RECORD: O'Shaughnessy, Charles. 1876. Darwin confounded. Cork: Francis Guy. CUL-DAR132.4. Edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Pedro Navarro, edited by Christine Chua and John van Wyhe 5.2021. RN1

NOTE: See record in the Darwin Online manuscript catalogue, enter its Identifier here. Reproduced with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

Introduction by Pedro Navarro

Charles O'Shaughnessy (1826/7-1911?) was an Irish draper and successful businessman. He also claimed to have discovered the cure for numerous diseases in plants, animals and men. Parallel to taking care of his shop in Kilfinane, he also published pamphlets on a wide range of subjects, most dedicated to explaining his ideas on diseases. He maintained a high disdain for intellectuals and "professors", as he used to say, but was not humble about his own achievements: "It is now pretty well known that I am changing the state of recognized science and philosophy, and also astronomy," he once wrote to Darwin.

In 1876, O'Shaughnessy read Descent (nicknamed as "Darwin's Monkey") and promptly wrote to the author to share his opinions. In this letter he says that Descent was "the most absurd production I ever had the pain of reading" and that there was no such thing as "evolution", which he called Darwin's hobby. He finishes saying that once his pamphlet on the subject is done, he will send it to Darwin.

The work was published about a month later with the title Darwin Confounded and a copy was sent to Darwin, not surprisingly, with advertisements to his other products. Following an epistolary style, O'Shaughnessy wrote a series of eleven short essays on Darwin's Descent addressed to Rupert, his cat. Based on his strong catholic principles, O'Shaughnessy took on some of Darwin's arguments and examples and did his best to ridicule them. Most notably, he claimed that Darwin had based his reasoning on an unobservable hypothesis, had not provided the next step for man's evolution, and that the work was a danger to morality. In 1876 Darwin was focused on the second edition of Orchids and there is no evidence that he ever replied to his Irish enemy.


O'Shaughnessy, David. 2009. Charles O'Shaughnessy's rebuttal of Darwin. History Ireland, vol. 17:3, p. 24-7.

Murphy, Donal. 2009. Darwin's Limerick Nemesis: Charles O'Shaughnessy. N.M.A.J., Vol. 49, p. 55-8.

Correspondence, "Letter no. 10351," accessed on 6 May 2021,

Correspondence, "Darwin in letters, 1876: In the midst of life" accessed on 6 May 2021.

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Presented by the author

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DEAR RUPERT,—I have read six hundred and eighty-six pages of Darwin's Monkey this week, and from memory, I will give you some of his learned assertions. He says that there was, a long time ago, an ape that resembled himself more than any ape that lives now, and he thinks that his forefather had a tail but it got worn off by friction, and as it was once worn off it stayed off, This was the nearest relationship that existed, and from that one he sprung.

When the savages and apes are exterminated, which will not be long, he thinks the monkey will be his nearest relation.

Well, how little any man is to be relied upon that is bent on carrying his theory at any cost of his character. I really do say, that as it is the climax in monstrosity, this book ought to be read more generally. It would be better to read it than to have good people hold down their heads and say, "I hear it was a very clever work, but don't care to see it." A medical man said to me some time ago, when I told him I would

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confound Darwin, "Darwin," said he, "why, he will grind you to atoms."

Well, now, what is the result? I find not a single argument in the same Darwin that I did not know before, and every one else as well that had observation of the domestic animals that we are every day in contact with.

His whole book is comparing the senses of the brute creation with man, and how they fight with their tails and horns and heels, and how they sing and roar and bray, and steal apples and spoons, and like whiskey, love of plumage and spurs, avoid traps and snares, have brains and tastes, and so on. Yes, and an ape will crack nuts and roll stones down a hill, and, like a theory I had to write to you lately, he does not care where man was got so that he was not got out of the dust.

He says that ''it is better to come from an animate creature, like the ape, than from the dust."

I am happy to tell you that I have arguments at my fingers' ends for future letters, that will put Mr. Darwin at foot of the steeple that he capped, never to rise his head again, any more than many of the professors that we hear very little now, and it is no loss to morality.

Yours truly,



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DEAR RUPERT,—I will be more correct in giving exact assertions from this learned author, for banter will no longer do when morality is at stake—nay more, Heaven and God's glory. To give the unfortunate gentleman credit, he does try to put things in a true light; but where no light is, no light can proceed from. Like all the other professors that I have confounded, he bases his theory on a hypothesis—while I deny hypothesis that are not supported by observation (in temporal matters), for I hold that a man has no temporal knowledge, but what he has received from observations, whether from man or brute. He says, "In attempting to trace the genealogy of man lower down in the series, we become involved in greater obscurity." ... "Every evolutionist," this is his hobby—"evolution," like Sir Isaac's Newton's "gravitation," and Laplace's "perturbation," and Herschell's "centripetal," and somebody else's "centrifugal." If he could prove evolution his theory was carried. "Every evolutionist will admit that the five great vertebrate classes,—namely, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes, are descended from some one prototype, for they have much in common. As the class of fishes is the most lowly organised

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and appeared before the others." Who told him this, or by what authority does he say there was a fish before a pig? "We may conclude," he says, ''that all the others are derived from some fish animal."

Well, now, I begin to ask him one question regarding this assertion. What will be the probable "evolution" next of man as he has arrived at a position beyond all his "progenitors" of being erect, with his face capable of looking up to adore God? He must change according to the "evolutions," and will his next change be on his back?—and if he does not change he is a perfect being, destined for some great object in his present state.

As I will give only one proof of confutation in each letter, I will wait for an answer to this for three posts, and will continue the rest of his assertions daily.

Yours truly,



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Dear Rupert,—Mr. Darwin says that the idea of religion first arose ''when the faculties of imagination, curiosity, reason, and etceteras, had been well developed in the mind of man, and then his dreams led him to believe in spirits." He gives us a very conclusive illustration of his theory by the following little fact that occurred on a very warm day. You see that these warm days have a deal to say to nonsensical theories. Mr. Darwin says "I once noticed my dog, a fullgrown and very sensible animal, lying on the lawn during a hot still day, but at a little distance, a slight breeze occasionally moved an open parasol, and every time the parasol slightly moved the dog growled and barked fiercely. He must, I think, have reasoned to himself in a rapid manner that the movement, without any apparent cause, indicated presence of some strange living agent that had no right to be on his territory."

You now see the good of having a sensible dog to tell a man how we got our religion.

My second question for Mr. Darwin is—What trouble do the stars give the brute creation, and civilized man is able to comprehend that an Omnipotent power put them in motion?

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Then there must be some relation between that Power and the comprehension. If he can instruct an ape to tell when next we will have transit of Venus I will have to change my question. He makes a great hand of some writer, who foolishly: says that "caprice" is the great difference between man and the brute; but I suspect he will not catch me with such chaff.

Yours truly,



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Dear Rupert,—The learned professor says that "the fact of the higher apes using their vocal organs for speech, no doubt depends on their intelligence not having been sufficiently advanced. The possession by them of organs which, with long continued practice, might have been used for speech, although not thus used, is paralleled by the case of the nightingale and crow, having vocal organs similarly constructed, one using them for song, and the other for croaking."

This is verily a proof that "professor" man is always kept in the dark from God's handy-work, when two birds, of the "same organs, use them differently for the enjoyment of man by variety.

Third question to Mr. Darwin:—What use would the brute creation be to man if it had not (as I will word), reason? They would not know how to protect themselves, nor to dread us, nor obey us; and Adam would, indeed, be in a sad state under the circumstance, in the midst of unintelligent animals. I should not make such a statement about Adam, but the other questions proposed opened the way for it, and it will not be easy to close it again. Religion and common-sense will at once say why not we be satisfied at the

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close approach of the brute creation to us, when the Creator gave us power over them, and gave us the comprehension to adore Him?

Darwin may ask, why have not the savages comprehension? And I answer, and say that when they only did like the brute creation they were allowed to roam like them and travel in the ungodly way of forgetful comprehension. Let any thinking man place himself, in imagination, on a continent where no commerce took place, and let a certain number of the community pass away from under his control to remote districts, where no religious influence was before them, how many generations would it take to have them become savages?

Yours truly,



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DEAR RUPERT,—You must have thought that Mr. Darwin proved beyond aye or nay every assertion he made, but I will remove that impression by the following quotation from his work:—''The most ancient progenitors in the kingdom of the vertebra, at which we are able to obtain an obscure glance, apparently consisted of a group of marine animals resembling the larvae of existing Ascidians. These animals probably gave rise to a group of fishes." Don't you see the whole thing is only guess work. He goes on to say—''But no one can at present say by what line of descent the three higher and related classes, namely, mammals, birds, and reptiles, were derived from the two lower vertebrate classes, the amphibians and fishes." This is a great tracing up of genealogy. Here 'is more of it—"In the class of mammals the are not difficult to conceive which led from the ancient monotrimsta to the ancient marsupials, and from these to the early progenitors of the placental mammals. We may thus ascend to the Lemuridae, and the interval is not very wide from these to the Simiadae." If he could bring us so far by guess work, he knows the rest easily, for he says—''The Simiadae then branched off into two great stems, the New World and the

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Old World monkeys, and from the latter, at a remote period, man, the wonder and glory of the universe, proceeded."

What does he mean by "wonder"? Who is to wonder but man himself? And what does he mean by "glory"? Man to glory because he has no soul, and because he came from "the Old World monkeys." I told you in a former letter that the gentleman's brains were————

Here is a man basing his theory on guess, and all of a sudden he breaks out into an assertion upon the supposition of that guess.

My fourth question for him is—If the earth is as old as he says, where is the produce of it? For we know that all things that lived on it did return to it in earth. And where is that earth? At present we have only the natural quantity (in proportion to the Mosaic age) of surface, according as the population is increasing and minerals consuming, and we know that earth will not become gravel, nor sand, nor stone.

I am,

Yours truly,



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DEAR RUPERT,—As the Darwin and Huxley school cannot bring themselves to accept inspired writings regarding the Creation, I will take upon myself to give them a little common sense reasoning upon the truth of these writings, and without filling up paper with nonsensical, round-about arguments—because I find that all useful things are most simple of construction.

Now, if I were to write a history of a thing that happened more than two thousand years ago, would I not weigh well the manner in which I would place that before future generations, in order that it would be received with confidence? Well, in the Creation, would I not rather say man was placed, the second day, to witness the creation of things that were useful for him, in order that tradition would have brought down the facts, by his observation, from generation to generation, to bear me out; but no:—this would be man's way, and the other is God's way.

Again, would it not be a better way to say that a number of men and their wives were created, and the history would look better still? No. And again, would it not be more obscure to say "many" thousand years than "two," for in

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that age years were not as much as they are now, inasmuch as the man of a hundred years, looking back to his boyhood, only thinks it as a day; therefore, the men of that age, that lived much longer, must have thought it only a short span, too, and four such spans back to the time of the Creation, from Moses, was all that were required.

Yours truly,



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DEAR RUPERT,—In continuation of the history of the Creation, I will add that the question, what historian of the present day would have the hardihood to say that an Omnipotent Being created the sun, moon, and stars for the earth, if we had no history of it already? He would rather say this globe was a splinter from one of the great planets, or else that it came by some accident or chance. Well, admitting that the latter would be the history of it, owing to the knowledge obtained by the telescope, would any man now say what the earth was formed from? Where is the traveller from star to star? where is the conveyance? We look in vain for them. We have a comprehension that there is a Great Being, and that is the consequence of the spirit of that Being that we see in everything in the universe, and we see nothing else having that power of comprehension but ourselves. I said in my last letter that, as a temporal historian, Moses would have a better field by stating there were a plurality of men created. But no, it would not be according to the Divine Wisdom to teach Adam a religion. He was sent into the world without having to contend with pride or ambition, or to contend with the trouble or anger of others from the division of stock or

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lands; gold had no temptation for him; he saw nothing to disturb his mind, and he consequently had time and peace to see the changes of the rolling heavens, and to contemplate on the omnipotence of a Great God. On the following summer he saw the flash of lightning and heard the roar of thunder, and simultaneously he saw the smiling face of a new-born babe that inspired gratitude; and this was more the appearance of a basis for religion than Mr. Darwin's dog and the parasol.

Yours truly,



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DEAR RUPERT,—I hope I am not boring you by continuing this worn-out subject; but as I think over it, I am compelled, as it were, to ask him every question that has the power of baffling his learned intellect until I will set him asleep to dream of another theory.

He says—"I fully subscribe to the judgment of those writers who maintain that of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important. This sense, as Mackintosh remarks, has a rightful supremacy over every other principle of human action." This weak argument did suit his object, and hear to how he harps on it: "It is the most noble of all the attributes of man, leading him, without hesitation, to risk his life for that of a fellow creature."

This stood to him; for he knew that he could tell a story of a cat coming to take away her kittens at the risk of her life; or a rat leading a blind rat about a mill floor with a straw. So he confounds the above argument well by these and many ridiculous examples.

And here is his triumphant exultation on his proof—"This great question has been discussed by many writers of con-

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summate ability, and my sole excuse for touching on it is the impossibility of here passing it over." I see clearly the reason he did not pass it over, because it was very easy to confound so silly an assertion, and he made a fiddle of it.

I give him a question that he will not get over so joyfully. How has a spider (with a brain not as big as a top of a needle) the power of intellect to baffle Mr. Darwin, and make its way into a hole, much wiser than Mr. Darwin himself, and think of it in an instant when it wants to avoid being killed? After this, what is the use of comparing the brains of man and the brute, when the brains of a spider are quicker than his own brains?

I am,

Yours truly,



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DEAR RUPERT,—As it is not likely you will have much more of the Darwin and Huxley School, I will give you all that is amusing in his instructive work on the "Descent of Man." I have already told you the genealogy of man from the Simiadae to the Limuridae, and how they branched off to the Old World and the New World Monkeys. Indeed, you nor your numerous readers can hardly forget the tracing of the learned author, and anything so instructive ought not to be forgotten by interested people such as we are at this side of the Channel.

He says: ''The world, it has often been remarked, appears as if it had been prepared for the advent of man; and this in one is strictly true, for he owes his birth to a long line of progenitors. If any single link in this chain had never existed, man would not have been exactly what he now is."

You remember I asked him what would be the next link, and he did not pretend to hear me, though he got your journal as sure as the Hollyhead boat arrived there from Kingstown. I have no objection if any of his school in Ireland will answer it. He goes on to say, with great humility,—"Unless we wilfully close our eyes, we may, with our present knowledge,

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approximately recognise our parentage, nor need we be ashamed of it. The most humble organism is something much higher than inorganic dust."

The italics are mine, and are you surprised they should? Here is a split between himself and the insect "professors"; for they say we are all insects, dust and water, and everything but 'Connemara marble." I told you, sometime ago, that "they eat and drank and had digestive organs." So here is a great split between the scholars of one school. Here follows the "present knowledge": "Von Bace has defined advancement or progress in the organic scale better than any one else, as resting on the amount of differentiation and specialisation of the several parts of a being."

That is taking the advice of the American Judge who said, "Strike a high key, for the generality of people take sound for sense." It reminds me of an American astronomer that I have already quoted, when he said,

"And lo! we take our stand point on the sun." Fancy how they do "do us."

I have a little question for Mr. Darwin in my next, that will turn the tables of "puzzle the vulgar."

Yours truly,



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DEAR RUPERT,—Admitting that there was a time at a very remote period of a million years, or a thousand million years, when there was nothing on the earth but fishes, according to this great man, and those of the lowest order. This will please him and his friends the Geologists—great scholars they are. Where, then, was the earth got? and where were the fishes got?

As this clever author was able to tell the reasoning of the dog on his lawn, he ought to be able to tell how this big mass of earth and rock and sand and gravel came. If he cannot, with all the glare of natural science that they boast of now, Moses was an old fool in those uneducated ages to attempt doing it; and in some short time after we had as wise men as we have at present, and their advice stands good to-day as well as any we can get from as wise men as Mr. Darwin. How does all this occur? They never disputed it. Well, again, admitting that the earth was millions of years old, was not time before it?

We all know that there is no comparison between time and eternity. We know that the human mind has not the power of comprehending eternity, for, as in all the works of God,

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He has kept that a secret from man. Then, as time was before it, and time and eternity bear no analogy, do you think I will take the story of meteoric stones, or the throwing up of lava, or the upheaving of land, as a contradiction of the Mosaic history, and while the earth is more likely to be created for man than for fish.

I am,

Yours truly,



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DEAR RUPERT,—I have finished my questions to Mr. Darwin, and I will sum up the result. He cannot say if there will be any more "evolutions" in man. He cannot doubt nor gainsay that there is an omnipotent power moving the Heavens. He cannot deny that man alone has comprehension of that Power. Where then will we go in search of that Power? On our journey through the stars we don't find if, and yet we know It is existing. We see everything obeying man, and we see no change in the length of day nor year. We see the sun accommodating itself to the necessity of man by the change of climate, as civilized man inhabits the various places, as in India and North America, and several other parts of the world. We know that there is an infinity of space, and that there is a stop there to our understanding. We know there is an eternity of time, and that there is another stop there to our understanding. We know that there is an omnipotence of power—that loved man "even to the death on the cross," and to this power I will endorse the words of Griffin—

"Willing to serve is truly free,

Obedience is best liberty,

And man's first power a bended knee."


Yours truly,


Kilfinane, Kilmallock


[Envelope postmarked 15 February 1876]

Doctor Darwin

Down Beckenham Kent

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