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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Gaston de Saporta   8 April 1872

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

April 8th. 1872

Dear Sir

I thank you very sincerely and feel much honoured by the trouble which you have taken in giving me your reflections on the origin of Man. It gratifies me extremely that some parts of my work have interested you, and that we agree on the main conclusion of the derivation of man from some lower form.1

I will reflect on what you have said, but I cannot at present give up my belief in the close relationship of Man, to the higher Simiæ. I do not put much trust in any single character, even that of dentition; but I put the greatest faith in resemblances in many parts of the whole organization; for I cannot believe that such resemblances can be due to any cause except close blood-relationship2   That man is closely allied to the higher Simiæ is shewn by the classification of Linnæus who was so good a judge of affinity.3 The man who in England knows most about the structure of the Simiæ, namely Mr Mivart, and who is bitterly opposed to my doctrines about the derivation of the mental powers, yet has publicly admitted that I have not put man too close to the higher Simiæ, as far as bodily structure is concerned.4 I do not think the absence of reversions of structure in man is of much weight; C. Vogt indeed argues that Microcephalous idiots is a case of reversion.5 No one who believes in evolution will doubt that the Phocæ6 are descended from some terrestrial carnivore; yet no one would expect to meet with any such reversion in them. The lesser divergeance of character in the races of man in comparison with the species of Simiadæ, may perhaps be accounted for by man having spread over the world at a much later period than did the Simiadæ.7 I am fully prepared to admit the high antiquity of man; but then we have evidence in the Dryopithecus of the high antiquity of the Anthropomorphous Simiæ.8

I am glad to hear that you are at work on your fossil plants, which of late years have afforded so rich a field for discovery.

With my best thanks for your great kindness and with much respect | I remain Dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin

PS Your article on the transformists in the Revue which I read some time ago interested me much.—9


See letter from Gaston de Saporta, 18 March 1872. Saporta had received a copy of the French edition of Descent.
In his letter of 18 March 1872, Saporta had argued that humans developed from a type which originated in a boreal zone, while simians developed in the tropics. Saporta had based his argument for separate orders for humans and simians on a few characteristics, for example, tree-climbing in simians as opposed to walking in humans.
Simia was a Linnaean genus that included most primates except lemurs (Lemur) and humans (Homo). These genera were part of the Linnaean order of Primates along with the genus Vespertilio, which included all bats (Linnaeus 1758–9). The genus name Simia is no longer used.
St George Jackson Mivart maintained in ‘Ape resemblances to man’ (Mivart 1871d) that there could be no doubt that humans were closely related to the anthropoid division of Old World apes. Mivart concluded, ‘I none the less completely differ from him [CD] when I include the totality of man’s being. So considered, Science convinces me that a monkey and a mushroom differ less from each other than do a monkey and a man.’
CD refers to Carl Vogt and Vogt 1867. See also Descent 1: 121 and n. 34.
Phoca is a genus of earless seals.
In his letter of 18 March 1872, Saporta contrasted the prolific speciation in simians with the marked lack of speciation in humans after their divergence from a hypothetical common ancestor. Simiadae was one of three suborders of Primates in Thomas Henry Huxley’s classification, the others being Anthropidae and Lemuridae (T. H. Huxley 1869, p. 99; see also Descent 1: 195). Only humans were placed in Anthropidae, with all other apes and monkeys in Simiadae. The modern family Hominidae includes humans along with the great apes (orang-utans, gorillas, and chimpanzees).
Dryopithecus is an extinct ape genus of the Miocene period. The first fossils of a species of Dryopithecus were found by Edouard Lartet in France (Lartet 1856; see also Descent 1: 199).
CD refers to Saporta’s article ‘L’école transformiste et ses derniers travaux’ (The transformist school and its recent works), which appeared in the 9 October 1869 issue of Revue des deux mondes (Saporta 1869). CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.


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

Lartet, Edouard. 1856. Note sur un grand singe fossile qui se rattache au groupe des singes supérieurs. Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences 43: 219–23.

Linnaeus, Carolus (Carl von Linné). 1758–9. Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. 10th edition. 2 vols. Stockholm: Laurentius Salvius.

Saporta, Gaston de. 1869. L’école transformiste et ses dernièrs travaux. Revue des deux mondes 2d ser. 83: 635–74.

Vogt, Carl. 1867. Mémoire sur les microcéphales ou hommes-singes. Reprinted from Mémoires de l’Institute national genévois, vol. 11. Geneva: Georg, Libraire de l’Institute Genevois.


Responds to GdeS’s comments on Descent [see 8246]. Cannot give up belief in close relationship of man to higher Simiae.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Louis Charles Joseph Gaston (Gaston) de Saporta, comte de Saporta
Sent from
Source of text
Archives Gaston de Saporta (private collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8282,” accessed on 5 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20