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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Armand de Quatrefages   23 August [1870]1

Down Beckenham | Kent [Bassett, Southampton]

Aug. 23. 187

My dear Sir

Under the present terrible state of public affairs, whilst private interests are as nothing, I have hesitated to write to you; but I hope that you will allow me to express briefly my cordial & lasting gratitude for the surprising & very kind interest which you have shown about my election to your Academy.2 It is almost a pity that you shd have been led to waste so much of your valuable time on this affair. As I shd not like to trouble M. Milne Edwards with a letter, I hope, if you have any fitting opportunity, that you will express to him my very sincere thanks for the honour which he has conferred on me.3 I see in the last number of the Révue that M. Edwards is inclined to believe that existing species are the modified descendants of extinct species.4 Such an admission seems to me very much more important than whether natural selection has been a more or less efficient means of change; though for my own part I shd never have been able to admit the evolution of species, unless I cd have partly explained to myself how the innumerable & beautiful adaptations, which we see all around us, had originated.

If I had been present when M Elie de Beaumont called my science frothy,5 I might have rejoined that my bubbles have not as yet all burst, whilst his two great bubbles of craters of elevation & the direction of mountain chains according to their age, have every where except in France, burst & vanished into thin air.6

With the truest thanks & respects believe me my dear Sir | yours very faithfully | Ch Darwin

P.S. I fear my next book, which will be published in 2 or 3 months, will greatly displease you, but I will send you a copy, as I am sure you will give me the credit of publishing only what I believe to be the truth, after mature consideration.7


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Armand de Quatrefages, 18 July 1870.
CD refers to Quatrefages’s support for his candidacy for election to the French Académie des Sciences (see letter from Armand de Quatrefages, 18 July 1870, and letter to Armand de Quatrefages, 20 July [1870]). CD also alludes to the Franco-Prussian war, which had begun on 19 July 1870 (Wawro 2003, p. 65).
Henri Milne-Edwards had spoken in favour of CD’s admission to the Académie des Sciences (see letter from Armand de Quatrefages, 18 July 1870 and n. 5).
CD refers to the last but one issue of Revue des Cours Scientifiques, of 13 August 1870. It contained a resumé of all the points Milne-Edwards had made in favour of CD during the sessions of the Académie des Sciences when the admission of CD as a corresponding member was being debated (‘Opinion de M. H. Milne Edwards de l’Institut sur les travaux de Ch. Darwin’, Revue des Cours Scientifiques 7 (1870): 588–92).
According to the report in Revue des Cours Scientifiques, 23 July 1870, p. 529, an academician, believed to be Léonce Elie de Beaumont, shouted, ‘C’est de la science mousseuse’, a remark to which Quatrefages objected strongly.
CD refers to Elie de Beaumont’s support for a theory originally formulated by Christian Leopold von Buch that volcanoes were caused by pressure from below, which arched the strata into a dome-like formation until the centre collapsed and a vent was formed (Elie de Beaumont 1838; see also Correspondence vol. 3, letter to Leonard Horner, 29 August [1844]). He also refers to Elie de Beaumont’s theory that the orientation of a mountain chain was determined by the age of its formation (Elie de Beaumont 1831). In his Principles of geology (Lyell 1830–3), Charles Lyell vigorously opposed Elie de Beaumont on these subjects, and Lyell’s view came to be accepted by the majority of geologists. For more on Elie de Beaumont’s theories, see Gohau 2006, pp. 151–8.
CD refers to Descent; Quatrefages’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for the book (DAR 210:11. 32; Correspondence vol. 19, Appendix IV).


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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Elie de Beaumont, Jean-Baptiste-Armand-Louis-Léonce. 1831. Researches on some of the revolutions which have taken place on the surface of the globe; presenting various examples of the coincidence between the elevation of beds in certain systems of mountains, and the sudden changes which have produced the lines of demarcation observable in certain stages of the sedimentary deposits. Philosophical Magazine, or Annals of Chemistry [etc.] n.s. 10: 241–64.

Elie de Beaumont, Jean-Baptiste-Armand-Louis-Léonce. 1838. Recherches sur la structure et sur l’origine du Mont Etna. In Mémoires pour servir à une description géologique de la France, by Pierre Armand Dufrénoy and J.-B.-A.-L.-L. Elie de Beaumont, 4: 1–226. Paris: F.-G. Levrault.

Gohau, Gabriel. 2006. A history of geology. New edition, revised and translated by Albert V. Carozzi and Marguerite Carozzi. New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press.

Lyell, Charles. 1830–3. Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth’s surface, by reference to causes now in operation. 3 vols. London: John Murray.

Wawro, Geoffrey. 2003. The Franco-Prussian war: the German conquest of France in 1870–1871. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Thanks QdeB for his continued support of CD’s election to French Academy.

Discusses views of Milne-Edwards on species.

Comments on views of Élie de Beaumont.

"I fear my next book [Descent] … will greatly displease you."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Jean Louis Armand (Armand de Quatrefages) Quatrefages de Bréau
Sent from
Bassett Down letterhead
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.382)
Physical description
LS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7308,” accessed on 15 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18