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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   27 November [1859]1

Ilkley Wells House— Otley Yorkshire

Nov. 27th

My dear Huxley.

Gä rtner grand— Kölreuter grand, but papers scattered through many volumes & very lengthy: I had to make abstract of whole.—2 Herbert volume on Amaryllidaceæ very good & two excellent paper in Hort. Journal.—3 For animals no resume to be trusted at all: facts have to be collected from all original sources.— I fear my M.S for bigger book (twice or thrice as long as in present book) with all references, would I fear be illegible, but it would save you infinite labour: of course I would gladly lend it; but I have no copy so care would have to be taken of it. But my accursed handwriting would be fatal I fear.—

About Breeding I know of no one Book.— I did not think well of Lowe, but I can name none better.4 Youatt I look at as far better & more practical authority; but then his views & facts are scattered through 3 or 4 thick volumes.5 I have picked up most by reading really numberless special treatises & all Agricultural & Horticultural Journals; but it is work of long years.6 The difficulty is to know what to trust. No one or two statements are worth a farthing,—the facts are so complicated. I hope & think I have been really cautious in what I state on this subject, though all that I have given, as yet, is far too briefly.—

I have found it very important associating with fanciers & breeders.— For instance I sat one evening in a gin-palace in the Borough amongst a set of Pigeon-fanciers,—when it was hinted that Mr Bult had crossed his Powters with Runts to gain size;7 & if you had seen the solemn, the mysterious & awful shakes of the head which all the fanciers gave at this scandalous proceeding, you would have recognised how little crossing has had to do with improving breeds, & how dangerous for endless generations the process was.— All this was brought home far more vividly than by pages of mere statements &c— But I am scribbling foolishly. I really do not know how to advise about getting up facts on breeding & improving breeds— Go to shows is one way— Read all treatise on any one domestic animal & believe nothing without largely confirmed.— For your lecture I can give you a few amusing anecdotes & sentences, if you want to make audience laugh.—

I thank you particularly for telling me what naturalists think. If we can once make a compact set of believers we shall in time conquer. I am eminently glad Ramsay is on our side—for he is, in my opinion, first-rate geologist.—8 I sent him copy, I hope he got it— I shall be very curious to hear whether any effect has been produced on Prestwick—9 I sent him copy, not as friend, but owing to a sentence or two in some paper, which made me suspect he was doubting.—

Revd C. Kingsley has a mind to come round.10 Quatrefages write that he goes some long way with me: says he exhibited diagram like mine—11

With most hearty thanks | Your very tired | C. Darwin


It is not clear whether CD wrote ‘27’ or ‘29’; the last digit has been corrected by CD. The year is given by the reference to Huxley’s forthcoming lecture on CD’s species theory (see n. 2, below).
Huxley had apparently asked CD for his main sources on hybridisation and related issues to assist him in the preparation of his lecture to be given at the Royal Institution on 10 February 1860. CD refers to the works on plant hybridisation by Karl Friedrich von Gärtner, particularly Gärtner 1844 and 1849, and various papers by Joseph Gottlieb Kölreuter (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 10a). CD’s copy of Kölreuter 1761–6 is in the Darwin Library–CUL. His abstracts of Kölreuter’s works are in DAR 116.
Herbert 1837, 1846, and 1847. For CD’s views on William Herbert’s work, see Correspondence vol. 2.
Low 1845. CD had read this work in 1846 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 16a).
CD cited William Youatt’s volumes on Cattle (1834), The dog (1845), and Sheep (1837) in Natural selection. See also Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 7a and 11a.
For CD’s reading of these and related journals, see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV.
CD refers to Benjamin Edmund Bult, pigeon-fancier and member of the Philoperisteron Society, of which CD was also a member. For CD’s participation in the pigeon-fanciers’ clubs of London, see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to W. E. Darwin, 29 [November 1855], and also Secord 1981.
Andrew Crombie Ramsay provided the information on the depth of geological deposits that CD cited in Origin, pp. 284, 286. For Ramsay’s favourable response to Origin, see Correspondence vol. 8, letter from A. C. Ramsay, 21 February 1860.
Joseph Prestwich, a specialist on the Tertiary geology of Britain, had recently become interested in the question of the antiquity of man. No correspondence indicating his response to Origin has been found, but see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Joseph Prestwich, 12 March [1860].
CD mentioned the same point to Charles Lyell in his letter of 24 [November 1859]. The letter from Jean Louis Armand de Quatrefages de Bréau has not been found, but see letter to J. L. A. de Quatrefages de Bréau, 5 December [1859].


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

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1844. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Befruchtungsorgane der vollkommeneren Gewächse und über die natürliche und künstliche Befruchtung durch den eigenen Pollen. Pt 1 of Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Befruchtung der vollkommeneren Gewächse. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

Herbert, William. 1837. Amaryllidaceæ; preceded by an attempt to arrange the monocotyledonous orders, and followed by a treatise on cross-bred vegetables, and supplement. London: James Ridgway & Sons.

Kölreuter, Joseph Gottlieb. 1761–6. Vorläufige Nachricht von einigen das Geschlecht der Pflanzen betreffenden Versuchen und Beobachtungen. Leipzig: Gleditschischen Handlung.

Low, David. 1845. On the domesticated animals of the British Islands: comprehending the natural and economical history of species and varieties; the description of the properties of external form; and observations on the principles and practice of breeding. London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.

Secord, James Andrew. 1981. Nature’s fancy: Charles Darwin and the breeding of pigeons. Isis 72: 162–86.


Sends references for materials useful for THH’s lecture.

Breeding and crossing. Pigeon fanciers.

Responses to Origin: A. C. Ramsay, Charles Kingsley, Quatrefages de Bréau.

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: 76)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2558,” accessed on 14 April 2024,

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