RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1882. [Extract from a letter on the origin of mammals]. In Savile, Bourchier Wrey. 1882. The late Mr. Darwin. Record n.s. 1: 149.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, transcribed and edited by John van Wyhe 9.2008. RN2

NOTE: See record in the Freeman Bibliographical Database, enter its Identifier here.

[page] 149


Sir,—I1 rejoice to see the way in which the Record speaks of that eminent naturalist who has just passed away, the late Mr. Charles Darwin. I venture to think the religious press will do well to distinguish between the opinions entertained by him and by those of his followers who have possibly traded on his great name. To mention the name of one, the German naturalist Carl Vogt, he was an avowed Atheist — Mr. Darwin was certainly the reverse. As our great naturalist's fame will rest upon his "Origin of Species" and his doctrine of "Evolution," permit me to mention the result of a correspondence which I had with him in the course of last year.

Some time ago I was privileged to exchange works with Professor Tyndall. In the course of our correspondence, which was conducted with that kind courtesy for which the Professor is distinguished, I took the liberty of asking him the following question: "If the theory of Mr. Darwin be true that man is descended from an Ascidian tadpole born of an egg, how was the first infant mammal fed, on the supposition that its immediate ancestor was a non-mammal?" But though I urged this question on Professor Tyndall with the assurance that it was not asked from idle curiosity, I could obtain no reply to my question.

Such, however, was not the case with Mr. Darwin. When I subsequently ventured to put the similar question to the master, he at once most kindly favoured me with the following reply, which I give in his own words, in order to avoid anything like a mis-statement of his views:—After speaking of there being "some gradation in perfection with mammals in the mammery glands," and the custom of the young in the Echidna (of the crab family),2 and the Ornithoptera (of the butterfly species) "to suck off the surface of its skin, to secrete milk, for there is no nipple," Mr. Darwin added: "In the case of certain fish the ova are hatched in a marsupial sack on the surface of the stomach of the male, and the young when hatched feed on the mucus secreted from the skin lining the sack; and here as I believe, we see what might be the commencement of a simple mammery gland as in Echidna &c. This is of course only an hypothesis. The exact steps in the evolutionary process could be discovered only by the observation of animals which became extinct during the earliest part of the secondary period."

Whether this explanation will prove satisfactory to those who believe the Mosaic record that man is a separate act of creative power, so far as it affects the human race, I leave your renders to judge; but it is worthy of note that so late as the year 1881 Mr. Darwin should admit virtually that the doctrine of evolution, so far as it relates to man's origin, is "only an hypothesis" still.3                      Yours, &c.,


April 24, 1882.                                   
Rector of Shillingford.

1 Bourchier Wrey Savile (1817-1888), Church of England clergyman and theological writer. On this letter see Calendar13366.

2 '(of the crab family)' and the following parenthetical remark was added by Savile. Savile is mistaken. The echidna are four extant mammal species belonging to the Tachyglossidae family of the monotremes.

3 This remark is either a mistake or disingenuous. Darwin referred to 'what might be the commencement of a simple mammery gland' as an hypothesis, not 'the doctrine of evolution' as Savile claimed.

This document has been accessed 6234 times

Return to homepage

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

File last updated 28 November, 2022