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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Huxley   1 May 1865

Museum of Practical Geology

May 1 1865

My dear Darwin

I send you, by this post, a booklet none of which is much worth your reading, while of ninetenths of it you may say as the man did who had been trying to read Johnsons Dictionary “that the words were fine but he couldn’t make very much of the story”1

But perhaps the young lady who has been kind enough to act as taster of my books heretofore will read the explanatory notice & give me her ideas thereupon2 (always recollecting that almost the whole of it was written in the pre-darwinian epoch—)3

I do not hear very good accounts of you—to my sorrow—though rumours have reached me that the opus magnum is completely developed though not yet born—4

I am grinding at the mill & getting a little tired   My belongings flourishing as I hope yours are

Ever | Yours faithfully | T H Huxley

CD annotations

Verso of letter: ‘Kew | Hooker | Hackel on Medusa’5 pencil; ‘Masters about Caspary’6 ink; ‘Cohn’s address?’7 blue crayon


The ‘booklet’ Huxley sent was A catalogue of the collection of fossils in the Museum of Practical Geology, with an explanatory introduction (Huxley and Etheridge 1865). Huxley refers to Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English language (Johnson 1755).
CD’s daughter Henrietta Emma Darwin read and commented on several of Huxley’s publications (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 11, letter to T. H. Huxley, [before 25 February 1863], and letter from T. H. Huxley, 25 February 1863).
The preface to T. H. Huxley and Etheridge 1865 was written before 1859, when Origin was published. CD had read the proof-sheets of the preface in 1857 (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to T. H. Huxley, 16 December [1857], and letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 December [1857]). In the preface, Huxley argued that the fossil record did not provide evidence for the ‘progressive development of life’ (M. Foster and Lankester eds. 1898–1903, 3: 175); the preface is reprinted in Huxley’s Scientific memoirs (ibid., pp. 125–79).
Huxley refers to the manuscript of Variation. See also letter to John Murray, 31 March [1865]. CD wrote in his journal that he became ill on 22 April 1865 and did not resume work on the manuscript until 25 December (see Correspondence vol.13, Appendix II). Variation was not completed until 1867; it was published on 30 January 1868 (see letter to John Murray, 4 April [1865] and n. 3, and Freeman 1977, p. 122).
The reference is to Ernst Haeckel’s paper on propagation in Medusae, a family that included the jellyfish (Haeckel 1865b). See letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 May [1865] and n. 10.
The reference is to Maxwell Tylden Masters and to Robert Caspary (see letters to J. D. Hooker, [1 May 1865] and 4 May [1865]).
Probably a reference to Ferdinand Julius Cohn, a privat-dozent at the University of Breslau. ‘Cohn of Breslau’ was mentioned in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 29 April 1865, p. 386, as a participant in the Congrès International de Botanique et d’Horticulture at Amsterdam; he gave a paper on marine algae (Cohn 1865). CD had read Cohn’s work on the contraction of tissue in plants (Cohn 1860) in relation to his own work on insectivorous plants (see Correspondence vol. 10), and he also referred to it in ‘Climbing plants’, p. 112. Cohn is not mentioned in CD’s letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 May [1865]; see, however, the letter to George Henslow, [2–5 November 1865], and the letter from George Henslow, 6 November 1865 and nn. 6–8. CD and Cohn apparently did not begin to correspond until the 1870s (see Calendar).


Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

‘Climbing plants’: On the movements and habits of climbing plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 2 February 1865.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1867): 1–118.

Cohn, Ferdinand Julius. 1860. Ueber contractile Gewebe im Pflanzenreiche. [Read 1 November 1860.] Abhandlungen der Schlesischen Gesellschaft für vaterländische Cultur. Abtheilung für Naturwissenschaften und Medicin 1 (1861): 1–48.

Cohn, Ferdinand Julius. 1865. Sur la culture des algues marines. Bulletin du Congrès International de Botanique et d’Horticulture réuni à Amsterdam (1865): 116–29.

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Johnson, Samuel. 1755. A dictionary of the English language: in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers. 2 vols. London: J. & P. Knapton [and others].

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.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Sends Catalogue [of the collection of fossils in the Museum of Practical Geology (1865)], most of which was written in pre-Darwinian epoch [i.e., 1857].

Hears magnum opus [Variation] completely developed, though not yet born.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Huxley
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Museum of Practical Geology
Source of text
DAR 166: 306
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4824,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13