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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. H. Miller   [after 5 June 1860]1


My dear Miller,

I had no thought that you would measure thickness of walls of cells; but if you will, and allow me to give your measurements it will be immense advantage.2 As it is no trouble, I send more specimens. If you measure please observe that I measured thickness of walls of hexagonal prisms not very near base: but from your very interesting remarks the lower part of walls ought to be measured—

Thank you for suggestion about how bees judge of angles and distances.3 I will keep it in mind. It is a complete perplexity to me, and yet certainly insects can rudely somehow judge of distances. There are special difficulties on account of gradation in size between worker-cells and the larger drone-cells. I am trying to test the case practically by getting combs of different species, and of our own bee from different climates. I have lately had some from W. Indies of our common bee,4 but cells seem certainly to be larger; but they have not yet been carefully measured. I will keep your suggestion in mind whenever I return to experiments on living Bees; but that will not be soon.

As you have been considering my little discussion in relation to Ld Brougham,5 and as I have been more vituperated for this part than for almost any other, I should like just to tell you how I think the case stands. The discussion viewed by itself is worth little more than the paper on which it is printed, exepting in so far as it contains 3 or 4 certainly new facts. But to those who are inclined to believe the general truth of the conclusion that species and their instincts are slowly modified by what I call natural selection, I think my discussion nearly removes a very great difficulty. I believe in its truth chiefly from the existence of the Melipona, which makes a comb so intermediate in structure between that of Humble and Hive bee; and especially from the new and curious fact of the bees making smooth cups or saucers, when they excavated in a thick wax, which saucers stood so close that hexagons were built on their intersecting edges. And lastly because when they excavated on their slip of wax, the excavation on both sides of similar smooth basins was stopped, and flat planes left between the nearly opposed basins. If my view were wholly false these cases would I think never have occurred. Sedgwick and Co may abuse me to their hearts content,6 but I shall as yet continue to think that mine is a rational explanation (as far as it goes) of their method of work.

With cordial thanks for all your great kindness. | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin


Dated by the relationship to the preceding letter.
CD cited Miller’s measurements of the thickness of the cell wall of hive-bees in Origin 3d ed., p. 252. See letters to W. H. Miller, 1 December [1860], 27 December [1860], and 31 December [1860].
See Origin, p. 227.
See Correspondence vol. 7, letters from Richard Hill, 10 January 1859 and 26 November 1859.
CD prefaced his discussion of bees’ cells in the first edition of Origin with an allusion to Henry Peter Brougham’s work on the same subject. The passage reads (Origin, p. 224): We hear from mathematicians that bees have practically solved a recondite problem, and have made their cells of the proper shape to hold the greatest possible amount of honey, with the least possible consumption of precious wax in their construction. CD refers to Brougham 1839 and 1858. See also Correspondence vol. 7, letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 8 [June 1858], n. 3.
Adam Sedgwick criticised CD’s explanation of the construction of the cells of honey-bees, stating that his views made ‘demands on our credulity, that are utterly beyond endurance, and do not give us one true natural step towards an explanation of the phenomena—viz., the perfection of the structures, and their adaptation to their office.’ ([Sedgwick] 1860, p. 335).


Brougham, Henry Peter. 1839. Dissertations on subjects of science connected with natural theology: being the concluding volumes of the new edition of Paley’s work. 2 vols. London: C. Knight.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Origin 3d ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 3d edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1861.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

[Sedgwick, Adam.] 1860. Objections to Mr Darwin’s theory of the origin of species. Spectator, 24 March 1860, pp. 285–6. [Reprinted with revisions in ibid., 7 April 1860, pp. 334–5.]


Discusses measurements of bees’ cells. Describes modification in structure of Melipona hive. Notes importance of natural selection.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Hallowes Miller
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 146
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2391,” accessed on 16 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8