Lot 235
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  • A highly important autograph letter signed to professor Adam Sedgwick, Darwin's former professor, and an opponent of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection
2 pages (4 1/2 x 7 3/16 in.; 114 x 183 mm) on paper, single sheet folded, written in black ink. Down, Bromley, Kent, dated "Nov. 11th [1859]", signed ("Charles Darwin"); minor dampstaining.


"Adam Sedgwick," ODNB, accessed 30 October 2018, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/25011 Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2525,” accessed on 27 September 2018, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-2525

Darwin Correspondence Project, "Adam Sedgwick," accessed 30 October 2018, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/adam-sedgwick

Catalogue Note

A highly important and fantastically pointed letter from Darwin to his former professor, Adam Sedgwick, one of the founding fathers of modern geology  "I have told Murray to send you a copy of my book On the Origin of Species, which is as yet only an abstract" Darwin wrote to his mentor. "As the conclusion at which I have arrived after an amount of work which is not apparent in this condensed sketch, is so diametrically opposed to that which you have often advocated with much force, you might think that I send my volume to you out of a spirit of bravado and with a want of respect, but I assure you that I am actuated by quite opposite feelings."

Adam Sedgwick, who was Woodwardian Professor of Geology at the University of Cambridge and Vice-Master of Trinity College, proposed the Devonian period of the geological timescale. Sedgwick guided Darwin in his early study of geology, and was one of Darwin's correspondents whilst the latter was on the Beagle expedition.

This cordial relationship was tested, however, when Darwin sent Sedgwick the present letter, along with a first edition of On the Origin of Species. Sedgwick had long refuted evolutionary theories, believing that they were merely unphilosophical speculation that threatened to undermine the moral status of humanity.  On the Origin of Species incited an explosive anger in Sedgwick, and his disappointment and alarm were made apparent in his lengthy reply, sent on the 24th of November, 1859. "If I did not think you a good tempered & truth loving man I should not tell you that, (spite of the great knowledge; store of facts; capital views of the corelations of the various parts of organic nature; admirable hints about the diffusions, thro’ wide regions, of nearly related organic beings; &c &c) I have read your book with more pain than pleasure. Parts of it I admired greatly; parts I laughed at till my sides were almost sore; other parts I read with absolute sorrow; because I think them utterly false & grievously mischievous—You have deserted—after a start in that tram-road of all solid physical truth—the the true method of induction—& started up a machinery as wild I think as Bishop Wilkin’s locomotive that was to sail with us to the Moon. Many of your wide conclusions are based upon assumptions which can neither be proved nor disproved. Why then express them in the language & arrangements of philosophical induction?"

Despite such a reply, the Darwin and Sedgwick continued to exchange friendly letters. In 1870 they met for the last time, when Sedgwick took Darwin on a long tour of the vastly expanded geological collections at Cambridge. Darwin was exhausted after the tour, and lamented to Joseph Hooker: "Is it not humiliating to be thus killed by a man of eighty-six, who evidently never dreamed that he was killing me?"