skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Hutton Balfour   14 January 1862

27 Inverleith Row | Edinburgh

14 Jany 1862

My Dear Darwin

Many thanks for your kindness in sending me a copy of your interesting paper on the Dimorphic condition of the species of Primula.1 I had read the notice of it in the Gardener Chronicle with great attention.2 The facts are curious & have a most important bearing on the subject of species generally.

I hope to be able to examine some of the Primulas in the garden this year with the light which you have thrown upon him3.

We have just had Huxley with us promulgating his views in regard to the Zoological relations of man & monkeys.4 He strongly insisted on the fact that the lowest apes do not differ more in zoological structure from the highest apes than the latter do from man, & therefore they & man are in one order. If we go on in the same way taking order after order we shall find that the lowest in one order do not differ more from the highest in the same order than the latter do from the order above—& thus all animals are of one order— There will be disorders in place of orders. No doubt there is one great type throughout the orders & that is all that Huxley proves.

I still think that he must take man with all his functions intellectual & moral in order to determine his position. We are not entitled to leave these out of our consideration even viewing the matter zoologically. The lowest man can be raised by education. He is a religious animal & has a conscience. He is capable of knowing about a God & a future state. In this he differs from all animals. The tendency of man when left to himself has been to degenerate. This is shown by Humboldt & is very decidedly brought out by Whately. & Whewell.5 Huxley was cautious & did not boldly declare that he considered man & apes to have the same origin or to be varieties of the same species.

Many of the audience however considered that as the drift of his observations.

He gave a lucid exposition of structure & he was listened to with much interest & attention

Man is the great stumbling block in regard to all recent theories of species. He stands by himself as a Creation I think, & the Records in regard to him are explicit. I cannot overlook them in considering his plan in creation.

You & others may think us in the north prejudiced in this matter.

Excuse this yarn which I have spun most unwittingly.

Browne & I often talk of you & the old Plinian Society days when as young naturalists we discussed many points of interest which have since occupied prominent places in Science.6

I am | Yours sincerely | J. H. Balfour


CD read his paper, ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, before the Linnean Society of London on 21 November 1861; it was published in the number of the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) issued on 1 March 1862 (General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society, p. vi). CD had written of perhaps ordering fifty copies of the paper for distribution among individuals who had assisted his study by sending him specimens (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to George Bentham, 24 November [1861]). His presentation list for these pre-prints, probably drawn up between mid-December 1861 and the end of the first week in January, is reproduced in Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix III; Balfour’s name appears on the list.
Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 30 November 1861, pp. 1048–9.
Balfour was regius keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
Thomas Henry Huxley delivered two lectures on man’s relation to the lower animals at the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh in January 1862 (see letters from T. H. Huxley, 13 January 1862 and 20 January 1862).
See, for example, Humboldt and Bonpland 1819–29, 3: 208, Whately 1831, pp. 119–200, Whately 1854, and Whewell 1854, pp. 166–90 (especially p. 189). On Richard Whately’s degenerationist views, see also Gillespie 1977.
CD became a member of the Plinian Natural History Society in 1826 while an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh; at the time, William Alexander Francis Browne was one of the society’s five presidents. During the period that CD was a member, Browne and others read papers on the similarities between human and animal mentality; in 1827, Browne caused controversy by arguing that mind and consciousness had an entirely material basis. See Ashworth 1935, pp. 101–6 and Desmond and Moore 1991, pp. 31–3, 38.


Ashworth, J. H. 1935. Charles Darwin as a student in Edinburgh, 1825–1827. [Read 28 October 1935.] Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 55 (1934–5): 97–113.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society: General index to the first twenty volumes of the Journal (Botany), and the botanical portion of the Proceedings, November 1838 to June 1886, of the Linnean Society. London: Linnean Society of London. 1888.

Gillespie, Neal C. 1977. The duke of Argyll, evolutionary anthropology, and the art of scientific controversy. Isis 68: 40-54.

Whately, Richard. 1831. Introductory lectures on political economy, being part of a course delivered in Easter term, 1831. London. [Vols. 3,10]

Whately, Richard. 1854. On the origin of civilisation. A lecture by his grace the archbishop of Dublin to the Young Men’s Christian Association. London.

Whewell, William. 1854. Of the plurality of worlds: an essay. Also a dialogue on the same subject. 2d ed. London.


Thanks for Primula paper [Collected papers 2: 45–63]; will examine some [Edinburgh] Botanic Garden samples in its light.

Huxley visiting Edinburgh and spoke on man’s zoological relations with monkeys [see Man’s place in nature (1863)]. JHB disagrees with his views.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Hutton Balfour
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160.1: 31
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3387,” accessed on 19 August 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10