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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. B. Dobell   5 March 1863

29 Duncan Terr

March 5 1863.

Dear Mr Darwin

I have delayed answering your letter until I could give you positive information.1 After some trouble I found among my rough notes the quotation from White but with no other reference than “Library of Royal Medical Society Edinburgh”, some years ago. The quotation is word for word the same as that given by Dr Carpenter p 480 of 1854 Edn. of his Comparative Physiology.2 I sent a copy of it to my friend Dr John Brown of Edinburgh asking him to refer to the Library, if it still existed.3 He has today answered me, & says “The volume is still in the Royal Med Library & the extract is correct— there is no further reference to the case. But if you would like to see it in extenso I can send you the volume in a week or two.”

The author is the same Charles White who wrote the “Regular gradation in man & in different Animals & vegetables” which is in our Library at the Royal Med: Chir Society London’—& which I will lend you if you have not seen it.4

I am much gratified to learn that you think some of the arguments in my Lectures satisfactory.5 I hope to hear that a further acquaintance with them has not altered that opinion. If I may venture to say so, I think the book should be read straight through to give it fair play, & that then it will be found that a simple course of argument has been carried on throughout. The medical reviewers dealt very hardly with the Lectures when they came out, & most of them denied that there was any argument in the book, & indeed chiefly aimed at making fun of it.

I believe that they could only come to such an opinion from absolute carelessness in not taking the trouble to find out the object of the book—for although I am deeply conscious of its great faults & with the ill success I have often had in making my ideas clear, I am conscious also that it cost me many years of work & that it was written with a simple desire to express to the profession what I believed to be valuable.

I am dear Sir | yrs very truly | Horace Dobell

If you would like to see the Memoir from Edinburgh, please say so.

Ch. Darwin Esq.


In his letter to Dobell of 16 February [1863], CD asked for details about a reference in Dobell 1861 to the work of Charles White on the regeneration of amputated supernumerary digits (White 1782, p. 338).
The reference given in Carpenter 1854, p. 480 n., is to White’s ‘work on the “Regeneration of Animal and Vegetable Substances,” 1785, p. 16’. This pagination relates to an offprint of White 1782 distributed to ‘particular friends’; see Charles White, On the regeneration of animal substances (Warrington: printed by W. Eyres, 1785).
The author and physician John Brown was an honorary member of the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh (J. Gray 1952, p. 128).
CD had read White 1799 in 1844 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 14a). Dobell refers to the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, of which he became a fellow in 1862 (Leyland ed. 1888, 1: 59).
See letter to H. B. Dobell, 16 February [1863]. The reference is to Dobell 1861.


Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1854. Principles of comparative physiology. 4th edition. London: John Churchill.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Dobell, Horace. 1861. Lectures on the germs and vestiges of disease, and on the prevention of the invasion and fatality of disease by periodical examinations. London: John Churchill.

Gray, James. 1952. History of the Royal Medical Society, 1737–1937. Edited by Douglas Guthrie and with a foreword by Robert Hutchison. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. [Vols. 10,11]

White, Charles. 1782. On the regeneration of animal substances. [Read 18 December 1782.] Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester 1 (1785): 325–41.

White, Charles. 1799. An account of the regular gradation in man, and in different animals and vegetables; and from the former to the latter. London: C. Dilly.


At CD’s request HBD has traced the quotation; it is on regeneration from Charles White in W. B. Carpenter’s Comparative physiology (1854), p. 480.

Is gratified that CD thinks some of the arguments in his book [Lectures on the germs of disease (1861)] are satisfactory.

Letter details

Letter no.
Horace Benge Dobell
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Duncan Terrace, 29
Source of text
DAR 162: 188
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4027,” accessed on 20 January 2022,

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