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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Joseph Leidy   4 March [1861]1

Down Bromley Kent

March 4th

Dear Sir

I received a few days ago your note of Decr 10th & your most generous present of a whole bundle of your publications, which I value most highly & am extremely glad to possess.—2

Your note has pleased me more than you would readily believe; for I have during a long time heard all good judges speak of your palæontological labours in terms of the highest respect.3 Most palæontologists (with some few good exceptions) entirely despise my work; consequently approbation from you has gratified me much.— All the older geologists (with the one exception of Lyell, whom I look at as a host in himself) are even more vehement against the modification of species than are even the palæontologists. I have, however, been equally surprised & pleased at finding that several of the younger geologists who are now doing such good work in our geological survey, go with me & are as strong, as I can be, on the imperfection of the geological record.—4

Your sentence that you have some interesting facts “in support of the doctrine of selection, which I shall report at a favourable opportunity”, has delighted me even more than the rest of your note.5 I feel convinced that, though as long as I have strength I shall go on working on this subject, yet that the sole way of getting my views partially accepted will be by sound workers showing that they partially accept them. I say partially, for I have never for a moment doubted, that though I cannot see my errors, that much in my Book will be proved erroneous.—

Pray forgive this egotistical note & with cordial thanks for your letter & kind present, believe me Dear Sir, with sincere respect, Your obliged | Charles Darwin


Dated by the relationship to the letter to Asa Gray, 12 March [1861], in which CD mentioned having received Leidy’s letter.
Leidy’s letter has not been found. The Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL contains seven articles by Leidy, all published before 1861. The pamphlets, which are lightly annotated, discuss various palaeontological specimens discovered in the United States.
CD had become familiar with some of Leidy’s zoological research when he was preparing his monograph on cirripedes. See Correspondence vol. 4, letters to Louis Agassiz, 22 October 1848, and to J. D. Dana, 8 October 1849.
For a list of geologists CD believed to be supportive of his views, see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 March [1860]. See also letters to T. W. St C. Davidson, 30 April 1861, and to George Maw, 19 July [1861].
Leidy was possibly referring to the discovery of a remarkable series of fossil horses and their near relatives in the Tertiary deposits of the Bad Lands of Nebraska. Although Leidy’s descriptions of five new genera of the solid-hoofed ungulates and other vertebrate fauna were already prepared for press, publication was delayed until 1869 (see Leidy 1869, p. 24). In this work, however, he was only able to allude to how these forms related to ‘the theory of the origin of species through successional development’ (ibid., p. 355; see also Ruschenberger 1892, p. 161, and A. Desmond 1982, p. 235 n. 2).


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

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

Leidy, Joseph. 1869. The extinct mammalian fauna of Dakota and Nebraska, including an account of some allied forms from other localities, together with a synopsis of the mammalian remains of North America. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 2d ser. 7: 23–472.

Ruschenberger, W. S. W. 1892. A sketch of the life of Joseph Leidy, M.D., LL.D. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 30: 135-84.


JL’s approval of CD’s work is gratifying. Most palaeontologists despise it. Delighted that JL has some interesting facts "in support of … selection". Is sure his views will be partially accepted. Has never doubted that "much in my Book will be proved erroneous".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Leidy
Sent from
Source of text
Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3081,” accessed on 9 February 2023,

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