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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Chauncey Wright   6 April 1872

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Ap. 6 1872

My dear Sir

I have read your paper with great interest, both the philosophical & special parts. I have not been able to understand all the mathematical reasoning; for irrational angles produce a corresponding effect on my mind. Nevertheless I have been able to follow the general argument, & I am delighted to have a cloud of darkness largely removed. It is a great thing to be able to assign reasons why certain angles do not occur, or occur rarely.1 I have felt the difficulty of the case for some dozen years, ever since Falconer threw it in my teeth.2 Your memoir must have been a laborious undertaking, & I congratulate you on its completion.

The illustration taken from leaves of genetic & adaptive characters seems to me excellent,3 as indeed are many points in your paper.

You sent me 3 copies; & after reflection I have sent one to “Nature”, as one of the editors is a botanist & may notice it;4 the second, I have sent to the Linnean Soc. as most botanists belong to it. I will lend my own to Mr Airy (the son of the Astronomer Royal) who has attended to phyllotaxy & who expressed a wish to read yr paper.5

I sent you some time ago a copy of my new edit. of the Origin which I hope you have received, but pray do not trouble yourself to acknowledge it.6

Believe me, my dear Sir | yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin

P.S. I have heard that Mr Mivart will answer, I suppose savagely, your pamphlet in the Popular Science Review, the April number, which ought now to be published.7 Do you ever see Fraser’s Magazine, there is a striking article on Divinity & Darwinism, by I suppose by L. Stevens, who married one of the Miss Thackerays.—8


Wright sent CD copies of his paper on phyllotaxy in March 1872 (Wright 1871b; see letter from Chauncey Wright, 3 April 1872 and n. 1). Wright considered why certain theoretically possible leaf arrangements did not occur (Wright 1871b, pp. 386–406).
In a paper on fossil elephants (Falconer 1863, p. 80), Hugh Falconer mentioned the laws of phyllotaxy as being suggestive of ‘a deeper seated and innate principle, to the operation of which “Natural Selection” is merely an adjunct’ (see also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Hugh Falconer, 1 October [1862]).
‘Genetic’ in this context refers to features characteristic of a genus. Wright had argued, ‘In those most important features of organic structures, which are now called genetic characters, and were formerly called affinities, few or no specific uses can in general be discovered’ (Wright 1871b, p. 380).
Alfred William Bennett was a subeditor for Nature from 1870 until 1874 and also botanical reviewer for the Academy (ODNB).
Hubert Airy was the son of George Biddell Airy. CD had offered to lend Airy Wright’s paper when he received it (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter to Hubert Airy, 10 [December] 1871).
Wright’s name is on CD’s presentation list for Origin 6th ed. (see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix IV); the book was published in February 1872 (Freeman 1977).
CD refers to St George Jackson Mivart’s reply to Wright 1871; it appeared in the North American Review for April 1872 (Mivart 1872b). No response by Mivart appeared in Popular Science Review.
Leslie Stephen’s article ‘Darwinism and divinity’ appeared in the April 1872 issue of Fraser’s Magazine, ([Stephen] 1872). It was signed L.S.; his authorship is confirmed by the Wellesley index. Stephen’s wife was Harriet Marian Stephen, a daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray.


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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

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.


Delighted to have cloud of darkness removed by CW’s paper on phyllotaxy [Mem. Am. Acad. Arts & Sci. n.s. 9 (1867–73): 379–415].

Has heard that Mivart will answer CW’s pamphlet [Darwinism (1871)].

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. 8277,” accessed on 19 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20