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Darwin Correspondence Project

From E. A. Darwin   23 November [1859]1

Nov 23

Dear Charles

I am so weak in the head that I hardly know if I can write, but at all events I will jot down a few things that the Dr has said.2 He has not read much above half, so as he says he can give no definite conclusion, & it is my private belief he wishes to remain in that state, till others have, & a day or two ago, the book was not published even if it is now. He is evidently in a dreadful state of indecision & keeps stating that he is not tied down to either view & that he has always left an escape by the way in which he has spoken of varieties. I happened to speak of the eye before he had read that part, & it took away his breath—utterly impossible—structure—function &c &c &c. but when he had read it he hummed & hawed & perhaps it was partly conceivable, & then he fell back on the bones of the ear which were beyond all possibility or conceivability.3 He mentioned a slight blot which I also observed, that in speaking of the slave ants carrying one another you change the species without giving notice first, & it makes one turn back.4 The great fact of all was that he has written an article on Relation of Man to other animals, bringing them much closer together & that he has withdrawn it, as it would be necessary to notice your book, & he would not like to controvert you or interfere with the review upon you. &c &c5

In regard to your boils, he asked if you had considered how far they followed or were connected with the water cure to which he evidently attributed them.

For myself I really think it is the most interesting book I ever read, & can only compare it to the first knowledge of chemistry, getting into a new world or rather behind the scenes. To me the geographical distribution I mean the relation of islands to continents is the most convincing of the proofs, & the relation of the oldest forms to the existing species. I dare say I dont feel enough the absence of varieties,6 but then I dont in the least know if every thing now living were fossilized whether the palæontologists could distinguish them. In fact the a priori reasoning is so entirely satisfactory to me that if the facts wont fit in, why so much the worse for the facts is my feeling.

My ague has left me in such a state of torpidity that I wish I had gone thro’ the process of natural selection.

yours affec | E D


The year is given by the reference to Origin.
The reference is to the physician Henry Holland.
See Origin, p. 219. The wording was altered in the second edition to make the transition between the discussion of Formica fusca and F. sanguinea clearer.
Erasmus Alvey Darwin wrote ‘confidential’ over this sentence. Holland’s article, entitled ‘Life on earth.— Relations of man to other animals’, was published posthumously (F. J. Holland ed. 1875, pp. 125–46). The paper may have been withdrawn from the Edinburgh Review, for which Holland usually reviewed, in order not to interfere with Richard Owen’s review of Origin, which appeared in Edinburgh Review 111 (1860): 487–532. See Wellesley Index 1: 509 and 513.
The reference is to the absence of intermediate forms in the fossil record.


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.


Writes of "the Dr’s" [Henry Holland’s] mixed reactions to the book.

Adds a personal opinion, "it is the most interesting book I ever read".

Letter details

Letter no.
Erasmus Alvey Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 98: B14–15
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2545,” accessed on 13 July 2024,

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