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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Huxley   6 May 1862

Jermyn St

May 6th. 1862

My dear Darwin

I was very glad to get your note about my address—1 I profess to be a great stoic you know, but there are some folks from whom I am glad to get a pat on the back— Still I am not quite content with that and I want to know what you think of the argument—whether you agree with what I say about contemporaneity or not and whether you are prepared to admit as I think your views compel you to do—that the whole Geological Record is only the skimmings of the pot of life—2

Furthermore I want you to chuckle with me over the notion I find a great many people entertain—that the address is dead against your views— The fact being, as they will by & bye wake up see that yours is the only hypothesis which is not negatived by the facts.— One of the great merits being that it allows not only of indefinite standing still but of indefinite retrogression3

I am going to try to work the whole argument into an intelligible form for the general public as a chapter of my forthcoming ‘Evidence’ (one half of which I am happy to say is now written) so I shall be very glad of any criticisms or hints4

Since I saw you indeed from the following Tuesday onwards—I have amused myself by spending ten days or so in bed.—5 I had an unaccountable prostration of strength which they called influenza—but which I believe was nothing but more obstruction in the liver—

Of course I can’t persuade people of this—and they will have it that it is overwork— I have come to the conviction however that steady work hurts nobody— the real destroyer of hard working men being not their work—but dinners late hours—and the universal humbug & excitement of Society

I mean to get out of all that & keep out of it—

Ever | Yours faithfully | T. H. Huxley

CD annotations

1.6 the whole … life— 1.7] cross in margin, pencil
4.2 I had … influenza 4.3] cross in margin, pencil
5.3 but dinners … Society 5.4] two crosses in margin, pencil


Letter to T. H. Huxley, 30 April [1862]. The reference is to Huxley’s anniversary address to the Geological Society of London on 21 February 1862 (T. H. Huxley 1862d); the address was later republished in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London (T. H. Huxley 1862b).
In his address (see n. 1, above), Huxley challenged the assumption that ‘geological contemporaneity is the same thing as chronological synchrony’, arguing that ‘neither physical geology nor palaeontology’ possessed a method by which the ‘absolute synchronism of two strata’ could be demonstrated; all that geology could prove was the ‘local order of succession’. He continued (T. H. Huxley 1862b, p. xlvi): the moment the geologist has to deal with large areas or with completely separated deposits, then the mischief of confounding that “homotaxis” or “similarity of arrangement,” which can be demonstrated, with “synchrony” or “identity of date,” for which there is not a shadow of proof, under the one common term of “contemporaneity” becomes incalculable, and proves the constant source of gratuitous speculations. ‘Skimmings of the pot of life’ was Huxley’s metaphor for the imperfection of the geological record; in Origin, CD had adopted Charles Lyell’s metaphor of the remains of a damaged volume from ‘a history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect’ (Origin 3d ed., pp. 336–7).
Huxley emphasised the persistence of forms in the geological record and criticised the view that the fossil record indicated the progressive modification of forms towards less embryonic or less generalized types (T. H. Huxley 1862b, pp. xlvii–liv). He concluded that ‘any admissible hypothesis of progressive modification must be compatible with persistence without progression through indefinite periods’. For a discussion of Huxley’s views on this point, see A. Desmond 1982, pp. 85–112.
T. H. Huxley 1863a.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), Huxley visited CD at Down House on 6 April 1862.


Desmond, Adrian. 1982. Archetypes and ancestors: palaeontology in Victorian London, 1850–1875. London: Blond & Briggs.

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.


Glad to receive CD’s pat on back for address.

Wants to know what CD thinks of the argument on geological contemporaneity.

On his poor health.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Huxley
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Jermyn St
Source of text
DAR 166.2: 293
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3535,” accessed on 20 January 2022,

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