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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. B. Dawkins   27 August 1867

Upminster, Romford

27. August 1867.

My dear Sir,

I thank you very much for your kind note. Your approval of my scheme will help very much to its completion.1

I am very glad indeed to hear that you take an interest in my few essays written rather by a learner than a teacher.2 In all of them I have tried as far as possible to break down the barrier between Pleistocene and living species, by attaching weight to individual variation, and to results of living under different conditions. Thus the Pleistocene animals utterly extinct amount only to about 10 or 11 out of 56.3

Permit me to add that I feel unspeakably grateful to you for your book.4 Without it I should probably have been groping in darkness, and manufacturing species in proportion to my own ignorance. All the men who are working minutely at one branch of Nat. Hist, that I know of, endorse your views as regarding their own peculiar provinces,—Dr Duncan in the corals, H. Woodward in the crustacea.5 I dont indeed see how any naturalist can work on any other hypothesis. It is cropping up continually even in Prof. Owens works.6 If I can add only one grain of proof to its truth, I shall feel amply rewarded for any quantity of labour.

When I was working at the hyænas, I was struck by the wonderful effect that captivity has had in modifying the shape of the skull. The prehensile character of the jaws is to a certain extent lost, and the maxillaries, and rami become shortened in a remarkable degree. Indeed for purposes of comparison I find the bones of animals from menageries absolutely useless. I mention this because it shows how very pliant even the skeletons of animals are, and how with the disuse of a muscle, its points ‘d’appui7 become aborted.

I am | My dear Sir | Yours very truly | W. Boyd Dawkins

Charles Darwin Esq.


Dawkins refers to his research comparing the dentition of living and extinct members of the family Rhinocerotidae (see letter from W. B. Dawkins, 22 August 1867 and n. 2, and letter to W. B. Dawkins, 26 August [1867]).
Dawkins had sent CD papers on fossil oxen (Dawkins 1866 and 1867; see letter from W. B. Dawkins, 22 August 1867, and letter to W. B. Dawkins, 26 August [1867]).
The source of Dawkins’s statement on the proportion of extinct animals has not been found. However, in a paper on the prehistoric Mammalia of Great Britain (Dawkins 1868b), there is a table listing more than fifty animals and charting their presence in Britain from prehistoric times to the recent past.
The reference is to Origin.
Dawkins refers to Peter Martin Duncan and Henry Woodward.
A review in the London Review of Politics, Society, Literature, Art, and Science, 28 April 1866, pp. 482–3, of the first two volumes of Richard Owen’s On the anatomy of vertebrates (Owen 1866–8) argued that Owen had made a partial admission of ‘the truth of the principles of Natural Selection’ (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to J. D. Hooker, 31 May [1866], n. 11). For a discussion of Owen’s views on evolution, see Rupke 1994, pp. 220–58.
Point d’appui: point of support, fulcrum (French).


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

Dawkins, William Boyd. 1866. On the fossil British oxen. Part I. Bos urus, Caesar. [Read 21 March 1866.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 22: 391–401.

Owen, Richard. 1866–8. On the anatomy of vertebrates. 3 vols. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Rupke, Nicolaas A. 1994. Richard Owen, Victorian naturalist. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.


Thanks for CD’s letter; hopes by his work to add one grain of proof to CD’s theories.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Boyd Dawkins
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 118
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5618,” accessed on 26 September 2021,

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