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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Armand de Quatrefages   28 May [1870]1

Down Beckenham | Kent

May 28th.

Dear Sir

I have received and read your volume & am much obliged for your present.2 The whole strikes me as a wonderfully clear & able discussion, & I was much interested by it to the last page. It is impossible that any account of my views could be fairer, or as far as space permitted fuller, than that which you have given. The way in which you repeatedly mention my name is most gratifying to me. When I finished the second part, I thought that you had stated the case so favourably that you would make more converts on my side than on your own side. On reading the subsequent parts I had to change my sanguine view. In these latter parts many of your strictures are severe enough, but all are given with perfect courtesy & fairness.3 I can truly say I would rather be criticised by you in this manner than praised by many others. I agree with some of your criticisms, but differ entirely from the remainder; but I will not trouble you with any remarks. I may, however, say that you must have been deceived by the french translation as you infer that I believe that the Parus & the Nuthatch (or Sitta) are related by direct filiation: I wished only to show by an imaginary illustration how either instincts or structure might first change.4 If you had seen Canis magellanicus alive, you would have perceived how foxlike its appearance is, or if you had heard its voice, I think, you would never have hazarded the idea that it was a domestic dog run wild;5 but this does not much concern me. It is curious how nationality influences opinion: a week hardly passes without my hearing of some naturalist in Germany who supports my views, & often puts an exaggerated value on my works; whilst in France I have not heard of a single zoologist except M. Gaudry6 (and he only partially) who supports my views. But I must have a good many readers, as my books are translated, & I must hope, notwithstanding your strictures, that I may influence some embryo naturalists in France.

You frequently speak of my good faith, & no compliment can be more delightful to me, but I may return you the compliment with interest for every word which you write bears the stamp of your cordial love for the truth.

Believe me, dear Sir | with sincere respect | yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin

P.S. I am much obliged to you for sending me your lectures in the “Revue des Cours etc” for they have been very useful to me.—7

I have also to thank you for your kindness of my son George in Paris.8


The year is established by CD’s reference to receiving Quatrefages’s book (see n. 2, below).
CD refers to Quatrefages’s book Charles Darwin et ses précurseurs français (Quatrefages 1870). CD’s copy, with the pages uncut, is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The book was a reproduction of a collection of articles that Quatrefages had sent in 1869; CD’s annotated copy of an offprint of the articles (Quatrefages 1868–9) is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
The first part of Quatrefages 1870 begins with an exposition of the views of some French naturalists on the transformation of species; the second chapter details CD’s theory, while the third focuses on facts that are compatible with the theory. In the second part of the book, Quatrefages presents a detailed critique of Darwinian theory.
In Origin 4th ed., p. 212, CD noted that he had seen titmice hammering yew seeds to break them ‘like a nuthatch’. On page 281, he suggested that natural selection might preserve each slight variation of the titmouse’s beak, until it had one ‘as well constructed for this purpose as that of the nuthatch’. In Quatrefages 1868–9, p. 63, Quatrefages had questioned whether CD had demonstrated that the nuthatch was the ‘grandson’ of the titmouse. In the book version, a note was added giving a reference to the section of Origin where CD had commented on the titmouse and nuthatch (see Origin 4th ed., p. 281), but there was no mention in the note that CD had not, in fact, suggested a genealogical connection between these species (Quatrefages 1870, p. 156).
Canis magellanicus is now Lycalopex culpaeus subsp. culpaeus, a subspecies of the culpeo, a type of South American fox. Quatrefages had suggested that many supposedly unique species were merely dogs that had become feral and reverted to ancestral characteristics (Quatrefages 1870, pp. 281–4).
CD refers to the published version of Quatrefages’s lectures on anthropology, which appeared in instalments in the Revue des Cours Scientifiques de la France et de l’Etranger (Quatrefages 1867–9). The lectures discussed various aspects of human development; CD referred to them several times in Descent.
George Howard Darwin had visited Paris in March 1869 (see Correspondence vol. 17, letter from Armand de Quatrefages, 29 March 1869 and n. 2).


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

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

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.

Quatrefages, Armand de. 1868–9a. Origines des espèces animales et végétales. Revue des deux mondes 2d ser. 78 (1868): 832–60; 79 (1869): 208–40; 80 (1869): 64–95, 397–432, 638–72.

Quatrefages, Armand de. 1870. Charles Darwin et ses précurseurs français. Etude sur le transformisme. Paris: Germer Baillière.

Quatrefages de Bréau, Jean Louis Armand de. 1867–9. Anthropologie. Cours de M. de Quatrefages. Revue de cours scientifiques de la France et de l’étranger 5 (1867–8): 366–9, 621–31, 655–64, 720–8, 730–44, 751–60; 6 (1868–9): 201–6, 219–24, 235–40.


Comments on QdeB’s volume [Charles Darwin et ses précurseurs Français (1870)]. Mentions error concerning his views on Parus and nuthatch.

Discusses Canis magellanicus.

Discusses reception of his views in France and Germany.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Jean Louis Armand (Armand de Quatrefages) Quatrefages de Bréau
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.379)
Physical description
LS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7204,” accessed on 24 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18