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A First Year in Canterbury Settlement With Other Early Essays

Darwin on Species — [From the Press, April 11th, 1863.]

Darwin on Species
[From the Press, April 11th, 1863.]

To the Editor of the Press.

Sir—Your correspondent “A. M.” is pertinacious on the subject of the bear being changed into a whale, which I said Darwin contemplated as not impossible. I did not take the trouble in any former letter to answer him on that point, as his language was so intemperate. He has modified his tone in his last letter, and really seems open to the conviction that he may be the “careless” writer after all; and so on reflection I have determined to give him the opportunity of doing me justice.

In his letter of February 21 he says: “I cannot sit by and see Darwin misrepresented in such a scandalously slovenly manner. What Darwin does say is ‘that sometimes diversified and changed habits page 176 may be observed in individuals of the same species; that is, that there are certain eccentric animals as there are certain eccentric men. He adduces a few instances, and winds up by saying that in North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, almost like a whale, insects in the water.’ This, and nothing more, pp. 201, 202.”

Then follows a passage about my carelessness, which (he says) is hardly to be reprehended in sufficiently strong terms, and he ends with saying: “This is disgraceful.”

Now you may well suppose that I was a little puzzled at the seeming audacity of a writer who should adopt this style, when the words which follow his quotation from Darwin are (in the edition from which I quoted) as follows: “Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better adapted competitors did not already exist in the country, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered by natural selection more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.”

Now this passage was a remarkable instance of the idea that I was illustrating in the article on “Barrel-organs,” because Buffon in his Histoire Naturelle had conceived a theory of degeneracy (the exact converse of Darwin’s theory of ascension) by which the bear might pass into a seal, and that into a whale. Trusting now to the fairness of “A. M.” I leave to him to say whether he has quoted from the same edition as I have, and whether the additional words I have page 177 quoted are in his edition, and if so whether he has not been guilty of a great injustice to me; and if they are not in his edition, whether he has not been guilty of great haste and “carelessness” in taking for granted that I have acted in so “disgraceful” a manner.

I am, Sir, etc.,
“The Savoyard,” or player
on Barrel-organs.

(The paragraph in question has been the occasion of much discussion. The only edition in our hands is the third, seventh thousand, which contains the paragraph as quoted by “A. M.” We have heard that it is different in earlier editions, but have not been able to find one. The difference between “A. M.” and “The Savoyard” is clearly one of different editions. Darwin appears to have been ashamed of the inconsequent inference suggested, and to have withdrawn it.—Ed. the Press.)