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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   22 November 1871

Bank, Southampton,

Nov 22 1871

My dear Father,

I sent you to day a fresh lot, as it was chiefly manuscript, I thought it just worth registering.1

It is delicious the calm way you jaw up the imposter M.2

I got your card as to not marking injured letters.3 I was looking today from curiosity into a duck’s mouth, I should have thought from the neat way in which the fringed tongue fits in against the roof of the mouth that the slightest grooves would begin to act as a filter.4 I send you the Saturday review. Did you read the quotation from Lucretius in Snow’s article in Spectator Nov 4th.5

Mivart delights in putting up a dummy which he pretends to be you, and then knocking it down in the most light & easy style, to the admiration of those he can gull.

Your affect son | W E Darwin


William was correcting the proofs of Origin 6th ed. (see this volume, Supplement, letter from W. E. Darwin, [19 November 1871]).
CD responded to various criticisms of the theory of natural selection that had been made by St George Jackson Mivart in chapter 7 of Origin 6th ed.
CD’s postcard has not been found.
In response to Mivart’s objection that the large plates of baleen in whales could not have evolved gradually through natural selection, CD suggested that the early progenitors of whales might have possessed mouths like the lamellated beaks of ducks that enabled them to sift mud and water (Origin 6th ed., pp. 183–6).
Snow was the nickname of Frances Julia Wedgwood. In her unsigned article, ‘The natural and the supernatural’ (Spectator, 4 November 1871, pp. 1340–42), she compared CD’s theory of natural selection with the views of Lucretius. She paraphrased Lucretius (ibid., p. 1341): We see that many conditions are necessary in order that a race should be perpetuated, and among all the animals which have existed, some have been brought into the world unfitted for these; others, again, have perished from being unprovided with any peculiar advantage in the struggle for existence. For races are preserved in this struggle either by their own craft, strength, or at least activity, on the one hand, or else by being useful to us, many different races of animals being secured from extinction by the guardianship of man. The text is from Lucretius, De rerum natura 5: 849–59.


Sends back proofs. Praises CD for calm treatment of Mivart. Looks at duck’s mouth. Asks whether CD has seen Snow’s article in the Spectator.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Bank, Southampton
Source of text
Cornford Family Papers (DAR 275: 47)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8080F,” accessed on 18 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24 (Supplement)