RECORD: Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1863. Dr. Carpenter and his reviewer. Athenæum (4 April): 461.

NOTE: Darwin wrote a letter in response to this in Darwin 1863.

[page] 461

Dr. Carpenter and his reviewer.

University of London, March 30, 1863.

Whilst thanking you for the honour conferred upon my 'Introduction to the Study of the Foraminifera' by the elaborate review of it contained in your last number, I must beg to be allowed to correct some misapprehensions into which the author of that article has fallen.—

1. After quoting my general conclusions as to the probable derivation of all the divergent forms of Foraminifera from a few family types, and the possible derivation even of these from a common original, your reviewer remarks: "We here discern the influence of Mr. Darwin's volume on the mind of the writer"; and he is further "led to question whether a like influence may not have affected Dr. C's conclusions and expressions as to the nature of the species and genera of antecedent investigators and classifiers of Foraminifera." So far is this from being the fact, that these conclusions had been arrived at by my coadjutors and myself before the publication of Mr. Darwin's 'Origin of Species,' and in utter ignorance of his views; and any one who may take trouble to refer to my Address as President of the Microscopical Society in 1855, and to the first of my memoirs on this group in the Philosophical Transactions for 1856, will see that even at that period I was far on the road to them. The question of the variability of species is one to which my attention was very early directed by Dr. Pritchard; during more than a quarter of a century I have taken every opportunity of gaining information in regard to it from zoologists, botanists and palaeontologists; and the expectation of finding in the group of Foraminifera an entirely new and valuable body of material for the prosecution of this inquiry, was one of my chief reasons for applying myself to the systematic study of it.

2. In the succeeding paragraph your reviewer cites me as representing the identity in the forms of certain fossil and existing Foraminifera, "agreeably with the Darwinian hypothesis, as a case 'of the genetic continuity between the Foraminifera of successive geological periods, graduating backwards to the period when they began to descend from a common original.' "I should be glad to be informed of the page of my book from which this professed citation is taken; I am unable to identify it with anything I have written. That I do regard the repetition of identical forms through a succession of geological epochs as indicative of continuous genetic descent is most true; and I have always understood this, so far from being "an astounding hypothesis," to be the doctrine current among our most esteemed palaeontologists. Surely the derivation of a certain number of the Mollusks at present inhabiting the Mediterranean, by direct continuity of descent from the identical types whose shells are entombed in the Tertiary formations of its shores, is a fact as well established as the derivation of the existing races of Men from those which peopled the globe during the pre-historic period. And I am at a loss to see what other evidence of genetic connexion Palaeontology can ever supply, than that afforded by continuity, either of identical forms, or of forms undergoing a modification so gradational as to exclude the idea of new specific creations. If your reviewer prefers to suppose that new types of Foraminifera originate from time to time out of the "ooze," under the influence of "polar forces," he has, of course, a right to his opinion; though by most naturalists such "spontaneous generation" of rotalines and nummulites will be regarded as a far more "astounding hypothesis" than the one for which it is offered as a substitute. But I hold that mine is the more scientific, as being conformable to the fact that Foraminifera do propagate their kind with more or less of modification; whilst his is not supported by any evidence that rotalines or nummulites ever originate spontaneously, either in "ooze" or anywhere else.

3. Under the influence of his foregone conclusion that I have accepted Mr. Darwin as my master and his hypothesis as my guide, your reviewer represents me as blind to the significance of the general fact stated by me, that "there has been no advance in the foraminiferous type from the palaeozoic period to the present time." But for such a foregone conclusion, he would have recognized in this statement the expression of my conviction that the present state of scientific evidence, instead of sanctioning the idea that the descendants of the primitive type or types of Foraminifera can ever rise to any higher grade, justifies the anti-Darwinian inference, that however widely they diverge from each other and from their originals, they still remain Foraminifera.

I cannot but regret that in his anxiety to warn your readers against the heterodox tendencies of my treatise, your reviewer should have passed by the question whether the classification proposed by my coadjutors and myself as a substitute for the artificial system of M. D'Orbigny, previously in vogue, is really founded on natural principles. The fact that the Royal Society has honoured my individual labours in this field by the award of one of the royal medals in 1861, might have been expected to secure for them a trial before any scientific tribunal upon some fairer issue than their supposed tendency to Darwinism.


This document has been accessed 1639 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 2 July, 2012