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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Hugh Falconer   [25–6 August 1863]1

Down – thank you for telling me about the pliocene mammal,2 which is very remarkable; but has not Owen stated that the pliocene badger is identical with the recent?3 Such a case does indeed well show the stupendous duration of the same form. I have not heard of Suess’ pamphet,4 and should much like to learn the title, if it can be procured; but I am on different subjects just at present. I should rather like to see it rendered highly probable that the process of formation of a new species was short compared to its duration; that is if the process was allowed to be slow and long: the idea is new to me.— Heer’s view that new species are suddenly formed like monsters, I feel a conviction from many reasons is false.—5 Whenever I come to London I have several little things to ask about; but when that will be I do not know. I have had a bad summer with much sickness of late, and we are all going to Malvern for a month, and start in a week’s time.6 I have managed to do this summer a fair share of work and have been greatly interested by the spontaneous movements and irritability of tendrils and twining plants; but only a little of my work is new.—7 Do you remember telling me that I ought to study phyllotaxy;8 well I have often wished you at the bottom of the sea; for I could not resist, and I muddled my brains with diagrams etc. and specimens and made out, as might have been expected, nothing. Those angles are a most wonderful problem and I wish I could see someone give a rational explanation of them.9

I am tired, so good night.

My dear Friend, | Yours very Sincerely. | Ch. Darwin.


The date range is established by the relationship between this letter, the letter from Hugh Falconer, 24 August [1863], and the letter from Hugh Falconer, 29 August 1863, and by the reference to CD’s visit to Malvern (see n. 6, below). Francis Darwin dated this letter 26 August [1863] (LL 3: 51), but there is no corroborating evidence to support this.
CD refers to Richard Owen and to Owen 1846b, p. 109, where he discussed the badger Meles taxus. CD was presumably referring Falconer to an analogous case of the persistence of specific characters in a mammal species from the Pliocene to the present (see letter from Hugh Falconer, 24 August [1863]). There is an annotated copy of Owen 1846b in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 649–52).
The references are to Eduard Suess and to Suess 1863. In Suess 1863, Suess had linked Falconer’s views on species with those of Oswald Heer (see letter from Hugh Falconer, 24 August [1863], and n. 5, below).
Working mostly with Tertiary plants and insects, the Swiss palaeontologist Oswald Heer maintained that species were generally constant, but that during occasional periods of creation, existing types underwent abrupt variation and gave rise to new species (see Heer 1860, p. 56). CD’s annotated copy of Heer 1860 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 363–6). By 1863, Heer’s view of new species formation was being presented in the international literature as a rival to CD’s theory of slow evolution by natural selection (see A. Gray 1863d, p. 438). For other comments on Heer’s theory of species change, see letters to Asa Gray, 31 May [1863] and n. 4, and 7 July 1863.
On 1 September 1863, CD went to London with his daughter Henrietta Emma Darwin, and the rest of the family departed for Malvern Wells. According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), CD and Henrietta travelled from London to Malvern Wells on 3 September 1863.
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 12–13 August [1863], and following letter and n. 5.
It is not clear when Falconer made the suggestion that CD study phyllotaxy; however, a manuscript paper sent by Falconer in September 1862 in which he commented on the theory of natural selection directed CD’s attention to phyllotaxy (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Hugh Falconer, 1 October [1862], and this volume, letter to J. D. Hooker, 29 May [1863]). Falconer’s paper was published in the Natural History Review in January 1863 (Falconer 1863a), his comments on phyllotaxy appearing on page 80. CD began preliminary research on phyllotaxy in February, and made a series of detailed observations in May and June 1863 (see, for example, letter to Daniel Oliver, 20 [February 1863], letter to J. D. Hooker, [9 May 1863], and letters to Asa Gray, 11 May [1863] and 26 June [1863]). CD’s phyllotaxy notes are in DAR 51: 6–32; there are also notes by George Darwin in DAR 192: 1–7.
See memorandum from G. H. Darwin, [before 11 May 1863], letters to Asa Gray, 11 May [1863] and 31 May [1863], and letter to J. D. Hooker, 29 May [1863].


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

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

Heer, Oswald. 1860. Untersuchungen über das Klima und die Vegetationsverhältnisse des Tertiärlandes. Winterthur, Switzerland: Anstalt von Wurster.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Suess, Eduard. 1863. Über die Verschiedenheit und die Aufeinanderfolge der tertiären Landfaunen in der Niederung von Wien. Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Classe 47 (pt 1): 306–31.


Thanks for information about Pliocene mammal. Interested in relating process of formation to duration of the species. Oswald Heer’s view that species suddenly formed surely false.

Bad summer with much sickness. Going to Malvern [for water-cure] for a month.

Muddled over phyllotaxy and made out nothing.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Hugh Falconer
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 144: 32
Physical description
4pp inc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4277,” accessed on 20 October 2021,

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