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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Henry Kendrick Thwaites   15 May 1862

Peradenia, Ceylon

15 May 1862

Dear Mr. Darwin,

In a conversation I had a few evenings ago with our excellent Governor Sir Charles MacCarthy,1 who takes great interest in all that you have published, he mentioned having met with a passage in Plato’s Timæus which reminded him of your theory, and, curiously enough, I had read some short time previously, but I cannot discover where, a remark that Plato had anticipated you in the views you had enunciated in your work on the Origin of Species.

Sir Charles has kindly transcribed for me the passage he referred to, and I have great pleasure in sending it to you, with the note he has written to me with it—2 the “private” in the corner of which only indicating its being sent me by the Governor in his private, not public, capacity; & so it is no breach of confidence my sending it for your perusal: indeed I shall tell Sir Charles I have done so.

Though the ζῶον ἓν of Plato will not mean the original primordial germ of all creation, still it is a fine expression for the aggregate of all created things, is it not?

I have just been enjoying the perusal, in the new number of the Linnean Journal, of your very interesting paper on Dimorphism 3   You will see in my little Enum. Pl. Zeyl. pp. 54 & 205 the same structure noticed in the genera Sethia and Limnanthemum.4

Trusting that your health is improved | I am always | Dear Mr Darwin | Very sincerely your’s | G. H. K. Thwaites.


Private Pavilion. 13th May.

Dear Mr Thwaites,

Many thanks for the books, which I shall be very glad to look into. —

I have transcribed the passage from Plato which I spoke to you about, but on looking at it again, I find that tho’ the concluding words (under-lined) are curiously co-incident, the whole substance could only by a most uncritical process of torture, be construed so as to consider it as foreshadowing the Darwinian theory. The “one animal having (or containing) in itself all animals, mortal & immortal” is evidently the preceding “πᾶν τόδε”, “the universe”, not a single primordial Being containing the germs of all other beings, to be hereafter developed out of it, but the one universal world containing & embracing all kinds of beings, already created & developed.

His whole Cosmogony is fanciful enough, & more of the realm of poetry than philosophy.

I don’t know whether you are a Greek Scholar, but the words I have translated are the essential ones in the passage.

Yrs. ever faithfully | C. J. Mac Carthy

τότε γὰρ οὔτε τούτων ὅσον μὴ τύχῃ τι μετεῖχεν, οὔτε τὸ παράπαν ὀνομάσαι τῶν νῦν ὀνομαζομένων ἀξιόλογον ἦν οὐδέν, οἷον πῦρ καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ εἴ τι τῶν ἄλλων. ἀλλὰ πάντα ταῦτα πρῶτον διεκόσμησεν, ἔπειτα ἐκ τούτων πᾶν τόδε ξυνεστήσατο, ζῶον ἓν ζῶα ἔχον ἅπαντα ἐν ἁυτῷ θνητὰ ἀθανατά τε.

Timaeus. $44.5

CD annotations

0.3 Dear … not? 3.2] crossed blue crayon
4.2 You will … Limnanthemum. 4.4] ‘Villaria dioicus. same sub. [interl] fam. as Menianthes, so ascertain fertility.—’6 added in margin, ink
4.3 Sethia] ‘Erythroxylacea—little order allied to Malpighiaceæ’ interl ink
4.3 Limnanthemum. 4.4] ‘allied to Menyanythes.’ added ink


Charles Justin MacCarthy was appointed governor of Ceylon in 1860 (Modern English biography).
See enclosure and n. 5, below.
Thwaites 1858–64. CD referred to Thwaites’s observations in Forms of flowers, pp. 116 and 122.
Plato, Timaeus, 69B–C. The passage translates: ‘For at that time nothing partook thereof, save by accident, nor was it possible to name anything worth mentioning which bore the names we now give them, such as fire and water, or any of the other elements; but He, in the first place, set all these in order, and then out of these He constructed this present Universe, one single Living Creature containing within itself all living creatures both mortal and immortal.’ (Plato, Timaeus, Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966), p. 179).


‘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.]

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Modern English biography: Modern English biography, containing many thousand concise memoirs of persons who have died since the year 1850. By Frederick Boase. 3 vols. and supplement (3 vols.). Truro, Cornwall: the author. 1892–1921.

Thwaites, George Henry Kendrick. 1858–64. Enumeratio plantarum Zeylaniæ: an enumeration of Ceylon plants, with descriptions of the new and little-known genera and species, observations on their habits, uses, native names, etc. Assisted in the identification of the species and synonymy by J. D. Hooker. 5 pts. London: William Pamplin; Dulau & Co.


Sends CD a quotation from Plato which anticipates the Origin.

Has been enjoying CD’s paper on dimorphism in the Journal of the Linnean Society ["Two forms of Primula", Collected papers 2: 45–63]. He has found similar structures [see Forms of flowers, pp. 116, 122].

Letter details

Letter no.
George Henry Kendrick Thwaites
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Peradeniya, Ceylon
Source of text
DAR 110 (ser. 2): 79–80, DAR 171.1: 3
Physical description
4pp † encl ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3550,” accessed on 20 September 2021,

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