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Who started the rumor that Darwin doesn't explain the origin of species in the Origin?

In my book I had thought that it was the George Campbell, Duke of Argyll, and I have just found this, by E. B. Poulton:

The Duke of Argyll in his address1 to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, December 5, 1864, had said:— “Strictly speaking, therefore, Mr. Darwin’s theory is not a theory of the Origin of Species at all, but only a theory on the causes which lead to the relative success and failure of such new forms as may be born into the world.” In a letter to Lyell (January 22, 1865), Darwin wrote concerning this argument of the Duke’s :

“I demur … to the Duke’s expression of ‘new births.’ That may be a very good theory, but it is not mine, unless he calls a bird born with a beak 1-100th of an inch longer than usual ‘a new birth’; but this is not the sense in which the term would usually be understood. The more I work the more I feel convinced it is by the accumulation of such extremely slight variations that new species arise.”2

1 Scotsman, December 6, 1864.

2 Life and Letters, III, p. 33.

From Fifty Years of Darwinism, 1909, p45


  1. I nearly choked on my cup of tea after reading that. I have just sat down with a copy of J.F Cambells book and was about to write a short piece on how he uses the barnacle goose as the centre piece of his introduction to Popular Tales of the West Highland’s.

    Just thought I would check here first as two of the last recent posts were ace.

    Not sure what to make of this one. J.F. Cambell
    was the cousin of the 8th duke of Argyle. In fact he was his patron to the Duke.

    The introduction to the book actualy comes from the 9th duke dated September 1860

    He speaks of how the tales can be traced back (it is empirical and science based) but it will lead to a closed door “beyond which you cannot pass till you have searched and find the key….one key may open the way to many a store which can be reached, and may be turned to good or evil…. That you may go on acquiring knowledge, selecting the the good, and rejecting the evil.

    Certainly interesting given above comment.

    J.F Cambell was particulary influnced by his freind Sir George Dasent, Prof of English lit. at kings Collage, he translated, popular tales from the Norse and added an introductory letter, Essay on the origin and Diffusion of Popular Tales (1859).

    Cambell takes a distinct interest in geology but never discusses Darwin. Not looked at Prof. Dasent yet. What they are certainly very keen to do is establish that the subject is a new science. As accurate as geology

    “and they are used in striving to trace out the origin of races, as geologiasts class rocks by the shells and bones which they contian, and as natural philosophers used fairy -eggs in tracing the gulf stream”

    Fairy egg is a form of south American bean found washed on the shores of distant Islands; such things are often given the name Marys liver. or one other of the saints internal organs (it’s an old story). They are also made into snuff boxes (important image if you read Cambell’s introduction in Vol 1 of popular tales).

    As he seems to be speaking of a rift in knowledge, a dispute or diffrence between gentlemen. The language has a heavy air of romance and is not clear. But some people are clearly not impressed with his new science of “storyology” for some reason or another.

  2. I often speculate on wither the gentleman in question is J.D. Hooker.

    “Campbell of Islay an utter spendthrift who left his son a beggar, having run through a magnificent property that was sold by Tontine some 16 years ago”.

    J.D Hooker to Darwin.

    “Darwin’s transmutation theory continued to be discussed in both scholarly and popular publications. A lengthy discussion written by George Douglas Campbell, duke of Argyll, appeared in the religious weekly, Good Words”.

    The rather extremly well researched old article on the barnacle goose I sent you from the period years back. That ends with an interesting refrence concerning the early work pointing the way towards Ray and species.

    Can’t work out who wrote that as name is not given in publication. Great article though!

    But still a lot of, if, buts, and maybes at this stage.

  3. J.J.E. J.J.E.

    Do you mean “the rumor that Darwin doesn’t TRY to explain the origin of species”?

    I’m pretty sure that speciation is still considered an open question by virtually all evolutionary biologiests. People will handwave at Dobzhansky-Muller incompatibilities and will point to Wu, Orr, Presgraves, Barbash, etc. as people who have found “speciation genes”. But there is precious little in terms of rigorous explanation. There is a lot of foundational research and reams and reams of experiments. But I don’t think we’ve explained the origin of species for anything but certain types of polyploidy in plants. Maybe a few other examples, perhaps. But those certainly weren’t known to Darwin.

  4. He seems a rather interesting man with some interesting relatives.

    “The question, therefore, in respect
    to Mr. Darwin s language, is not whether it is ” metaphorical ” that is, whether it applies to material phenomena conceptions derived from the world of Mind.”

    Duke of Argyle “The Reign of law”

    Folk taxonomy, metaphor, he seems to take a particular interest in ethnology among other things.

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