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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Baden Powell   18 January [1860]

Down Bromley Kent

Jan. 18th

My dear Sir

I am much pleased by your approbation of my book, as everyone must admit that you are a master in philosophical logic;1 I am the more pleased at this, as one eminent scientific man writes to me that I have violated the whole spirit of inductive philosophy.2

My health was so poor, whilst I wrote the Book, that I was unwilling to add in the least to my labour; therefore I attempted no history of the subject; nor do I think that I was bound to do so. I just alluded indeed to the Vestiges & I am now heartily sorry I did so.3 No educated person, not even the most ignorant, could suppose that I meant to arrogate to myself the origination of the doctrine that species had not been independently created. The only novelty in my work is the attempt to explain how species become modified, & to a certain extent how the theory of descent explains certain large classes of facts; & in these respects I received no assistance from my predecessors. To the best of my belief I have acknowledged with pleasure all the chief facts & generalisations which I have borrowed. If I have taken anything from you, I assure you it has been unconsciously; but I will reread your Essay.4 Had I alluded to those authors who have maintained, with more or less ability, that species have not been separately created, I should have felt myself bound to have given some account of all; namely, passing over the ancients, Buffon (?) Lamarck (by the way his erroneous views were curiously anticipated by my Grandfather), Geoffry St. Hilaire & especially his son Isidore; Naudin; Keyserling; an American (name this minute forgotten); the Vestiges of Creation; I believe some Germans. Herbert Spencer; & yourself.—5

The task would have been not a little difficult, & belongs rather to the Historian of Science than to me. I ought also to have alluded to chief maintainers of opposite doctrines.— I had intended in my larger book to have attempted some such history; but my own catalogue frightens me. I will, however, consult some scientific friends & be guided by their advice.

Permit me to add that I read your Philosophy of Creation with great interest: it struck me as excellently & vigorously argued & written with a clearness, which I remember excited my warmest admiration.6 I most fully agree that your work must have had a great effect with philosophical minds in removing prejudices on the subject; in a higher degree but in nearly the same manner as the Vestiges has had with a less highly endowed class of readers. I have had to make by letter the same acknowledgement to the Author (as I believe) of the Vestiges.7 By the above remarks I do not by any means intend to say that your work has not entirely converted many readers, & induced them to give up the doctrine of creation; in simple truth I do not at all know how the case stands.— I shd. not have presumed to have made these remarks on your work, had not your letter induced me.

Believe me, with sincere respect, My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Charles Darwin


Baden Powell was Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford University. He was a frequent contributor to scientific periodicals on mathematical topics, but was most famous for his works on doctrinal and philosophical questions. His letter to CD has not been found, but its substance can be inferred from a favourable notice of Origin that Powell inserted in Powell 1860 at the proof stage. He considered Origin to be a ‘masterly volume’ (Powell 1860, p. 139). Powell died in June 1860.
CD refers to Adam Sedgwick. See Correspondence vol. 7, letter from Adam Sedgwick, 24 November 1859.
CD refers to Vestiges of the natural history of creation ([Chambers] 1844). He mentioned the work briefly in the introduction to Origin, pp. 3–4, and had been accused of borrowing from its content (see letter to T. H. Huxley, 1 January [1860]).
Powell had enthusiastically adopted the doctrine of the uniformity of nature in the 1830s and discussed the origin of species in several works, most notably in Powell 1855, in which he treated Vestiges ([Chambers] 1844) sympathetically. He rejected the idea of supernatural intervention and endorsed a history of living beings based on the fulfilment of a divine plan by natural means. See Corsi 1988.
CD refers to Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon; Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet de Lamarck; Étienne and Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire; Charles Victor Naudin; Alexandr Andreevich Keyserling; and [Chambers] 1844. CD prepared a ‘historical’ essay for the revised American edition of Origin, expanded for subsequent editions, in which he mentioned all these authors (see Correspondence vol.8, Appendix IV). The American to whom he alludes was Samuel Steman Haldeman (see following letter).
Powell 1855. CD recorded reading this work in January 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 14). His notes on it are in DAR 71: 43–50.
The author of Vestiges was believed by many to be Robert Chambers, but his authorship was not publicly acknowledged until after his death (see A. Desmond 1982, pp. 210–11 n. 28, and Secord 1989). CD guessed that Chambers was the author in 1847 (see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to J. D. Hooker, [18 April 1847]). CD’s letter to Chambers has not been found.


[Chambers, Robert.] 1844. Vestiges of the natural history of creation. London: John Churchill.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Desmond, Adrian. 1982. Archetypes and ancestors: palaeontology in Victorian London, 1850–1875. London: Blond & Briggs.

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.

Powell, Baden. 1855. Essays on the spirit of the inductive philosophy, the unity of worlds, and the philosophy of creation. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longman.

Powell, Baden. 1860. On the study of the evidences of Christianity. In Essays and reviews. London. [Vols. 8,9]

Secord, James A. 1989. Behind the veil: Robert Chambers and Vestiges. In History, humanity and evolution: essays for John C. Greene, edited by James R. Moore. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Vols. 8,10]


CD is pleased by BP’s appreciative opinion of Origin. He never intended to claim that he originated the doctrine that species have not been independently created. The only novelty in his work is the attempt to explain how species became modified and how the theory of descent explains large classes of facts. If he has taken anything from BP, he has done so unconsciously. Gives names of those he would have mentioned in any account of authors who maintained that species have not been separately created.

CD greatly admires BP’s Philosophy of creation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Baden Powell
Sent from
Source of text
Linnean Society of London (Quentin Keynes collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2654,” accessed on 29 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8