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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Enrico Morselli   10 April 1874

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Ap 10 1874

Dear Sir

I have received the Essay which you have been so kind as to send me, & have had parts translated to me.1 As far as I understand the discussion, I am inclined to agree with you.2 Atavism strictly means the return of a character possessed by some former progenitor, & I cannot understand how new modifications can thus arise. The more I study nature, the more I feel convinced that species generally change by extremely slight modifications.

As I am much engaged I hope that you will excuse the brevity of this letter, & with my best thanks I remain | dear Sir | yours faithfully | Charles Darwin


A lightly annotated copy of Morselli’s paper ‘Sopra una rara anomalia dell’osso malare’ (On a rare anomaly of malar bone; Morselli 1872) is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
CD cited Morselli’s paper in Descent 2d ed., p. 39 n. 40, in a discussion of how the malar bone was fused in adult humans, but in two parts in the human embryo, most lower animals, and ‘lower prognathous races’.


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Morselli, Enrico. 1872. Sopra una rara anomalia dell’osso malare. Annuario della Società dei Naturalisti in Modena 7: 1–50.


Thanks EM for essay ["Sopra un rara anomalia dell’osso malare", Annu. Soc. Nat. Modena 7 (1873): 1–50]. CD agrees as far as he understands. Cannot see how new modifications could arise by atavism. "The more I study nature, the more I feel convinced that species generally change by extremely slight modifications."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Enrico Morselli
Sent from
Source of text
Piero Leonardi (private collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9403,” accessed on 7 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22