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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Kingsley   10 June [1867]1

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

June 10

My dear Mr Kingsley

I have been deeply interested by your letter. I have looked through my whole large collection of pamphlets on the “Origin” & the only thing which I can find at all answering to yr description is that which I send by this post by Cap. Hutton. I dare say you know his name; he is a very acute observer. Please sometime return it to me.2

I have just finished reading the Duke’s book & N. Brit. Rev.;3 & I shd very much like for my own sake to make some remarks on them, & as my amanuensis4 writes so clearly, I hope it will not plague you. The Duke’s book strikes me as very well written, very interesting, honest & clever & very arrogant. How coolly he says that even J. S. Mill does not know what he means.5 Clever as the book is, I think some parts are weak, as about rudimentary organs,6 & about the diversified structure of humming birds. How strange it is that he shd freely admit that every detail of structure is of service in the flowers of orchids, & not in the beak of birds. His argument with respect to diversity of structure is much the same as if he were to say that a mechanic wd succeed better in England if he cd do a little work in many trades, than by being a first-rate workman in one trade.7 I shd like you to read what I have said upon diversity of structure at 226 in the new Ed. of Origin,8 which I have ordered to be sent to you. Please also read what I have said (p. 238) on Beauty.) Other explanations with respect to beauty will no doubt be found out: I think the enclosed ingenious letter by Wallace is worth yr notice.9 Is is not absurd to speak of beauty as existing independently of any sentient being to appreciate it? And yet the Duke seems to me thus to speak. With respect to the Deity having created objects beautiful for his own pleasure, I have not a word to say against it but such a view cd hardly come into a scientific book. In regard to the difference between female birds I believe what you say is very true; & I can shew with fowls that the 2 sexes often vary in correlation.10 I am glad that you are inclined to admit sexual selection. I have lately been attending much to this subject, & am more than ever convinced of the truth of the view. You will see in the discussion on beauty that I allude to the cause of female birds not being beautiful; but Mr Wallace is going to generalize the same view to a grand extent, for he finds there is almost always a relation between the nature of the nest & the beauty of the female.11

No doubt sexual selection seems very improbable when one looks at a peacock’s tail, but it is an error to suppose that the female selects each detail of colour. She merely selects beauty, & laws of growth determine the varied zones of colour: thus a circular spot wd almost certainly become developed into circular zones, in the same manner as I have seen the black wing-bar in pigeons become converted into 3 bars of colour elegantly shaded into each other. The Duke is not quite fair in his attack on me with respect to “correlation of growth”; for I have defined what I mean by it, tho’ the term may be a bad one, whilst he uses another definition: “correlation of variation” wd perhaps have been a better term for me.12 He depreciates the importance of natural selection, but I presume he wd not deny that Bakewell, Collins, &c had in one sense made our improved breeds of cattle,13 yet of course the initial variations have naturally arisen; but until selected, they remained unimportant, & in this same sense natural selection seems to me all-important.

The N. Brit. Rev. seems to me one of the most telling Reviews of the hostile kind, & shews much ability, but not, as you say, much knowledge. The R. lays great stress on our domestic races having been rapidly formed, but I can shew that this is a complete error; it is the work of centuries, probably in some cases of 1000s of years.14 With respect to the antiquity of the world & the uniformity of its changes, I cannot implicitly believe the mathematicians, seeing what widely different results Haughton Hopkins & Thompson have arrived at.15 By the way I had a note from Lyell this mg. who does not seem to value this article enough.16

Is there not great doubt on the bearing of the attraction of gravity with respect to the conservation of energy? The glacial period may make one doubt whether the temperature of the universe is so simple a question. No one can long study the Geolog. work done during the glacial period, & not end profoundly impressed with the necessary lapse of time; & the crust of the earth was at this recent period as thick as now & the force of Nature not more energetic. But what extremely concerns me, is R. statement that I require million of years to make new species; but I have not said so, on contrary, I have lately stated that the change is probably rapid both in formation of single species & of whole groups of species, in comparison with the duration of each species when once formed or in comparison with the time required for the development of a group of species—17 with respect to Classification, it is the idea of a natural classification, which the genealogical explains.18 The best bit of Review, which cd make me modify wording of few passages in origin is I think about sudden sports, & these I have always thought, but now more clearly see, wd generally be lost by crossing.19 The R does not however notice, that any variation wd. be more likely to recur in crossed offspring still exposed to same conditions, as those which first caused the parent to vary.— I have moreover expressly stated that I do not believe in the sudden deviation of structure under nature, such as occurs under dom: but I weakened the sentence in deference to Harvey.—20

When speaking of the formation for instance of a new sp. of Bird with long beak Instead of saying, as I have sometimes incautiously done a bird suddenly appeared with a beak [particularly] longer than that of his fellows, I would now say that of all the birds annually born, some will have a beak a shade longer, & some a shade shorter, & that under conditions or habits of life favouring longer beak, all the individuals, with beaks a little longer would be more apt to survive than those with beaks shorter than average.21

The preservation of the longer-beaked birds, would in addition add to the augmented tendency to vary in this same direction.— I have given this idea, but I have not done so in a sufficiently exclusive manner.— The Reviewer wd have left his article stronger if he had not attempted to exclusively grapple with the [illeg] problem of [variation] 22

⁠⟨⁠missing text⁠⟩⁠ of facts. Pray excuse this unreasonable letter, which you may not think worth the labour of reading; but it has done me good to express my opinion on the 2 works in question, so I hope & think that you will forgive me—

With very sincere thanks for letter believe me my dear Mr Kingsley | yours sincerely | Charles Darwin

Do you know who wrote the article in N. B. Review?23


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Charles Kingsley, 6 June 1867.
The letter is in Emma Darwin’s hand, except for the last sentence. A missing section, from ‘as now & the force of Nature’ in the fifth paragraph to ‘problem of [variation]’ in the seventh has been supplied from a draft in CD’s hand.
George Douglas Campbell criticised a statement of John Stuart Mill’s about human action in G. D. Campbell 1867, pp. 314–16.
Campbell discussed rudimentary limbs and homology of structure in G. D. Campbell 1867, pp. 204–16. He argued that rudimentary limbs were part of a universal plan that had clearly been mentally conceived.
Campbell discussed humming-birds in G. D. Campbell 1867, pp. 233–52, and CD’s work on orchids in ibid., pp. 37–46. He suggested that a bill adapted to probing all flowers with ease would be more advantageous than a specialised one (ibid., pp. 241–2).
See letter from Charles Kingsley, 6 June 1867 and n. 5. For more on correlated variation, see Descent 1: 208, 282–3, 285–6; fowls are discussed in ibid., pp. 294–5.
See letters from A. R. Wallace, 26 April [1867] and 1 May 1867. For CD’s ongoing work on sexual selection, see, for example, the letter to Fritz Müller, 22 February [1867], and the letter to A. R. Wallace, [12–17] March [1867].
On the wing-bars of pigeons and ocellated spots on peacocks’ tails, see Descent 2: 131–5. On correlation of growth, see Origin 4th ed, pp. 11–12, 170–4; CD wrote: ‘I mean by this expression that the whole organisation is so tied together during its growth and development, that when slight variations in any one part occur, and are accumulated through natural selection, other parts become modified’ (Origin 4th ed., p. 170). Campbell discussed CD’s theory of correlation of growth in G. D. Campbell 1867, pp. 256–62. He suggested that correlation of growth comprised two distinct notions, symmetry, which he thought had simple physical causes akin to those governing the growth of a crystal, and fitness; the latter he thought suggested ‘the operation of Forces working under Adjustment with a view to Purpose’ (G. D. Campbell 1867, p. 260).
CD refers to Robert Bakewell, a notable stock-improver, and probably to Robert or Charles Colling, brothers who produced an improved breed of shorthorn cattle (see Trow-Smith 1959).
See [Jenkin] 1867, pp. 280–6. Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin had argued that there were physical limits to the amount of variation that could be produced in any one direction. He had used the example of a breeder selecting a feature and effecting remarkable variation in it in the first few years but reaching a limit beyond which no further variation could be achieved (a ‘sphere of variation’; see ibid., p. 282). He then argued that no extension of time could reverse the ‘rule’ governing the limits of a given sphere of variation. CD evidently interpreted Jenkin’s argument as having been based on the mistaken notion that CD’s own argument was that since varieties could be produced in domestic animals in a relatively short period of time, by extension new species could be created given a sufficiently long period of time (see also Gayon 1998, pp. 88–9). In Variation 2: 243, CD pointed out that several animals had already been domesticated in the Neolithic era.
CD refers to Samuel Haughton, William Hopkins, and William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin). CD made a similar comment regarding the estimates of physical scientists in his letter to J. D. Hooker, [28 February 1866] (Correspondence vol. 14). Thomson held that the crust of the earth had solidified only 100 million years ago, and had criticised CD’s estimate in the first edition of Origin of 300 million years for the denudation of the Weald (see W. Thomson 1862, pp. 391–2). In 1864, Haughton had calculated a period of 2 billion years from the formation of the oceans to the beginning of the Tertiary period, though earlier he had agreed with Thomson (see Burchfield 1990, pp. 100–1). Hopkins had sought to put geology on a firm mathematical footing but was not noted for speculations about the age of the earth (DSB).
Charles Lyell’s letter has not been found.
See [Jenkin] 1867, p. 294, and Origin 4th ed., pp. 359–60.
See [Jenkin] 1867, pp. 305–13, where Jenkin argued that the difficulty in classifying species did not need to be explained by a theory of the transmutation of species, but was a common problem in many systems of classification, and could be explained by the vast number of possible combinations of variables that existed among living beings. See also Origin 4th ed., pp. 486–9, for CD’s views on the ‘Natural System’ of classification.
See [Jenkin] 1867, pp. 288–92. In Origin 4th ed., p. 47, CD had speculated that if a monstrous form occurred in nature and was propagated, albeit in a modified state owing to its being crossed with the ordinary form, if it was advantageous to the organism it would spread by means of natural selection. In Origin 5th ed., p. 49, he said that such variations would spread only under unusually favourable circumstances. CD cited Jenkin’s article in Origin 5th ed., p. 104, for his argument on how rarely single variations in nature could be perpetuated.
See Origin 3d ed., p. 46, and Origin 4th ed., p. 47. See also Peckham ed. 1959, p. 121. In the fourth edition of Origin, CD omitted, amongst other changes, the words added in the third edition, ‘Monsters are very apt to be sterile’. William Henry Harvey had published an article in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 18 February 1860, pp. 145–6, reporting the apparent origination of a new species through the abnormal development of Begonia frigida. See also Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Charles Lyell, 18 [and 19 February 1860], and Correspondence vol. 12, letter from W. H. Harvey, 19 May 1864, n. 4. CD also discussed the nature of monstrosities in the manuscript of his ‘big book’ on species (see Natural selection, pp. 318–21).
In Origin, p. 61, CD wrote: ‘Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, … if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, … will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring.’ In the fifth edition, he changed ‘an individual’ to ‘the individuals’, and ‘that individual’ to ‘such individuals’ (p. 72). See also Journal of researches 2d ed., pp. 379–80, for CD’s comments on the gradation in the sizes and shapes of the beaks of different species of Geospiza on the Galápagos Islands. For a discussion of Jenkin’s argument about the tendency of variation appearing in a single individual to be swamped, and CD’s response, see Gayon 1998, pp. 94–102. See also D. L. Hull 1973.
The text from ‘as thick as now’ to ‘problem of [variation]’ is supplied from a draft.


Burchfield, Joe D. 1990. Lord Kelvin and the age of the earth. With a new afterword. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Campbell, George Douglas. 1867. The reign of law. London: Alexander Strahan.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

DSB: Dictionary of scientific biography. Edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie and Frederic L. Holmes. 18 vols. including index and supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1970–90.

Gayon, Jean. 1998. Darwinism’s struggle for survival: heredity and the hypothesis of natural selection. Translated by Matthew Cobb. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hull, David L. 1973. Darwin and his critics: the reception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by the scientific community. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Hutton, Frederick Wollaston. 1861. Some remarks on Mr Darwin’s theory. Geologist 4: 132–6, 183–8.

[Jenkin, Henry Charles Fleeming.] 1867. The origin of species. North British Review 46: 277–318.

Journal of researches 2d ed.: Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. 2d edition, corrected, with additions. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1845.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Origin 3d ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 3d edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1861.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

Origin 5th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 5th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1869.

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.

Trow-Smith, Robert. 1959. A history of British livestock husbandry 1700–1900. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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

Wellesley index: The Wellesley index to Victorian periodicals 1824–1900. Edited by Walter E. Houghton et al. 5 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1966–89.


Discusses the Duke of Argyll’s book [Reign of law (1867)].

Cites his own views on diversity of structure and beauty.

Encloses letter from Wallace. Sexual selection: evidence advanced by Wallace.

Discusses correlation of growth.

Comments on article in the North British Review [by Fleeming Jenkin].

Discusses the evidence from physics on the age of the earth.

[Four pages of the final letter are missing, but the draft is complete.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Kingsley
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.330) & DAR 96: 28–9, 32
Physical description
LS(A) 9pp inc & Adraft 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5567,” accessed on 5 July 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15