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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Ernst Haeckel   2 September 1872

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Sept 2. 1872

My dear Haeckel,

Very many thanks for the 3rd. Edit. of your Schöpfungsgeschichte.1 I rejoice at the success of this book, and it proves how our ideas are spreading. One of my daughters has translated to me your new preface, which I have been particularly glad to hear, not only from the very kind manner in which you speak of my ‘Descent’, but from your criticisms on various books.2

I should much like to read Carneri but it is too great a job for my poor german knowledge.3 I did not know how weak a man Bastian was: you pitch into him with a vengeance.4 I thought that you never intended to write severely again about anyone!5 It grieved me to read a year or two ago a review by Ruetimeyer on you. I am sorry that he is so retrograde, as I feel much respect for him.6 Our English Dr. Bastian has lately published a book on So-called Spontaneous Generation, which has perplexed me greatly. He has collected all the observations made by various naturalists, some of them good observers, on the protoplasm within the cells of dying plants & animals becoming converted into living organisms. He has also made many experiments with boiled infusions in closed flasks; but I believe he is not a very careful observer. Nevertheless the general argument in favour of living forms being now produced under favourable conditions seems to me strong; but I can form no final conclusion.7

I have finished my little book on ‘Expression’, & when it is published in November I will of course send you a copy, in case you would like to read it for amusement.8 I have resumed some old botanical work, & perhaps I shall never again attempt to discuss theoretical views.9 I am growing old & weak, & no man can tell when his intellectual powers begin to fail.

Long life & happiness to you for your own sake & for that of Science | Believe me | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin


There is a copy of the third edition of Haeckel’s Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (Natural history of creation; Haeckel 1872b) in the Darwin Library–Down. See also letter from Ernst Haeckel, 1 March 1872 and n. 8.
The translation was probably by Henrietta Emma Litchfield, who had often assisted CD with his work; CD’s other daughter was Elizabeth Darwin. In the preface to Haeckel 1872b, pp. xxxi–xxxii, Haeckel praised Descent and identified his own views with CD’s. Haeckel defended himself against criticisms by Ludwig Rütimeyer, Wilhelm His, and Adolf Bastian, and showed how Bartholomäus von Carneri, Gustav Jäger, Wilhelm Spengel, and Alfred Kirchhoff had used CD’s theories of human descent to further their work. He also referred to Oskar Schmidt’s analysis of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s ideas on metamorphosis in relation to CD’s theory of descent (Schmidt 1871).
Haeckel argued that Carneri’s work on ethics and Darwinism (Carneri 1871) had opened up new directions in moral philosophy by showing its foundations in evolutionary theory (Haeckel 1872b, pp. xxxix–xl). CD had received a copy of Carneri 1871 in 1871 (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter to Bartholomäus von Carneri, 17 April [1871]; there is a copy in the Darwin Library–Down). See also letter from Georg von Seidlitz, 22 April 1872 and n. 7. For Carneri’s relationship with Haeckel, see Di Gregorio 2005, p. 387.
Haeckel criticised Adolf Bastian’s reviews of Descent ([A. Bastian] 1871a and 1871b) for dismissing CD’s book as ‘Träume eines Mittagsschläfchens’ (dreams of a midday nap; Haeckel 1872b, pp. xxxviii–xxxix). CD’s lightly annotated copy of [A. Bastian] 1871a is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
CD rebuked Haeckel for the severity of his criticisms in 1867 (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter to Ernst Haeckel, 12 April [1867] and n. 6, and letter from Ernst Haeckel, 12 May 1867).
CD refers to Rütimeyer 1868. See also letter from Ernst Haeckel, 12 October 1872 and n. 3. On CD’s respect for, and use of, Rütimeyer’s work, see Correspondence vol. 15, letter to Ludwig Rütimeyer, 4 May [1867] and nn. 2 and 3.
CD refers to Henry Charlton Bastian and H. C. Bastian 1872. For CD’s views on Bastian, see the letters to A. R. Wallace, 28 August [1872] and [2 September 1872].
Expression was published on 27 November 1872 (Freeman 1977). Haeckel’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for the book (Appendix IV).
In his ‘Journal’ (Appendix II), CD noted that he began work on Drosera on 23 August 1872. He had also worked on Drosera between 1860 and 1862 (see Correspondence vols. 8, 9, and 10).


Bastian, Henry Charlton. 1872. The beginnings of life: being some account of the nature, modes of origin and transformations of lower organisms. 2 vols. London: Macmillan.

Carneri, Bartholomaeus. 1871. Sittlichkeit und Darwinismus. Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller.

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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Di Gregorio, Mario A. 2005. From here to eternity: Ernst Haeckel and scientific faith. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Schmidt, Eduard Oskar. 1871. War Goethe ein Darwinianer? Graz: Leuschner and Lubensky.


Comments on EH’s criticism of authors in third edition of Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte [1872].

Discusses book by H. C. Bastian [The beginnings of life (1872)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Ernst Philipp August (Ernst) Haeckel
Sent from
Source of text
Ernst-Haeckel-Haus (Bestand A-Abt. 1:1-52/27)
Physical description
LS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8506,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20