Darwin’s letter of 21 April


Darwin, C. R. Natural selection. Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (21 April 1860): 362-363

In this letter, Darwin acknowledges that Matthew had “anticipated by many years the explanation which I have offered of the origin of species”. He promises to refer to Matthew in future editions of On the Origin of Species (which he does, in his “Historical Sketch”), and states that he was unaware of Matthew’s work. He also suggests that this should come as no surprise, given the brevity and obscurity of the work. His reference to “nor apparently any other naturalist” presumably refers to the fact that no other person, apart from Matthew himself, had written either publically or privately to Darwin to point out the similarities with Matthew’s work, despite the 5-month gap between the publication of On the Origin of Species and Matthew’s letter.

Darwin’s letter was also picked up by the Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, which reproduced it in full in a piece titled “Natural selection” in the Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Friday 27 April 1860, p.3 col.3 (pdf image) and again in a second piece titled “Theory of Natural Selection — Whose is it?” in the Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Tuesday 27 November 1860, p.2 col.7 (pdf image), where the editors also note the “most gentlemanly manner” in which Darwin “acknowledged the priority of the former”.

Darwin’s letter was also repeated verbatim in a long editorial titled “Natural selection – whose is it?” in the Saturday Analyst and Leader (Vol 11 (24 Nov 1860), pp.959-60).

Darwin’s letter is also available from Darwin Online, item F1705 and from the HathiTrust.

Natural Selection.—I have been much interested by Mr. Patrick Matthew’s communication in the Number of your Paper, dated April 7th. I freely acknowledge that Mr. Matthew has anticipated by many years the explanation which I have offered of the origin of species, under the name of natural selection. I think that no one will feel surprised that neither I, nor apparently any other naturalist, had heard of Mr. Matthew’s views, considering how briefly they are given, and that they appeared in the appendix to a work on Naval Timber and Arboriculture. I can do no more than offer my apologies to Mr. Matthew for my entire ignorance of his publication. If another edition of my work is called for, I will insert a notice to the foregoing effect. Charles Darwin, Down, Bromley, Kent