erika. 1987. Ernst Haeckel. 2d edition. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner.

Origin 5th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 5th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1869.

Torell, Otto Martin. 1868. On some new fossils from the Longwynd rocks of Sweden. Report of the thirty-eighth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Norwich, Transactions of the sections, p. 80.


Congratulates EH on birth of child.

Mentions projected translation of Generelle Morphologie.

Comments on EH’s last book [Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte]. Criticises EH’s statements on palaeontology.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Ernst Philipp August (Ernst) Haeckel
Sent from
Source of text
Ernst-Haeckel-Haus (Bestand A-Abt. 1: 1–52/20)
Physical description
LS(A) 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6466,” accessed on 21 June 2024,

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