To Joseph Hooker 10 May 1860

7 Downing Terrace Cambridge

10 May 1860

My dear Joseph

I don't know whether you care to hear Phillips, who delivers the Rede Lecture in the Senate House next Tuesday at 2 PM. It is understood that he means to attack the Darwinian hypothesis of natural selection. Sedgwick's address last Monday was temperate enough for his usual mode of attack but strong enough to cast a slur upon all who substitute hypotheses for strict induction, & as he expressed himself in regard to some of C.Ds suggestions as revolting to his own sense of wrong & right & as Dr Clark who followed him, spoke so unnecessarily severely against Darwin's views; I got up, as Sedgwick has alluded to me, & stuck up for Darwin as well as I could, refusing to allow that he was guided by any but truthful motives, & declaring that he himself believed he was exhalting & not debasing our views of a Creator, in attributing to him a power of imposing laws on the Organic World by which to do his work, as effectualy as his laws imposed upon the inorganic had done it in the mineral kingdom. I believe I succeeded in diminishing if not entirely removing the chances of Darwin's being prejudged by many who take their cue in such cases according to views of those they suppose may know something of the matter. Yesterday at my lectures I alluded to the subject, & showed how frequently naturalists were at fault in regarding as species forms which had (in some cases) been shown to be varieties, & how legitimately Darwin had deduced his inferences from positive experiment. Indeed I had, on Monday, replied to a sneer (I don't mean from Sedgwick) at his pigeon results, by declaring that the case necessitated an appeal to such domestic experiments & this was the legitimate & best way of proceeding for the detection of those laws which we are endeavouring to discover. I do not disguise my own opinion that Darwin has pressed his hypotheses too far - but at the same time I assert my belief that his Book is (as Owen described it to me) the "Book of the Day". I suspect the passages I marked in the Edinburgh Review for the illumination of Sedgwick have produced an impression upon him to a certain extent. When I had had my say, Sedgwick got up to explain, in a very few words, his good opinion of Darwin, but that he wished it to be understood that his chief attacks were directed aginst Powell's late Essay, from which he quoted passages as "from an Oxford Divine" that would astound Cambridge men as no doubt they do. He showed how greedily, (if I may so speak) Powell has accepted all Darwin had suggested, & applied these suggestions (as if the whole were already proved) to his own views. I think I have given you a fair , tho' very hasty, view of what happened & as I have just had a letter form Darwin, & really have not a minute to spare for a reply this morning perhaps you will send this to him, as he may like to know, to some extent, what happened. As he also wishes to know of all criticisms, pro & con, he will find an adverse view in the last No (just received) of the Dublin Magazine of Natural History. Of course he knows of the reply to Owen in a late Saturday Magazine & also the articles in the Spectator.

Let me know as soon as you conveniently can whether my ideas of the Palace Lectures met yours. Every lecturer must, of course, be guided to a considerable extent by his own. But there may lie something or other which he has neglected, or is not aware of, that would induce him to modify his plans - I have only a fortnight more here, & have to select such materials as I think maybe useful from the Museum here & pack them up so I have not much time to spare. A few words will be enough to set me thinking & if these Lectures are to come off I should wish to make them as instructive or suggestive (as well as agreeable ) as 4 lectures may admit, & my opportunities allow. I must now have 100 auditors here the room is so full; & above 50 seem likely to try for a Pass this year. We have had 3 meetings within the week to arrange our new schemes for Triposes - & so far all is working well. Grace Hawthorn is here for +/- 24 hours. Leonard has been for 2 or 3 nights. Love to F etc.

Ever affecly

J. S. Henslow

Please cite as “HENSLOW-1003,” in Ɛpsilon: The Correspondence of John Stevens Henslow accessed on 23 October 2021,