I hope these remarks may be intelligible to you, and that you will be so kind as to let me know what you think of them.
I have not heard for some time how you are getting on. I hope you are still improving in health, and that you will now be able to get on with your great work, for which so many thousands are looking with interest.
(191/1. From "Life and Letters," III., page 45.)
I have been much interested by your letter, which is as clear as daylight. I fully agree with all that you say on the advantages of H. Spencer's excellent expression of "the survival of the fittest." This, however, had not occurred to me till reading your letter. It is, however, a great objection to this term that it cannot be used as a substantive governing a verb; and that this is a real objection I infer from H. Spencer continually using the words Natural Selection. I formerly thought, probably in an exaggerated degree, that it was a great advantage to bring into connection natural and artificial selection; this indeed led me to use a term in common, and I still think it some advantage. I wish I had received your letter two months ago, for I would have worked in "the survival," etc., often in the new edition of the "Origin," which is now almost printed off, and of which I will of course send you a copy. I will use the term in my next book on domestic animals, etc., from which, by the way, I plainly see that you expect MUCH too much. The term Natural Selection has now been so largely used abroad and at home that I doubt whether it could be given up, and with all its faults I should be sorry to see the attempt made. Whether it will be rejected must now depend "on the survival of the fittest." As in time the term must grow intelligible the objections to its use will grow weaker and weaker. I doubt whether the use of any term would have made the subject intelligible to some minds, clear as it is to others; for do we not see even to the present day Malthus on Population absurdly misunderstood? This reflection about Malthus has often comforted me when I have been vexed at this misstatement of my views. As for M. Janet, he is a metaphysician, and such gentlemen are so acute that I think they often misunderstand common folk. Your criticism on the double sense in which I have used Natural Selection is new to me and unanswerable; but my blunder has done no harm, for I do not believe that any one, excepting you, has ever observed it. Again, I agree that I have said too much about "favourable variations," but I am inclined to think that you put the opposite side too strongly: if every part of every being varied, I do not think we should see the same end or object gained by such wonderfully diversified means.
I hope you are enjoying the country, and are in good health, and are working hard at your "Malay Archipelago" book, for I will always put this wish in every note I write to you, as some good people always put in a text. My health keeps much the same, or rather improves, and I am able to work some hours daily.
LETTER 192. TO C. LYELL. Down, October 9th .
One line to say that I have received your note and the proofs safely, and will read them with the greatest pleasure; but I am certain I shall not be able to send any criticism on the astronomical chapter (192/1. "Principles of Geology," by Sir Charles Lyell; Edition X., London, 1867. Chapter XIII. deals with "Vicissitudes in Climate how far influenced by Astronomical Causes."), as I am as ignorant as a pig on this head. I shall require some days to read what has been sent. I have just read Chapter IX. (192/2. Chapter IX., "Theory of the Progressive Development of Organic Life at Successive Geological Periods."), and like it extremely; it all seems to me very clear, cautious, and sagacious. You do not allude to one very striking point enough, or at all--viz., the classes having been formerly less differentiated than they now are; and this specialisation of classes must, we may conclude, fit them for different general habits of life as well as the specialisation of particular organs.
Page 162 (192/3. On page 163 Lyell refers to the absence of Cetacea in Secondary rocks, and expresses the opinion that their absence "is a negative fact of great significance, which seems more than any other to render it highly improbable that we shall ever find air-breathers of the highest class in any of the Primary strata, or in any of the older members of the Secondary series.") I rather demur to your argument from Cetacea: as they are such greatly modified mammals, they ought to have come in rather later in the series. You will think me rather impudent, but the discussion at the end of Chapter IX. on man (192/4. Loc. cit., pages 167- 73, "Introduction of Man, to what extent a Change of the System."), who thinks so much of his fine self, seems to me too long, or rather superfluous, and too orthodox, except for the beneficed clergy.