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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow   8 May [1860]

Down Bromley Kent

May 8th

My dear Henslow

Very many thanks about the Elodea,—which case interests me much. I wrote to Mr Marshall at Ely & in due time he says he will send me whatever information he can procure.—1

Owen is indeed very spiteful. He misrepresents & alters what I say very unfairly. But I think his conduct towards Hooker most ungenerous, viz to allude to his Essay, & not to notice the magnificent results on geographical distribution.2

The Londoners says he is mad with envy because my book has been talked about: what a strange man to be envious of a naturalist like myself, immeasurably his inferior! From one conversation with him I really suspect he goes at the bottom of his hidden soul as far as I do!—

I wonder whether Sedgwick noticed in the Edinburgh Review, about the “Sacerdotal revilers”3—so the revilers are tearing each other to pieces.—   I suppose Sedgwick will be very fierce against me at the Phil. Soc.—4 Judging from his notice in the Spectator he will misrepresent me, but it will certainly be unintentionally done.—5 In a letter to me & in the above notice he talks much about my departing from the spirit of inductive philosophy.—6 I wish, if you ever talk on subject to him, you would ask him whether it was not allowable (& a great step) to invent the undulatory theory of Light—ie hypothetical undulations in a hypothetical substance the ether. And if this be so, why may I not invent hypothesis of natural selection (which from analogy of domestic productions, & from what we know of the struggle of existence & of the variability of organic beings, is in some very slight degree in itself probable) & try whether this hypothesis of natural selection does not explain (as I think it does) a large number of facts in geographical distribution—geological succession—classification—morphology, embryology &c. &c.— I shd really much like to know why such an hypothesis as the undulation of the ether may be invented, & why I may not invent (not that I did invent it, for I was led to it by studying domestic varieties) any hypothesis, such as natural selection.

Pray forgive me & my pen for running away with me & scribbling on at such length.—

My dear old Master | Yours affectly | C. Darwin

I can perfectly understand Sedgwick or any one saying that nat. selection does not explain large classes of facts; but that is very different from saying that I depart from right principles of scientific investigation.—


Richard Owen had reviewed Hooker 1859 as well as Origin in [R. Owen] 1860a.
A reference to the statement in [R. Owen] 1860a, p. 511: We have no sympathy whatever with Biblical objectors to creation by law, or with the sacerdotal revilers of those who would explain such law.
Adam Sedgwick was preparing a public address on Origin to be delivered before the Cambridge Philosophical Society. See letter from J. S. Henslow, 5 May 1860, and letter from J. S. Henslow to J. D. Hooker, 10 May 1860.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 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.

[Sedgwick, Adam.] 1860. Objections to Mr Darwin’s theory of the origin of species. Spectator, 24 March 1860, pp. 285–6. [Reprinted with revisions in ibid., 7 April 1860, pp. 334–5.]


Comments on Richard Owen’s review of the Origin [in Edinburgh Rev. 111 (1860): 487–532]. Considers Owen unfair to CD and most ungenerous toward Hooker.

Expects Sedgwick to be fierce against him. Sedgwick also misrepresented CD in his Spectator review [24 Mar and 7 Apr 1860].

Compares natural selection to the undulatory theory of light as a hypothesis explaining a large number of facts.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: A67–9
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2791,” accessed on 12 August 2020,

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