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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Frances Julia Wedgwood   11 July [1861]1


July 11

My dear Snow

Some one has sent us ‘Macmillan’; and I must tell you how much I admire your Article;3 though at the same time I must confess that I could not clearly follow you in some parts, which probably is in main part due to my not being at all accustomed to metaphysical trains of thought.4 I think that you understand my book perfectly, and that I find a very rare event with my critics. The ideas in the last page have several times vaguely crossed my mind.5 Owing to several correspondents I have been led lately to think, or rather to try to think over some of the chief points discussed by you. But the result has been with me a maze—something like thinking on the origin of evil, to which you allude.6 The mind refuses to look at this universe, being what it is, without having been designed; yet, where one would most expect design, viz. in the structure of a sentient being, the more I think on the subject, the less I can see proof of design.7 Asa Gray and some others look at each variation, or at least at each beneficial variation (which A. Gray would compare with the rain drops which do not fall on the sea, but on to the land to fertilize it) as having been providentially designed.8 Yet when I ask him whether he looks at each variation in the rock-pigeon, by which man has made by accumulation a pouter or fantail pigeon, as providentially designed for man’s amusement, he does not know what to answer;9 and if he, or any one, admits these variations are accidental, as far as purpose is concerned (of course not accidental as to their cause or origin); then I can see no reason why he should rank the accumulated variations by which the beautifully adapted woodpecker has been formed, as providentially designed. For it would be easy to imagine the enlarged crop of the pouter or tail of the fan-tail as of some use to birds, in a state of nature, having peculiar habits of life. These are the considerations which perplex me about design; but whether you will care to hear them, I know not.— I think that your article will strike & interest many reflecting minds.

We are all very jolly here; & I admire the beautiful scenery more than could be reasonably expected of an acknowledged descendent of an Ape.

My dear Snow | yours affectionately | Charles Darwin


The year is that given by Francis Darwin in LL 1: 313. The slightly shorter version of this letter published in LL was reproduced in Correspondence vol. 9 (down to ‘whether you will care to hear them, I know not’). The text from ‘providentially designed. For it … ’ to the valediction appeared in facsimile in a Christie’s sale catalogue in 2004, and the transcription has been corrected and added to from the facsimile.
The address is given in the sale catalogue description. The Darwins rented a house in Hesketh Crescent, Torquay, Devon, in July and August 1861 (Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix II and n. 14).
CD refers to an unsigned article entitled ‘The boundaries of science. A second dialogue’, published in Macmillan’s Magazine in July 1861 (Wellesley index). The first part of the dialogue appeared in the June 1860 issue ([F. J. Wedgwood] 1860–1).
The articles take the form of a dialogue between the religiously orthodox Philocalos (lover of beauty) and the defender of CD’s views, Philalethes (lover of truth). Topics discussed include the implications of the theory of natural selection for the connection between the material and spiritual realms, the division between reason and faith, and the relationship of the Creator to his creation. Frances had been strongly influenced by the religious teachings of Thomas Erskine and his friend John Frederick Denison Maurice, one of the founders of Christian Socialism. She had spent several months with followers gathered at Erskine’s estate at Linlathen, in Forfarshire, Scotland, in 1859. See B. Wedgwood and Wedgwood 1980, pp. 254, 267.
The closing pages of the second part of the dialogue address the question of whether there is design in nature and, if so, how this informs religious belief and scientific inquiry ([F. J. Wedgwood] 1860–1, 4: 244–7).
The problem of the existence of evil in the world forms part of the discussion mentioned in n. 5, above.
Philalethes argues that while there are ‘unmistakeable evidences of design’ in nature, any attempt to make the apparent harmony in nature’s operations a complete one by bringing humans into consideration is bound to fail ([F. J. Wedgwood] 1860–1, 4: 244–5). The discussion continues: Philoc. You mean to say, then, that somewhere or other there is a misfit between man and his dwelling-place; that, if the machinery was ever perfect, some evil power has laid its hand on the mainspring, and deranged the working ever since? Philal. Yes; and that influence lies wholly without the boundaries of science, which is exclusively occupied with the machinery itself, and can take no account of any influence from without. Go back as far as we will, therefore, science only shows us the working of the present order of things.
Gray presented this view in the third part of his three-part series of articles on CD’s theory published in 1860 and reprinted in A. Gray 1861a.


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

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

Wedgwood, Barbara and Wedgwood, Hensleigh. 1980. The Wedgwood circle, 1730–1897: four generations of a family and their friends. London: Studio Vista.

Wellesley index: The Wellesley index to Victorian periodicals 1824–1900. Edited by Walter E. Houghton et al. 5 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1966–89.


Admires FJW’s article ["The boundaries of science", Macmillan’s Mag. 4 (1861): 237–47]. Thinks she understands his book [Origin] perfectly.

On design in nature: the more CD thinks on the subject the less he can see proof of it.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Frances Julia (Snow) Wedgwood
Sent from
Source of text
LL 1: 313–14; Christie’s (dealers) (3 March 2004)
Physical description
4pp *

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3206,” accessed on 15 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9 and 18 (Supplement)