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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Henry Fawcett   6 December [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Dec. 6th

My dear Sir

I had intended writing to you before I received your obliging note this morning.2 I have been struck with admiration at your clear & forcible exposition of my views; & I beg leave to thank you cordially for all your kind & generous expression towards me, & likewise for the sake of the subject.— I have been much pleased with your metaphor or rather simile of Mont Blanc; & as I am now preparing a corrected Edition, I shall give this simile as suggested by you.3 Many parts of the Article have interested me much.— I am indebted to you for having recalled to my recollection Mr Hopkins passage about Denudation. He is mistaken in supposing that I ever meant to say that when a formation has once been fairly upraised that it has been wholly denuded away. I referred exclusively to matter recently deposited, & not consolidated being denuded during its first elevation.4 But as the subject has been broached by him, I will touch on it, & ask how he understands the presence of thousands of square miles (as in N.E., S. America, described by Humboldt) of naked metamorphic schists & plutonic rocks. Will anyone believe that these have been metamorphosed in their present uncovered state? on the contrary we must admit that they were once covered & that subsequently all the sedimentary strata have in such cases been denuded away over whole regions.—5

Nothing has pleased me so much personally as your remarks (with the quotation from Mills) on the proper spirit & method of scientific research.6 I never could see that I was wrong, however much the inductive system was hurled at my head, & now I feel sure I was not.7 As you seem so kindly interested in my work, I may mention that I believe that the key of my work was gained by an unusually inductive line of research. For when I began to suspect from geographical distribution &c &c &c, that new species have been formed by descent, I determined to work at domestic productions with not one single idea in my head; & no one can know the years of blind labour I had, before I clearly saw that Selection was man’s chief means. When I had got thus far I strongly suspected that this was the key to nature’s work; but it was some time before I could conceive how it could be applicable,—not indeed until I chanced to read Malthus’s noble work—8 I may just add, simple as it may now appear, that it took me many years thought before I saw the absolute necessity of (& manner of understanding) the principle as I have called it of divergence; which no one seems to perceive is new. Oh the work I had in tabulating the plants of differently sized areas, & puzzling why everywhere there was so much diversity of forms!— But I really ought to beg your pardon, occupied as you now are with exciting political concerns, for troubling you with these personal details, which I have not mentioned to others.—

I truly sympathise with you in your great calamity of loss of eyesight: The admiration of every right-minded man at your noble & courageous zeal to play a fitting part in life, must be some, though a poor, consolation to you.—9

With very sincere thanks, I beg leave to remain | My dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin


The year is established by the reference to Fawcett’s review of Origin (Fawcett 1860).
Fawcett’s letter to CD has not been found.
In his review of Origin in Macmillan’s Magazine, Fawcett wrote: An individual would excite a smile of ridicule who, having discovered that Mont Blanc three thousand years ago was of the same altitude as it is at the present time, should consider that he had refuted those theories of modern geology which suppose that the stupendous peaks of Switzerland were lifted from off their ocean bed, and that every physical change in this earth’s appearance has been produced by the indefinitely prolonged operation of the same physical causes which on every side around us continue in ceaseless activity. The extinction of species and the introduction of new ones are associated with periods which can only be described as geological epochs; and the time which has elapsed since the occurrence of the most remote recorded historical event is but an instant compared with the period which is indicated by the deposition of one of the strata which tell the history of this planet’s structure. (Fawcett 1860, p. 87.) CD referred to this passage in Origin 3d ed., p. 138.
In Origin, pp. 289–91, CD had argued that the geological record was incomplete in part because large periods of time separated successive strata, and gave as an example of the absence of significant deposits on the west coast of South America, because of the action of the waves as the land was uplifted from the sea. Fawcett, in his review, had quoted William Hopkins’s argument that it was extremely unlikely that a whole stratum could be removed by denudation, since when the land was uplifted, denudation tended to be uneven (Fawcett 1860, p. 90).
CD put forward this argument in Origin 3d ed., pp. 314–15. CD refers to Alexander von Humboldt and Humboldt 1814–29.
In Fawcett 1860, p. 84, Fawcett quoted John Stuart Mill: The mode of investigation which, from the proved inapplicability of direct methods of observation and experiment, remains to us as the main source of the knowledge we possess, or can acquire, respecting the conditions and laws of recurrence of the more complex phenomena, is called in its most general expression the deductive method, and consists of three operations—the first, one of direct induction; the second, of ratiocination; and the third, of verification.
See, for example, Correspondence vol. 7, letter from Adam Sedgwick, 24 November 1859: ‘You have deserted—after a start in that tram-road of all solid physical truth—the the true method of induction’.
CD read Thomas Robert Malthus’s Essay on the principle of population (Malthus 1826) in 1838 (see Notebooks, Notebook D, 134e and 135e). For an analysis of CD’s thinking and method of work during this period, see Kohn 1980.
Fawcett had been blinded in a shooting accident in 1858, but had determined that the misfortune would make no difference to his political ambitions (ODNB). He decided to stand for election in the London borough of Southwark in November 1860; he withdrew on 8 December (Stephen 1885, pp. 189–94).


Expresses his admiration for HF’s review of Origin in Macmillan’s Magazine (Fawcett 1860).

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Henry Fawcett
Sent from
Source of text
Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3012F,” accessed on 3 August 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18 (Supplement)