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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. B. Murdoch   13 March 1871

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

Mar 13 1871

Dear Sir

I am much obliged for your valuable letter. I am strongly inclined to think that I have made a great & complete oversight with respect to the subject which you discuss. I am the more surprised at this, as I remember reflecting on some points which ought to have led me to your conclusion.1

By an odd chance, I received the day before yesterday a letter from Mr Lowne (author of an excellent book on the anatomy of the Blow-fly) with a discussion very nearly to the same effect as yours.2 His conclusions were drawn from studying male insects with great horns, mandibles &c. He informs me that his paper on this subject will soon be published in the Transact. Entomolog. Soc.3 I am inclined to look at your & Mr Lowne’s view as specially valuable from probably throwing light on the greater variability of male than female animals, which manifestly has much bearing on sexual selection. I will keep your remarks in mind whenever a new edition of my book is demanded.4

With my best thanks | I remain my dear Sir | In Haste | yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin.


The letter from Benjamin Thompson Lowne has not been found, but CD’s inscribed and annotated copy of Lowne 1870 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 510).
The reference is to Lowne 1871.
In Descent 2d ed., pp. 224–5, CD added a section on the greater variability of male than of female animals, but did not cite Murdoch or Lowne.


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Lowne, Benjamin Thompson. 1871. Observations on immature sexuality and alternate generation in insects. Transactions of the Entomological Society of London (1871): 193–202.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.


Believes he has committed an oversight with regard to sexual selection in insects. Cites conclusions of B. T. Lowne, which are similar to GBM’s.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Brown Murdoch
Sent from
Source of text
David Henderson-Howat (private collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7578,” accessed on 11 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19