skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   16 December [1857]1

Down Bromley Kent

Dec. 16th

My dear Huxley

In my opinion your Catalogue is simply the very best Resume by far, on the whole Science of Natural History, which I have ever seen.2

I really have no criticisms; I agree with every word. Your metaphors & explanations strikee me as admirable. In many parts it is curious how what you have written agrees with what I have been writing, only with the melancholy difference for me that you put everything in twice as striking a manner, as I do.

I append more for the sake of showing that I have attended to the whole, than for any other object, a few most trivial criticisms.

I was amused to meet with some of the arguments, which you advanced in talk with me, on classification; & it pleases me, as my long proses were so far not thrown away, as they led you to bring out here some good sentences.3

But on classification I am not quite sure that I yet wholly go with you, though I agree with every word you have here said.— The whole, I repeat, in my opinion is admirable & excellent—

Ever yours | C Darwin

I return by the same post your pamphlet.—


p. 2. all crust of earth is not formed of strata, as in injected Trap and 5 masses of the wider extent.

p. 6. indefinite series of alterations: according to our present knowledge is not thus too strong, though I believe in it.

15. Silex chief ingredient of flint; may it not be called sole ingredient.

18. Sexes never combined in same individual. Quatrefages seems to believe in Serranus being hermaphrodite;6 I forget author’s name.

20. Is it wise to give, without any allusion to common view, your view of Star-fish &c. being Annulosa; the rest of world looking at them as type of one of the grandest Divisions of animal kingdom.7

27. I think little expansion is wanted in middle paragraph to show how a fish can be morphologically more complex and physiologically less so than the highest molluscs. I do not quite understand.

Higher in page. Sentence beginning “the other sense” was not at first clear, as I did not see with what contrasted.

39. I do not understand how you can say that if only fossils existed there would be no difficulty in practically species—as there is variation amongst fossils, as with recent, there seems to be same difficulty in grouping.

40. Top sentence strikes me as too long.

44. Mud being deposited in all parts of sea, sufficient to imbed remains and to be preserved to future generations, I believe this to be the gravest of errors: but I cannot enter into argument much too long.

57. Is it not bold to say one foot never deposited in one year: think of floods after earthquake, at least add never a foot over wide area.


The year is given by the reference to Huxley’s Catalogue (see n. 2, below).
CD was at the time reading proof-sheets of Huxley’s ‘explanatory introduction’ to A catalogue of the collection of fossils in the Museum of Practical Geology (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 December [1857]). The work, with Robert Etheridge as co-author, remained unpublished until 1865.
CD had discussed classification in letters to T. H. Huxley, 15 September [1857], 26 September [1857], [before 3 October 1857], and 3 October [1857].
It is likely that the following comments on Huxley’s introduction, transcribed from a copy in DAR 145, were enclosed with this letter. The original manuscript of the enclosure is not with this letter in the Huxley papers at Imperial College.
A space was left at this point by the copyist.
Quatrefages de Bréau 1855–6, p. 80, referred to fishes of the genus Serranus. The case is cited in Natural selection, p. 44, where CD also mentioned that Jean Louis Armand de Quatrefage de Bréau’s source was perhaps a memoir by Adolphe Dufossé (Dufossé 1856).
Huxley, drawing upon Johannes Peter Müller’s researches on the developmental history of echinoderms, had arrived at the conclusion that the structure of the larvae of echinoderms was founded on a plan similar to the idealised form of annelid larvae. He proposed the unorthodox view that echinoderms were most closely related to the annelids (see T. H. Huxley 1856–7, 13: 635–9, and Winsor 1976, pp. 113–21).


Dufossé, Adolphe. 1856. De l’hermaphodisme chez certains vertébrés. Annales des Sciences Naturelles. Zoologie 4th ser. 5: 295–332.

Huxley, Thomas Henry. 1856–7. Lectures on general natural history. Medical Times & Gazette n.s. 12: 429–32, 481–4, 507–11, 563–7, 618–23; 13: 27–30, 131–4, 157–60, 278–81, 383–6, 462–3, 537–8, 586–8, 635–9; 14: 133–5, 181–3, 255-7, 353–5, 505–8, 638–40; 15: 159–62, 186–9, 238–41, 467-71.

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.

Quatrefages de Bréau, Jean Louis Armand de. 1855–6. Physiologie comparée. Les métamorphoses. Revue des deux Mondes 10 (1855): 90–116, 275–314; 3 (1856): 496– 519, 859-83; 4 (1856): 55–82.

Winsor, Mary Pickard. 1976. Starfish, jellyfish and the order of life: issues in nineteenth-century science. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.


THH’s catalogue [THH and R. Etheridge, A catalogue of the collection of fossils in the Museum of Practical Geology (1865), part published in 1857] best résumé he has seen of science of natural history. On classification he is not quite sure that he wholly goes along with THH. Encloses a few criticisms of THH’s preface.[enclosure survives as copy only].

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: 151); DAR 145: 178
Physical description
4pp, Cencl 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2185,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6