Letter from Darwin

Ipswich Museum has a major new discovery on its hands. Only a matter of a few days after Charles Darwin’s anniversary the Museum service has found a signed original letter in their archives from Charles Darwin.

Darwin has long been connected with Ipswich Museum as he was a friend and had a professional connection with John Henslow the botanist and geologist. Henslow was Charles Darwin’s tutor at Cambridge and was also responsible for bringing most of the natural history collection still on display at the Museum. The museum was established in 1847. Henslow was elected President of Ipswich Museum in 1850

The Museum’s Documentation Officer found the letter said:
I ran a search on Modes (our museum documentation software) using ‘Darwin’ and the record for IPSMG: R.1924-134 appeared but with no location so I checked to see if there was a history file and there was the letter!

Colchester and Ipswich Museum Manager at the time said:
As far as I can make out the following explains where our letter fits in with other known correspondence. We believe this letter is in reply to one written to Darwin by F.W.Harmer, an amateur geologist and palaeontologist (student of fossils) of Cringleford near Norwich. A Fellow of the Geological Society, Harmer authored the classic ‘The Pliocene Mollusca of Great Britain’ published by the Palaeontographical Society between 1914 – 1919 .

It appears that Harmer had entered into a newspaper controversy with W.P.Lyon, author of the publication ‘Homo versus Darwin’ published in 1872, in which Lyon (an Independent Minister from Tunbridge Wells) ascribed to Darwin the saying: ‘natural selection is a kind of god that never slumbers nor sleeps’

Harmer did not believe that Darwin had made this statement and had written to Darwin to this effect. In our letter Darwin is particularly annoyed that Lyon had put the invented statement in inverted commas and questions Lyon’s standing as a gentleman!

Darwin is interested to learn from Harmer that Lyon is the author of ‘Homo versus Darwin’ which was subtitled ‘A judicial examination of statements recently published by Mr Darwin regarding the Descent of Man’. This was originally published anonymously in the style of a court case transcript but was apparently based on actual correspondence between Lyon and Harmer.

In a reply to our Darwin letter on 31st August, Harmer explains that he was sucked into the controversy when he wrote a letter to the Daily Press (a Norwich paper?) replying to a published letter by a Dr Bateman of Norwich, who claimed to have proved the ‘fallacy of Darwinism’.

Bateman called in Lyon to support him and at first Harmer wanted nothing to do with Lyon. This was seen by Lyon as a collapse of Harmer’s case and Harmer could then not help being drawn in to the controversy.

Again in his letter of 31st August, Harmer, himself a religious man, apologises for the attacks Darwin had received and continued to receive in the name of religion by its ‘self constituted champions’.

Dear Sir,
I am very sorry that you have become involved in a troublesome controversy on my part. The sentence given by Mr Lyon in inverted commas is an invention, and it is a most unjustifiable proceeding on his part. He might of course have given any interpretation which he pleased of mu words, but he had no right to put the words in inverted commas. I may add that I have given in the later and more especially in the 6th Ed. of the origin many cases showing how common generated forms (that is forms partaking of the characters of existing defined groups) are in all the same ancient formations. I have always been curious to hear who wrote Homo Vs. Darwin Mr Lyon can hardly have the disposition of a gentleman, for in one place he states that I speak the truth solely because I should be found out if I lied. I hope that you will soon be able to bring your controversy to an end and I remain in haste.
Yours faithfully
— Ch. Darwin