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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. W. Abernethy   [after 18 February 1871]1

Burns2 to Darwin

Ha! Darwin, what a root ye are;

Your logic taut doth shoot so far,

Old Fogy’s prigs a brute or waur

Maintain ye must be.

Your book, they can’t refute or mar;

Belike they’ll bust ye.

They cry, “Hae ye nae shame at all,

To hint we maunna claim a Fall;

Nor hold, through Adam’s dame we all

Hae been perverted;

And must in sin and misery sprawl,

’Till we’re converted?”

“Ye teach, if we hae skill to read,

The damnable heretic creed;

That godlike man did first proceed, By nice selection,

Frae some old time less perfect breed;

’Neath Heaven’s direction.”

“For noteriety’s poor spell,

Our noble race, ye’d link with hell;

’Twad be nae waur than up and tell,

This thing y’assert:

But we know better o’oursel,

We sprang frae dirt.”

“But ye may fetch your base born strain,

If you’r so minded, all your lane,

Frae some lang syne unhandsome stain,

By ape or monkey,

On ane enforced against the grain;

And think’t all hunkey.”

Was ever man so great a dolt,

To bare his soul to each fool’s bolt?

Lord! Sir, the dullest jack got colt

On wit’s bar’st common,

May hae a fling, what ’though he stole’t;

At your damned gammon.

I tell ye man such power hath Fun,

When he with settled creed doth run,

Though furnished with but one poor pun,

Still, he provoking, Is’t whelm a sage in filth?

’Tis done: And ca’d fine joking.

Your life, learned sir, I hear it said,

To studious usefulness is wed;

Yet know thou this, when ye are dead,

And housed with Fame,

There’ll some befoul that mansion dread,

With their own shame.

Oh! easy is’t to pick a flaw

In mortal life, however braw,

Mysel, I was na weel awa;

Frae time but gone free,

When Calumny frae her rank maw,

Belched foulness on me.

Surmounting wrong as best I might;

Star searching through earth’s murky night;

I struck these shores, no just all right,

Nor much amiss;

And here hae learned misjudging spite,

Maks Angels hiss.

But Darwin, ye hae got the track,

That inside runs to Truth, and back

To lasting honor, spick and spack:

Then what for care,

If lesser folk should slash and hack,

Or pride blown, stare?

When thou, as I, hae stepped the stile,

That stands twixt this and Time’s bleak isle,

And with eternal things awhile,

Hae been conversant;

’Twill but provoke a passing smile,

When thought’s recursant.

J. W. Abernethy | M. D.

Jacksville, Butler, Co.

Pennsylvania, U. S. of America.


The date is established by the likelihood that these verses were inspired by Descent, which was published in the United States on 18 February 1871 (New York Daily Tribune, 18 February 1871, p. 6).
The verses are in the style of Robert Burns.


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


A poem, "Burns to Darwin".

Letter details

Letter no.
Julian Willis Abernethy
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Jacksville, Pa.
Source of text
DAR 140.4: 26
Physical description
ALS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13771,” accessed on 15 April 2024,

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