skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Nature   1 July [1871]1

I am much obliged to Mr. Howorth for his courteous expressions towards me in the letter in your last number.2 If he will be so good as to look at p. 111 and p. 148, vol. ii. of my “Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,” he will find a good many facts and a discussion on the fertility and sterility of organisms from increased food and other causes. He will see my reasons for disagreeing with Mr. Doubleday, whose work I carefully read many years ago.3

Charles Darwin

Down, Beckenham, Kent, July 1


The year is established by the year of publication of the letter in Nature, 6 July 1871.
Henry Hoyle Howorth’s letter was published under the heading ‘A new view of Darwinism’ on 29 June 1871 (Howorth 1871). Howorth claimed that the theory of natural selection implied ‘the Survival of the Stronger’, rather than merely the survival of the fittest, which he took to be a tautology. However, he gave several examples in which animals and plants were highly fertile when they were not otherwise in vigorous health, and argued, ‘far from the strong surviving the weak, the tendency among the strong, the well fed, and highly favoured, is to decay, become sterile and die out, while the weak, the under-fed, and the sickly are increasing at a proportionate rate.’
In his letter to Nature, Howorth had credited Thomas Doubleday with showing that humans suffered decreased fertility when they had a rich diet and a luxurious lifestyle, ‘while the poor, under-fed, and hard-worked’ were very fertile. Howorth was probably referring to Doubleday’s The true law of population shewn to be connected with the food of the people (Doubleday 1843, especially chapters 2 and 9 and the Postscript to the second edition). CD had read Doubleday 1842 (the first edition of True law of population) in 1843 (see CD’s reading notebooks (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 13a)). CD also refers to Variation 2: 111–13, 148–65.


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

Doubleday, Thomas. 1843. The true law of population shewn to be connected with the food of the people. 2d edition. London: Effingham Wilson.

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


Refers H. H. Howorth, the writer of "A new view of Darwinism" [Nature 4 (1871): 161–2], to Variation for a discussion of fertility and sterility of organisms in relation to increased food and other factors.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
Nature, 6 July 1871, pp. 180–1

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7846,” accessed on 7 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19