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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Chauncey Wright   13 and 14 July [1871]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

July 14th

My dear Sir

I have hardly ever in my life read an article which has given me so much satisfaction as the Review which you have been so kind as to send me2   I agree to almost everything which you say. Your memory must be wonderfully accurate, for you know my works, as well as I do myself, & your power of grasping other men’s thoughts is something quite surprising, & this, as far as my experience goes is a very rare quality. As I read on I perceived how you have acquired this power, viz by thoroughily analysing each word.—

I believe Mr Mivart to be a thoroughily honourable man; but he was educated as a lawyer & seems to me to plead, as if retained by a client.— I detected in 2 places that he gives the commencement of a sentence or paragraph, & by omitting the end alters my meaning.3 A Review has just appeared in our Quarterly, evidently by Mivart & cutting me into mince-meat.4 It seems to me that you appreciate his kind of intellect with great truth.

Now I am going to beg a favour. Will you provisionally give me permission to reprint your article as a 1s. pamphlt. I ask only provisionally, as I have not yet had time to reflect on subject. It would cost me, I fancy, with advertisement some £28 or £30; but the worst is that, as I hear, pamphlets never will sell. And this makes me doubtful. Should you think it too much trouble to send me a title for the chance? The title ought, I think, to have Mr Mivarts name on it.5

It would perhaps look odd in pamphet to have the name of books reviewed placed at head? should they be introduced as foot-note, or retained where they are? I suppose on title, there, ought to be inserted “Reprinted from American Review” with additions(?) if the M.S. is to be added. Should this M.S. come at end? The M.S. seems to me very good, but the latter part does not strike me as very clear.6 I return the M.S.— If the article is reprinted, I will have it printed from clean copy of Review, which I have ordered.— I am very unwell today so pray excuse this wretched note; but I did not like to let another post pass. If you grant permission & send a Title, you will kindly understand that I will first make further enquiries, whether there is any chance of a pamphlet being read.

Pray believe me | yours very sincerely obliged | Ch. Darwin

P.S. July 13th.

I have been struck by your allusion (p. 98) to Phyllotaxy. I have spent days in puzzling over it, & quite uselessly from not being a mathematician.7

I supposed new leaves to be added to, or removed from, (i.e to stand closer or further from each other) an existing plant, & then that the leaves had to be arranged anew, so as to be equally exposed to light. I assumed that from the spiral vessels being in bundles, it was necessary after a time that one leaf should stand almost exactly over another.— I did not so much regard the packing in the bud, as Nägeli says the young leaves are sometimes irregularly placed in the bud, & subsequently place themselves at the regular angles.8 Now will your view explain why there are angles, (as I found by drawing them) by which the leaves can be arranged at equal distances from each other, with one leaf standing over another at some distance above & below, & yet that such angles never occur in nature? If you can explain this, I wish you wd. be induced to publish on subject.—

C. D.

July 14th


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Chauncey Wright, 21 June 1871. The letter is dated 14 July in CD’s hand, and the postscript (which is on a new page) 13 July in CD’s hand: perhaps one of the dates is an error or maybe the letter was rewritten on 14 July and sent with the original postscript.
CD refers to Wright’s essay review of St George Jackson Mivart’s Genesis of species (Wright 1871a, Mivart 1871b).
CD refers to Mivart’s review of Descent in the Quarterly Review ([Mivart] 1871c).
Wright’s review was published under the title Darwinism: being an examination of Mr. St. George Mivart’s ‘Genesis of species’ (Wright 1871b).
The names of the books listed at the top of Wright 1871a were omitted from Wright 1871b. After the title appeared the words, ‘Reprinted from the “North American Review,” July, 1871, with additions’. Wright’s additions were put in an appendix. The end of the appendix, as printed, concerns the sense to be put upon divine intention and superintendence.
CD had worked on phyllotaxy in 1863; see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from Daniel Oliver, 17 February 1863 and n. 3. In Wright 1871a, pp. 98–9, Wright used the growth of a tree as an analogy for natural selection, assuming that the tree produced an excess of regularly spaced buds, and that these were culled by variations in access to nutrients, light, and air to form familiar branching patterns.
CD refers to Carl Wilhelm von Nägeli and to Nägeli 1858–68, pt 1 (Ueber das Wachstum des Stammes und der Wurzel bei den Gefässpflanzen: On the growth of the stem and roots of vascular plants): 41–2.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 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.

Nägeli, Carl Wilhelm von. 1858–68. Beiträge zur Wissenschaftlichen Botanik. 4 pts in 1 vol. Leipzig: Wilhelm Englemann.


Comments on CW’s article on phyllotaxy;

discusses criticisms of Origin by Mivart.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Chauncey Wright
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7865,” accessed on 6 December 2021,

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