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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Thomas Henry Huxley   3 January [1861]1

Down Bromley Kent

Jan 3d.

My dear Huxley

I have just finished Nor I of N. H. Review & must congratulate you, as chiefly concerned, on its excellence.2 The whole seems to me admirable,—so admirable that it is impossible that other numbers shd. be so good, but it would be foolish to expect it. I am rather a croaker & I do rather fear that the merit of the articles will be above the run of common readers & subscribers.

I have been much interested by your Brain article.3 What a complete & awful smasher (& done like a “buttered angel”) it is for Owen! What a canting humbug he is to have left out that sentence in the Lecture before the orthodox Cambridge Dons.4 I like Lubbock’s paper very much: how well he writes.5 MacDonnels, of course, pleases me greatly.—6 But I am very curious to know who wrote the Protozoa article:7 I shall hear, if it be not a secret, from Lubbock. It strikes me as very good, & by Jove how Owen is shown up—“this great & sound reasoner”.8

By the way this reminds me of a passage which I have just observed in Owen’s address at Leeds,9 which a clever Reviewer might turn into good fun. He defines (p. xc) & further on amplifies his definition that Creation means “a process he knows not what”. And in previous sentence he says facts shake his confidence that the Apteryx in N. Zealand & Red Grouse in England are “distinct creations”. So that he has no confidence that these birds were produced by “processes he knows not what”.— What miserable inconsistencies & rubbish this truckling to opposite opinions leads the great generaliser!

Farewell, I heartily rejoice in the clear merit of this number.— I hope Mrs. Huxley goes on well.—10 Etty keeps much the same, but has not got up to the same pitch, as when you were here.—11

Farewell | C. Darwin

P.S.12 In my little historical sketch of opinion on Species, I have picked out the foregoing sentences and his axiom of ordained becoming &c.;13 and if the reader has any acuteness, I shall thus take some revenge;14 but I shall make no comments;—I am not bold enough and do not want to come to open quarrel. But we shall never be friends again. What an admirable résume of Botanical Papers; I suppose by Oliver.—15 What labour!


The year is provided by the reference to the Natural History Review (see n. 2, below).
The first number of the new series of the Natural History Review: a quarterly journal of biological science, under Huxley’s general editorship, appeared in January 1861. For CD’s doubts about whether Huxley should take on this responsibility, see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to T. H. Huxley, 20 July [1860]. CD’s annotated copies of the journal are in the Darwin Library–CUL.
T. H. Huxley 1861a. The article was a response to Richard Owen’s view, published in R. Owen 1857 and 1859, that the brain provided certain anatomical characters by which man could be classified in a sub-class separate from the anthropoid apes. CD had criticised Owen’s classification when it was first published in 1857 (see Correspondence vol. 6, letters to J. D. Dana, 5 April [1857], and to J. D. Hooker, 5 July [1857]).
CD refers to Owen’s Rede lecture delivered at Cambridge University in May 1859. The lecture was the first in a new series of annual lectures to be delivered by a man of eminence in science or literature. Owen’s lecture on the classification of the Mammalia (R. Owen 1859) was but a slight modification of R. Owen 1857. In his article, Huxley cited a quotation from the earlier paper, in which Owen stated that it was difficult for an anatomist to distinguish between Homo and Pithecus; Huxley then pointed out that the statement had been omitted from R. Owen 1859 (see T. H. Huxley 1861a, p. 69).
John Lubbock, one of several co-editors of the Natural History Review, contributed a paper published in the first issue on the anatomy and natural history of the entozoan Sphaerularia bombi, a worm parasitic on humble-bees (Lubbock 1861a).
Robert M’Donnell’s paper (M’Donnell 1861) announced his discovery of the electrical organs in skates. M’Donnell stated that he had been led to search for these organs after considering CD’s remarks in Origin about the ‘unity of type resulting from community of descent’ (M’Donnell 1861, p. 58): Considering, therefore, that on the theory of Mr. Darwin it was in the highest degree improbable that the electric organs of the Torpedo were totally absent in the Skates, I undertook a careful search, with the view of following out their homologies … I have thus been led to make out the bodies which I conceive to be the true homologues of the Torpedo’s wondrous organs CD had learned of M’Donnell’s work in advance of publication (see Correspondence vol. 8, letters to T. H. Huxley, 16 November [1860] and 22 November [1860]). In his copy of this issue of the Natural History Review, CD noted: ‘M’Donnell on Electric Organs— gradation, good’.
CD refers to an anonymous review of five recent works on various groups of Protozoa (Natural History Review n.s. 1 (1861): 34–43). The author may have been Huxley himself judging from the number of references to his work and the strident attack on Owen’s views.
Among the books reviewed (see n. 7, above) was R. Owen 1860a, in which Owen defined the fundamental attributes of the plant and animal kingdoms. On the basis of this definition, he established a third kingdom of ‘Protozoa’, which embraced all those organisms exhibiting ‘common organic characters’ that could not, using the specified criteria, be assigned to either of the other two kingdoms. The reviewer criticised Owen’s criteria for distinguishing between animal and vegetable modes of existence and suggested that there were indeed sound scientific reasons for assuming the animal nature of true Protozoa (Natural History Review n.s. 1 (1861): 41–3).
CD refers to Owen’s presidential address at the 1858 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Leeds (R. Owen 1858). See nn. 13 and 14, below.
Henrietta Anne Huxley was recovering from the birth, on 11 December 1860, of the Huxleys’ son Leonard (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 216).
Huxley visited Down on 14 December 1860, as related in a letter of 19 December 1860 to Joseph Dalton Hooker: ‘I was at Down on Saturday and saw Darwin. He seems fairly well, and his daughter was up and looks better than I expected to see her.—’ (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 223). Henrietta Emma Darwin had suffered from poor health throughout 1860. See Correspondence vol. 8.
The postscript, although on a separate leaf, is clearly related to the topics discussed in the letter (see nn. 14 and 15, below). It is included among the copies of Huxley’s letters made by Francis Darwin in DAR 145.
CD refers to Owen’s published reference to the ‘axiom of the continuous operation of the ordained becoming of living things.’ Owen first used this phrase in his presidential address to the British Association meeting at Leeds (R. Owen 1858, p. li). The phrase was also used in Owen’s unsigned review of Origin ([R. Owen] 1860b, p. 500).
CD included a reference to passages in R. Owen 1858 (see n. 9, above) in ‘An historical sketch of the recent progress of opinion on the origin of species’, included in the third edition of Origin published in April 1861. See Origin 3d ed., pp. xiii–xix. CD had been deeply distressed by Owen’s rejection of Origin and by his misrepresentation of several points in his unsigned review (see Correspondence vol. 8).
Daniel Oliver, a botanist in the herbarium and the librarian of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, was one of the botanical editors of the new series of the Natural History Review (see Turrill 1959, p. 236). Oliver contributed a bibliographic review to the first number, listing and commenting on recent publications on phanerogamic plants (Natural History Review n.s. 1 (1861): 85–115). The bibliography became a regular feature of the journal.


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

M’Donnell, Robert. 1861. On an organ in the skate which appears to be the homologue of the electrical organ of the torpedo. Natural History Review n.s. 1: 57–60. [Vols. 8,9]

Origin 3d ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 3d edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1861.

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.

Turrill, William Bertram. 1959. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, past and present. London: Herbert Jenkins.


Congratulates THH on first number of Natural History Review.

THH’s article on brain ["On the zoological relations of man with the lower animals", Nat. Hist. Rev. (1861): 67–84] completely smashes Owen.

Owen’s Leeds address [Rep. BAAS (1858): xlix–cx].

In his historical sketch of opinion on species CD has picked out some sentences [by Owen] with which he will take some revenge. CD is not bold enough to come to an open quarrel.

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: 155, 372–6)
Physical description
4pp C 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3041,” accessed on 11 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9