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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   2 June [1859]1


June 2d

My dear Huxley

I meant to have added one other word. You speak of finding a flaw in my hypothesis,2 & this shows you do not understand its nature. It is a mere rag of an hypothesis with as many flaws & holes as sound parts.— My question is whether the rag is worth anything? I think by careful treatment I can carry in it my fruit to market for a short distance over a gentle road; but I fear that you will give the poor rag such a devil of a shake that it will fall all to atoms; & a poor rag is better than nothing to carry one’s fruit to market in— So do not be too ferocious.—3

Ever yours | Most truly | C. Darwin


Although there is no conclusive evidence to establish 1859 as the date of the letter, CD’s words seem to indicate that he was writing before the publication of Origin.
It has not been possible to determine what Huxley’s ‘flaw’ was. Huxley may have been referring either to reversion or sterility. In April 1859, he had been struck by Joseph Dalton Hooker’s analysis in Hooker 1859 of the question of reversion of wild animals and plants to the original type (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 164–5). Hooker considered reversion to be a problem for CD’s and Alfred Russel Wallace’s theory. On the other hand, Huxley later championed the view that natural selection could not be fully admitted as a valid explanation until varieties could be shown to be ‘more or less infertile’ when crossed (LL 2: 198).
On 3 June 1859, Huxley delivered a paper entitled ‘On the persistent types of animal life’ at the Royal Institution (T. H. Huxley 1859a). He stated that it was difficult to comprehend the relationships between fossil organisms and those of the present day by simply invoking a creative power and that the theory of ‘the gradual modification of pre-existing species’ was better able to explain the facts of palaeontology (T. H. Huxley 1859a, p. 153). The paper was Huxley’s first public defence of CD’s theory (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 171).


LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

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.


THH should understand that CD’s hypothesis [natural selection] has as many flaws and holes as sound parts. The question is whether CD’s rag of a hypothesis is worth anything. A poor rag is better than nothing to carry one’s fruit to market.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine Archives (Huxley 5: 65)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2466,” accessed on 19 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7