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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Gaston de Saporta   30 May 1874

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

May 30 1874

Dear Sir

I have been very neglectful in not having sooner thanked you for your kindness in having sent me your Études sur la végétation &c, & other memoirs.1 I have read several of them with very great interest, & nothing can be more important in my opinion than your evidence of the extremely slow & gradual manner in which specific forms change. I observe that M. A. de Candolle has lately quoted you on this head versus Heer.2 I hope that you may be able to throw light on the question whether such protean or poly-morphic forms, as those of Rubus, Hieraceum &c at the present day, are those which generate new species; as for myself, I have always felt some doubt on this head.3 I trust that you may soon bring many of your countrymen to believe in evolution; & my name will then perhaps cease to be scorned—4

With the most sincere respect, | I remain | dear Sir | yours faithfully | Charles Darwin

P. S. I have forgotten your address, & I do not know whether you will ever receive this letter, which requires no answer.—


There is a copy of the first part of ‘Etudes sur la vegetation du sud-est de la France à l’epoque tertiaire’ (Saporta 1872–4) in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
CD refers to Alphonse de Candolle, Oswald Heer, and A. de Candolle 1873, pp. 11–12. Based on the evidence of the fossil record, Heer concluded that organic change happened at intervals between long periods of stasis, and that geographical isolation was a major factor in producing change.
Rubus is a complex genus of flowering plants in the rose family and includes raspberries and blackberries; Hieracium is the genus of hawkweed, including sunflowers. See Origin 6th ed., p. 35.
On the critical reception of CD’s theories in France, see J. Harvey 2008 and Tort 2008.


Candolle, Alphonse de. 1873. Histoire des sciences et des savants depuis deux siècles: suivie d’autres études sur des sujets scientifiques en particulier sur la sélection dans l’espèce humaine. Geneva: H. Georg.

Harvey, Joy. 2008. Darwin in a French dress: translating, publishing and supporting Darwin in nineteenth-century France. In The reception of Charles Darwin in Europe, edited by Eve-Marie Engels and Thomas F. Glick. 2 vols. London: Continuum.

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Saporta, Louis Charles Joseph Gaston de. 1872–4. Études sur la végétation du sud-est de la France à l’époque tertiaire. Supplément I: Révision de la flore des gypses d’Aix. Annales des Sciences Naturelles. Botanique 5th ser. 15 (1872): 277–351; 17 (1873): 5–44; 18 (1874): 23–146.

Tort, Patrick. 2008. The interminable decline of Lamarckism in France. Translated by Matthew Cobb. In The reception of Charles Darwin in Europe, edited by Eve-Marie Engels and Thomas F. Glick. London: Continuum.


Thanks GdeS for his "Études sur la végétation" [Ann. Sci. Nat. (Bot.) 5th ser. 15 (1872): 277–315]. "Nothing can be more important … than your evidence of the extremely slow and gradual manner in which specific forms change."

Hopes GdeS will shed light on whether polymorphic forms like Rubus and Hieracium are generating new species at present; CD doubts this.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Louis Charles Joseph Gaston (Gaston) de Saporta, comte de Saporta
Sent from
Source of text
Archives Gaston de Saporta (private collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9476,” accessed on 9 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22