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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   26 [February 1863]1



My dear Huxley

I have just finished with very great interest “Man’s Place”.2 I never fail to admire the clearness & condensed vigour of your style,—as one calls it, but really of your thought.— I have no criticisms; nor is it likely that I could have. But I think you could have added some interesting matter on the character or disposition of the young Ourangs which have been kept in France & England. I shd. have thought you might have enlarged a little on the later embryological changes in man & on his rudimentary structure—tail as compared with tail of higher monkeys intermaxillary bone, false ribs & I daresay other points—such as muscles of ears &c &c.—

I was very much struck with admiration at the opening pages of Part II (& oh what a delicious sneer, as good as a dessert, at p. 106.):3 but my admiration is unbounded at p. 109 to 112.4 I declare I never in my life read anything grander. Bacon himself could not have charged a few paragraphs with more condensed & cutting sense than you have done.5 It is truly grand. I regret extremely that you could not, or did not, end your book (not that I mean to say a word against the Geolog. Hist.) with those pages. With a Book, as with a fine day, one likes it to end with a glorious sunset.—

I congratulate you on its publication; but do not be disappointed if it does not sell largely; parts are highly scientific, & I have often remarked that the best book often do not get soon appreciated; certainly large sale is no proof of the highest merit.— But I hope it may be widely distributed & I am rejoiced to see in your note to Miss Rhadamanthus that a second thousand is called for of the little Book.—6

What a letter that is of Owen’s in the Athenæum;7 how cleverly he will utterly muddle & confound the public.— Indeed he quite muddled me, till I read again your “concise statement”8 (which is capitally clear) & then I saw that my suspicion was true that he has entirely changed his ground to size of Brain. How candid he shows himself to have taken the slipped brain!9 I am intensely curious to see whether Lyell will answer. Lyell has been, I fear, rather rash to enter on subject on which he of course knows nothing by himself.

By Heavens Owen will shake himself, when he sees what an antagonist he has made for himself in you.—

with hearty admiration   Farewell | C. Darwin

I am fearfully disappointed at Lyells excessive caution in expressing any judgment on Species or origin of man.—


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from T. H. Huxley, 25 February 1863.
CD refers to Huxley’s Evidence as to man’s place in nature (T. H. Huxley 1863b); CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 423–4).
Part 2 of T. H. Huxley 1863b, pp. 57–118, examined ‘the relations of man to the lower animals’. CD also refers to the paragraph in which Huxley ridiculed Richard Owen’s axiom concerning the ‘continuous operation of the ordained becoming of living things’. Owen first used the phrase in his presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1858 (Owen 1858, p. li); he also used the phrase in his unsigned review of Origin ([Owen] 1860a, p. 500). Huxley wrote (T. H. Huxley 1863b, p. 106): At the present moment, but one such process of physical causation has any evidence in its favour; or, in other words, there is but one hypothesis regarding the origin of species of animals in general which has any scientific existence—that propounded by Mr. Darwin. … and though I have heard of the announcement of a formula touching ‘the ordained continuous becoming of organic forms,’ it is obvious that it is the first duty of a hypothesis to be intelligible, and that a qua-quâ-versal proposition of this kind, which may be read backwards, or forwards, or sideways, with exactly the same amount of signification, does not really exist, though it may seem to do so.
CD refers to the conclusion of part 2 of Evidence as to man’s place in nature (see n. 3, above), where Huxley addressed the ‘repugnance’ he believed the majority of his readers would feel in response to his conclusions regarding human origins. He dismissed the cry, ‘We are men and women, not a mere better sort of apes’, as irrelevant, repeating that he saw no basis for a structural or ‘psychical’ line of demarcation between the animal world and humankind. Yet, he maintained, this should not detract from a sense of grandeur when contemplating humanity’s place in nature in relation to that of the ‘brutes’, for ‘whether from them or not, [humanity] is assuredly not of them’ (T. H. Huxley 1863b, pp. 109–12).
CD refers to the philosopher and essayist, Francis Bacon.
Huxley’s Evidence as to man’s place in nature sold quickly, notwithstanding its ‘highly scientific’ nature (see letter from T. H. Huxley, 25 February 1863, n. 4). In his letter to CD of 25 February 1863, Huxley nicknamed Henrietta Emma Darwin ‘Miss Henrietta Minor Rhadamanthus Darwin’, after receiving her criticisms of T. H Huxley 1863a.
CD refers to Owen’s letter published in the Athenæum on 21 February 1863, pp. 262–3, under the heading ‘Ape-origin of man as tested by the brain’. In the letter Owen defended himself against the criticisms implicit in Charles Lyell’s assessment (C. Lyell 1863a) of Owen’s contribution to the debate on human and simian brain anatomy.
CD refers to the section in Huxley’s Evidence as to man’s place in nature entitled ‘A succinct history of the controversy respecting the cerebral structure of man and the apes’ (T. H. Huxley 1863b, pp. 113–18).
In his letter in the Athenæum, 21 February 1863, pp. 262–3, Owen defended his use of the chimpanzee brain drawn by Jacob Lodewijk Coenraad Schroeder van der Kolk and Willem Vrolik in 1849 (Schroeder van der Kolk and Vrolik 1849). Owen had originally used their diagrams to illustrate the degree to which the cerebrum covers the cerebellum in the highest apes (Owen 1861a). Lyell had pointed out Owen’s error in drawing this conclusion from the dried and shrunken specimen represented by these diagrams (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 481–6). In his letter to the Athenæum, Owen rejected Lyell’s criticisms and claimed that he had used the diagrams solely to give an indication of the relative size of chimpanzee and human brains. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863] and n. 25.


Praise of Man’s place.

Owen’s muddling letter in Athenæum [21 Feb 1863, pp. 262–3].

Is disappointed in Lyell’s excessive caution on species and origin of man [in Antiquity of man].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine Archives (Huxley 5: 191)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4013,” accessed on 16 November 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11