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Darwin Correspondence Project

To S. P. Woodward   6 March [1860]1

Down. | Bromley. Kent.

March 6th.

My dear Sir.

I will not fail to speak what I think about your high merits if consulted by any of the Senate.2

I should be very glad of any criticisms on the origin— I imagine you have not finished it. I suspect that we are at cross purposes about “typical” & “specialisation”— I look at the latter (ie. specialisation of organs) with all physiologists as a great advantage to each being & therefore as not likely to lead to their extinction.—   And with respect to Typical—I observe that Naturalists use it in two very different senses; hence I have almost entirely or entirely avoided its use—

You will see something about the preservation of old former forms in islands & in isolated situations—a subject on which I could have much enlarged.—   I doubt whether you understand my notions on extinction; but when we meet you can explain what you mean by “Specialisation” & “typical”.

The fair way to view the argument of my book, I think, is to look at Natural Selection as a mere hypothesis (though rendered in some degree probable by the analogy of method of production of domestic races; & by what we know of the struggle for existence) & then to judge whether the mere hypothesis explains a large body of facts in Geographical Distribution, Geological Succession, & more especially in Classification, Homology, Embryology, Rudimentary Organs    The hypothesis to me does seem to explain several independent large classes of facts; & this being so, I view the hypothesis as a theory having a high degree of probability of truth. All turns on whether the above classes of facts seem to you satisfactorily explained or not.— The difficulties are great; but they concern the “imperfection of the Geological record,” “means of distribution” & “possibility of transitions of organs”    And on these classes of facts we are confessedly ignorant, & we do not know how ignorant.— I simply believe that we are far more ignorant than any one supposed—

Forgive me for troubling you with this harangue, for I should very much like to stagger you,—to pervert you or any good man ought & must require months of self reflection.3

Yours very sincerely | C Darwin.

It may be a vain & silly thing to say, but I believe my Book must be read twice carefully to be fully understood.— You will perhaps think it by no means worth the labour.


Dated by the reference to Origin.
Woodward may have been a candidate for one of the two examinerships in geology and palaeontology vacant in the University of London. The election by the Senate was to be held on 25 April 1860 (Athenæum, 10 March 1860, p. 321). Woodward’s obituary notices allude to the fact that he was, at some unspecified time, appointed examiner in geology and palaeontology for the University of London.
CD and others wrongly suspected that Woodward was the author of an anonymous critical review of Origin published in the Athenæum, 19 November 1859, pp. 659–60. See Correspondence vol. 7, letter to J. D. Hooker, [20 November 1859], and letter from J. D. Hooker, [21 November 1859]. Woodward was, nevertheless, among those who found it impossible to accept CD’s views (see H. B. Woodward 1882).


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

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.


Will be glad to have SPW’s criticisms of Origin.

Discusses his use of terms, "typical" and "specialisation".

Emphasises large body of facts explained by his theory of species.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Samuel Pickworth Woodward
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 148: 379
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2724,” accessed on 22 September 2023,

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