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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Henry Fawcett   18 September [1861]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Sept. 18th

My dear Mr Fawcett

I wondered who had so kindly sent me the newspapers which I was very glad to see;2 & now I have to thank you sincerely for allowing me to see your M.S.3 It seems to me very good & sound; though I am certainly not an impartial judge. You will have done good service in calling the attention of scientific men to the means & laws of philosophising.— As far as I could judge by the papers your opponents were unworthy of you. How miserably Prof Williamson talked of my reputation, as if that had anything to do with it.4 As for Dr. Lankester he is a mean prater who never observed a new fact, I believe, in his life.— It made me laugh to read of his advice or rather regret that I had not published facts alone. How profoundly ignorant he must be of the very soul of observation.5 About 30 years ago there was much talk that Geologists ought only to observe & not theorise;6 & I well remember some one saying, that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit & count the pebbles & describe their colours. How odd it is that every one should not see that all observation must be for or against some view, if it is to be of any service.—

I have returned only lately from a two months’ visit to Torquay, which did my health at the time good; but I am one of those miserable creatures who are never comfortable for 24 hours; & it is clear to me that I ought to be exterminated. I have been rather idle of late; or speaking more strictly working at some miscellaneous papers, which however have some direct bearing on the subject of species; yet I feel guilty at having neglected my larger Book.7 But to me, observing is much better sport than writing.— I fear that I shall have wearied you with this long note.

Pray believe that I feel sincerely grateful that you have taken up the cudgels in defence of the line of argument in the Origin: you will have benefitted the subject.—

Many are so fearful of speaking out.— A German naturalist came here the other day & he tells me that there are many in Germany on our side; but that all seem fearful of speaking out & waiting for some one to speak & then many will follow.8 The naturalists seem as timid, as young ladies should be, about their scientific reputation.— There is much discussion on the subject on the continent even in quiet Holland;9 & I had a pamphlet from Moscow the other day by a man who sticks up famously on the imperfection of the Geological Record; but complains that I have sadly underrated the variability of the old fossilised animals!10

But I must not run on; with sincere thanks & respect | Pray believe me | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin

Mr Davidson, who knows some groups of fossils better than any man in Europe, I can see, is coming round by inches, & declares he will well consider & discuss & publish on the relations of the Brachiopods from the earliest dawn of life to the present day on genealogical principles.11 This is the sort of work which will finally settle the fate of the Origin one way or the other.


The year is established by the reference to the reports printed in the Manchester Examiner and Manchester Guardian (see n. 2, below). This letter was published in Correspondence vol. 9 from the text published in Stephen 1885. This transcription, from the original in the Karpeles Manuscript Museum, restores two sentences beginning at ‘As for Dr. Lankester ...’ and the paragraph after the signature. The footnotes have been altered.
The Manchester Examiner and the Manchester Guardian both carried reports on 9 September 1861 of the discussion that followed Fawcett’s address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The British Association met in Manchester from 4 to 11 September 1861. There are copies of both reports in DAR 226.1: 92–3.
The title of Fawcett’s paper, as it appeared in the abstract printed in the Report of the 31st meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was ‘On the method of Mr. Darwin in his treatise on the origin of species’ (Fawcett 1861). In the abstract, however, it was reported that Fawcett’s original title was: ‘That the method of investigation pursued by Mr. Darwin, in his Treatise on the Origin of Species, is in strict accordance with the principles of logic.’
The report of the discussion given in the Manchester Guardian, 9 September 1861, p. 6, cites William Crawford Williamson as saying that ‘while he would not say that Mr. Darwin’s book had caused him a loss of reputation, he was sure that it had not caused a gain.’ Williamson was professor of natural history, anatomy, and physiology at Owens College, Manchester. See also ML 1: 195 n.
According to the Manchester Guardian, 9 September 1861, p. 6, Edwin Lankester said that the facts brought forward in support of the hypothesis had a very different value indeed from that of the hypothesis. Lankester was professor of natural history at New College, London.
Fawcett had defended CD’s use of hypothesis and induction (see letter from Henry Fawcett, 16 July [1861] and nn. 3 and 4). For a discussion of the strictures concerning the use of theory in early Victorian science, see Morrell and Thackray 1981.
Having published Origin as an abstract of his ‘big book’ on species (Natural selection), CD planned to revise the longer manuscript for publication (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to John Murray, 22 December [1859]). In the event, only the first part of the projected work was published, broadly based on the first two chapters of the original manuscript (Variation).
The visitor from Germany has not been identified.
A Dutch translation of Origin by Tiberius Cornelius Winkler was published in 1860 (see letter from T. C. Winkler, 7 July 1861). For an account of the reception of Origin in Holland, see Bulhof 1974 and Leeuwenburgh and van der Heide 2008.
The pamphlet, Übergänge und Zwischenvarietäten, was by Hermann Adolfovich Trautschold of the Petrovsky Academy in Moscow (Trautschold 1861). It was a privately printed reprint of a paper originally published in the Bulletin de la Société Imperiale des Naturalistes de Moscou 33 (1860): 519–30. The annotated copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Trautschold stated that for several years he had been aware of the existence of many varieties and transitional forms in the fossil species in Jurassic formations near Moscow but laid no value on the specimens until he read the German translation of Origin (Bronn trans. 1860). His paper describes a series of what he believed to be transitional varieties and species of ammonites. Beside a list of various transitional varieties on p. 5 (p. 522 in the Bulletin), CD wrote in pencil: ‘All these vars. seem to be found in same middle bed’. But next to a subsequent description of a series of forms transitional between Ammonites biplex and A. humphriesianus, CD wrote: ‘But here we have cases of vars. leading to a species in a lower bed.—’
See Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Thomas Davidson, 30 April 1861, and letter from Thomas Davidson, 3 May 1861. Davidson, an expert on fossil brachiopods, had briefly mentioned CD’s work in an article in the Geologist (Davidson 1861, pp. 58–9). In the next volume of his monograph series (Davidson 1851–86, 2: 212–13, published in 1863), Davidson mentioned the possibility that fossil brachiopods might provide evidence for CD’s view of species and varieties. His work on recent brachiopods was published posthumously (Davidson 1886–8).


Bulhof, Ilse N. 1974. The Netherlands. In The comparative reception of Darwin, edited by Thomas F. Glick. Austin, Tex., and London: University of Texas Press.

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

Davidson, Thomas. 1851–86. British fossil Brachiopoda. 6 vols. London: Palæontographical Society.

Davidson, Thomas. 1861. On British Carboniferous Brachiopoda. Geologist 4: 41–59.

Davidson, Thomas. 1886–8. A monograph of recent Brachiopoda. 3 parts. London: the Linnean Society.

Fawcett, Henry. 1861. On the method of Mr Darwin in his treatise on the origin of species. Report of the 31st meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Manchester, Transactions of the sections, pp. 141–3.

ML: More letters of Charles Darwin: a record of his work in a series of hitherto unpublished letters. Edited by Francis Darwin and Albert Charles Seward. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1903.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.

Stephen, Leslie. 1885. Life of Henry Fawcett. London: Smith, Elder.

Thackray, John C. 1981. R. I. Murchison’s Siluria (1854 and later). Archives of Natural History 10: 37–43.

Trautschold, Hermann Adolfovich. 1861. Übergänge und Zwischenvarietäten. [Reprinted from the Bulletin de la Société Impériale des Naturalistes de Moscou 33 (1860): 519–30.] Moscow: Buchdruckerei der kaiserlichen Universität.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Comments on MS of HF’s address ["On the method of Mr Darwin in his treatise on the origin of species", Rep. BAAS (1861) pt 2: 141–3]. "How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service."

Describes his health.

The response to his views in Germany, Holland, and Russia.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Henry Fawcett
Sent from
Source of text
Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums
Physical description
ALS 8pp & C 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3257,” accessed on 29 January 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24 (Supplement) and 9