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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   3 October [1864]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Oct 3d

My dear Huxley.

If I do not pour out my admiration of your article on Kölliker,2 I shall explode. I never read anything better done. I had much wished his article answered, & indeed thought of doing so myself,3 so that I considered several points. You have hit on all & on some in addition, & oh by Jove how well you have done it. As I read on, & came to point after point on which I had thought, I could not help jeering & scoffing at myself, to see how infinitely better you had done it than I could have done.— Well, if anyone, who does not understand Natural Selection, will read this, he will be a blockhead if it is not clear as daylight. Old Flourens was hardly worth the powder & shot;4 but how capitally you bring in about the Academician, & your metaphor of the sea-sand is inimitable.—5

It is a marvel to me how you can resist becoming a regular Reviewer— Well I have exploded now & it has done me a deal of good.— I do not know whether you have returned, but I hope that your Irish tour6 has given you a world of new vigour & that Mrs Huxley7 is fairly well. As for myself I am got nearly into my old routine & do a little work daily; but I am knocked up by slightest change.—

With hearty admiration | Yours most sincerely | Ch. Darwin

Do not, of course, answer this.


The year is established by the reference to Huxley’s article on Rudolf Albert von Kölliker and Marie Jean Pierre Flourens ([T. H. Huxley] 1864a; see nn. 2 and 4, below).
Kölliker had recently published a critical review of Origin that had been translated into English (see Kölliker 1864a, 1864b, and 1864c; see also letter from Ernst Haeckel, 10 August 1864 and n. 12). Huxley’s answer to Kölliker’s criticisms appeared in the issue of the Natural History Review for October 1864, and focused in particular on undermining Kölliker’s claim that CD was a teleologist ([T. H. Huxley] 1864a). CD’s unbound copy of the Natural History Review for October 1864 is in the Darwin Library–CUL; on the back cover CD wrote: ‘p. 566 Huxley on Kolliker excellent— must be reread. Excellent on unconscious selection— If cold came on how plants wd spread.— All excellent.—’
CD had been dissuaded from answering Kölliker himself by Charles Lyell and Joseph Dalton Hooker. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 28 August [1864], and letter from J. D. Hooker, 30 August 1864.
The second part of Huxley’s article in the Natural History Review concerned Flourens’s criticisms of Origin in Flourens 1864 ([T. H. Huxley] 1864a, pp. 576–80). Huxley began his remarks with the complaint that Flourens dealt with CD ‘as the first Napoleon would have treated an “ideologue’”. For further discussion of Flourens’s criticisms, see also Tort 1996 and J. Harvey 1997b, pp. 353–4. There is a lightly annotated copy of Flourens 1864 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 234).
In his review Huxley parodied the superior tone adopted by Flourens 1864, contrasting Flourens’s position as permanent secretary of the Acadèmie des Sciences with CD’s: ‘Qui n’êtes rien, pas même Académicien’ (‘who isn’t anything, not even an Academician’). Huxley used the accumulation of sand dunes in the Baie d’Arcachon, France, as an example of unconscious selection, certain sizes of sand particles being ‘selected’ by the wind and waves for deposition. ([T. H. Huxley] 1864a, p. 576).
Huxley had spent from 24 July to 9 September 1864 visiting the coasts of Ireland and Scotland for the Sea Fisheries Commission (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 249). Huxley was one of three members appointed to the Commission, which began its investigations on 22 September 1863 and reported its findings between 1865 and 1866 (see Report of the commissioners appointed to inquire into the sea fisheries of the United Kingdom, British parliamentary papers, Session 1866, XVII: 571 and XVIII: 1).
Henrietta Anne Huxley.


Flourens, Marie-Jean-Pierre. 1864. Examen du livre de M. Darwin sur l’origine des espèces. Paris: Garnier Frères.

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.

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.

Tort, Patrick. 1996. Dictionnaire du Darwinisme et de l’evolution. 3 vols. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.


Admires THH’s article on Kölliker’s and Flourens’ criticisms of Origin [in Natural History Review (1864): 566–80].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine Archives (Huxley 5: 205)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4624,” accessed on 25 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12