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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hugh Falconer   18 January [1863]1

The Athenæum

18th. Jany

My Dear Darwin

Many thanks for your note with the enclosure from Wallace which I shall try and hunt down—I mean the Mastodon.2 But I do not fear him quoad the Australian Case.3 That was an imposter from the outset—probably picked up in the valley of Tarija, when a certain enterprising traveller—not Charles Darwin—was there.4

Wallace—whom I called up at Cambridge—was disposed to stick up for the Sumatran Elephant—but I do not think the case will hold—beyond a moderate measure of variation, not of specific value.5

John Evans has found a jaw with teeth in the line between the angle of the perfect leg and wing of Archæopteryx!!6

Waterhouse I am told pronounces it to be a fish’s jaw.7 Fancy only a feathered Fish! But joking apart it is odd, that this jaw should present itself alongside of the fossil.— I enclose John Evans’ sketch.8 Kindly return it to me. I am sure you will be amused—at so many signs of the shallow examination given to the precious object in the first instance.9

I do hope and trust that you will seize an occasion, to do what you hint at doing in one of your notes,10—i.e. to strike in Charles ‘with the Strong Arm’ against the Charlatan pretensions of the common enemy of British Naturalists.11

I have been collating your charming lines, forming the commencement of your little paper on the ‘sac’ in the cirripedes N.H.R.—with the avowal of the blunder about British Foss. monkeys.12 What a contrast in the Candour of the one—and the double eyed Fouchè-ism of the other!13 Had Satan himself been compelled to a confession, that is the style he would have adopted. But we are philosophes—and must not use naughty words—for fear of the example.

My Dear Darwin | Yours Ever Sinly | H Falconer

PS. When you write thank Wallace very much.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter, the letter from Hugh Falconer, 9 January 1863, and the letter to A. R. Wallace, 14 January [1863] (see n. 2, below).
CD’s note has not been found. The reference is probably to Schneider 1863; in his letter to CD of 14 January [1863], Alfred Russel Wallace enclosed information for Falconer on Carl Friedrich Adolf Schneider’s reported find of mastodon fossil teeth in Timor, in the Malay Archipelago. See also Correspondence vol. 9, letter from A. R. Wallace, 30 November 1861. See letter to Hugh Falconer, 5 [and 6] January [1863], and letter from Hugh Falconer, 9 January 1863.
In 1844, on the basis of Paul Edmund de Strzelecki’s report of a single fossil tooth found in Australia, Richard Owen proposed the species Mastodon australis (Owen 1844). He thereafter cited the supposed species as evidence of the remarkable distribution of the Proboscidean order. Falconer questioned the provenance of the fossil, arguing that the tooth was from the South American species M. andium (Falconer 1863, pp. 96–101). See also letter to Hugh Falconer, 5 [and 6] January [1863] and n. 6, and letter from Hugh Falconer, 9 January 1863 and n. 3.
Tarija is in Bolivia. Falconer refers to Strzelecki (see n. 3, above), who travelled up the west coast of the Americas, from Chile to California, in 1836 (ADB).
In October 1862, Wallace stayed at Magdalene College, Cambridge, as a guest of Alfred Newton, and attended his first meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Wallace 1905, 2: 45–6). Sumatra, like Timor (see n. 2 above), is part of the Malay Archipelago.
See letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 January [1863] and n. 11. Falconer refers to Archaeopteryx, the fossil that was both reptilian and bird-like; John Evans discovered the animal’s cranium, which Owen had overlooked (Owen 1862a), after Samuel Joseph Mackie reported Evans’s discovery of the skull in the Geologist (Mackie 1863). Evans also identified the creature’s jaw and teeth (see the letter from Hugh Falconer to John Evans, 15 January 1863, in the Falconer Museum, Forres, Moray, Scotland (H.363c), and John Evans 1865, pp. 418–21). Between Owen’s description of Archaeopteryx, presented to the Royal Society of London on 20 December 1862, and his publication of this description in the second half of 1863, an engraving of the jaw was added to plate 1 (Owen 1862a, fig. 1, p, and fig. 3, p). Owen also mentioned Evans’s discovery of the jaw in the text (Owen 1862a, p. 46), but did not offer his own opinion regarding its nature. There is an annotated copy of Owen 1862a in the Darwin Library–CUL.
George Robert Waterhouse was keeper of the department of geology at the British Museum. In an article published in the January number of the Geologist, prior to Evans’s discovery of the jaw, Mackie wrote that both Owen and Waterhouse had inferred that the fossil was a ‘true bird’ (Mackie 1863, p. 4). Evans discussed whether the jaw belonged to the rest of the fossil (Evans 1865, pp. 419–21), and argued that if the jaw was part of Archaeopteryx, the evidence of its ornithological nature was diminished since birds lacked teeth.
The sketch has not been found.
See n. 6, above.
CD had mentioned to Joseph Dalton Hooker that he was thinking of voting against Owen when the council of the Royal Society was next elected (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 January [1863] and n. 9); in his letter to Falconer of 5 [and 6] January [1863], CD expressed a less specific plan of slighting Owen ‘by some overt act’.
The allusion may be to William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 4.2.121–4: ‘There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats,/For I am armed so strong in honesty/That they pass by me as the idle wind,/Which I respect not’ (Wells and Taylor eds. 1988).
In his letter to the Natural History Review, [before 10 October 1862] (Correspondence vol. 10; Collected papers 2: 85–7), CD noted how a sac on a particular barnacle, or cirripede, that he described as auditory, had recently been described by the Russian zoologist August David Krohn as ovarian (Krohn 1859). CD wrote: ‘As Dr. Krohn is no doubt a much better dissector than I am, I fully admitted my error and still suppose that he is right’, but he also urged other scientists to continue to investigate the problem. Falconer contrasted CD’s style with Owen’s in his letter in the ‘Miscellaneous’ section of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History (Owen 1862b); Owen announced that the teeth he had described as belonging to a fossil monkey from the Eocene sands of Kyson, Suffolk (Owen 1840), were ‘most probably’ the lower molars of a species of Hyracotherium, an Eocene horse, but that the molars were easily confused.
Joseph Fouché was a French statesman noted for his adroit and unprincipled manoeuvering and duplicity (EB).


ADB: Allgemeine deutsche Biographie. Under the auspices of the Historical Commission of the Royal Academy of Sciences. 56 vols. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot. 1875–1912.

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Evans, John. 1865. On portions of a cranium and of a jaw, in the slab containing the fossil remains of the Archæopteryx. Natural History Review n.s. 5: 415–21.

Krohn, August David. 1859. Beobachtungen über den Cementapparat und die weiblichen Zeugungsorgane einiger Cirripedien. Archiv für Naturgeschichte 25 (pt 1): 355–64.

Mackie, Samuel Joseph. 1863. The aeronauts of the Solenhofen age. Geologist 6: 1–8.

Owen, Richard. 1840. Description of the Mammalian remains found at Kyson in Suffolk. Annals of Natural History 4: 191–4.

Schneider, Carl Friedrich Adolph. 1863. Bijdrage tot de geologische kennis van Timor. Natuurkundig Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch Indië 25: 87–107

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1905. My life: a record of events and opinions. 2 vols. London: Chapman & Hall.


Jaw with teeth found associated with Archaeopteryx fossil. Waterhouse pronounces it a fish’s jaw.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hugh Falconer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Athenaeum Club
Source of text
DAR 164: 13
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3926,” accessed on 18 August 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11