Emma Darwin to Matthew, 21 November 1863. Letter 4344: Darwin Correspondence Project
This letter is dated almost a year since the last known letter from Matthew, and it seems that in the interim there was at least one other letter from Matthew, and presumably also a reply from Darwin to Matthew’s letter of 3 December 1862, both of which are now lost. It appears the lost letter from Matthew had some “striking” remarks on natural selection. Darwin, writing through his wife Emma due to illness, responds with a metaphor of randomly shaped rocks and “noble buildings” which he uses to illustrate that, even if what we would nowadays call mutation was random, even so the progress of natural selection could still appear to be directed (this argument also appears in pp.248-9 and in the closing paragraphs (pp.430-2) of Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868)). The implication is that Matthew’s lost letter was arguing for some form of directed evolution, in line with his views on design and purpose in the universe (see keyword “Des” in the Short Articles section).
Mr Darwin begs me to thank you warmly for your letter which has interested him very much. I am sorry to say that he is so unwell as not to be able to write himself.
With regard to Natural Selection he says that he is not staggered by your striking remarks. He is more faithful to your own original child than you are yourself. He says you will understand what he means by the following metaphor.
Fragments of rock fallen from a lofty precipice assume an infinitude of shapes—these shapes being due to the nature of the rock, the law of gravity &c— by merely selecting the well-shaped stones & rejecting the ill-shaped an architect (called Nat. Selection could make many & various noble buildings.
Mr Darwin is much obliged to you for sending him your photograph. He wishes he could send you as good a one of himself. The enclosed was a good likeness taken by his eldest son but the impression is faint.
You express yourself kindly interested about his family. We have 5 sons & 2 daughters, of these 2 only are grown up. Mr Darwin was very ill 2 months ago & his recovery is very slow, so that I am afraid it will be long before he can attend to any scientific subject.