In Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, volume 2, Darwin's friend Adam Sedgwick wrote in a letter to him (dated 24th December 1859) about his then new book The Origin of Species:

Parts of it I admired greatly, parts I laughed at till my sides were almost sore; other parts I read with absolute sorrow, because I think them utterly false and grievously mischievous. You have DESERTED—after a start in that tra-road of all solid physical truth—the true method of induction, and started us in machinery as wild, I think, as Bishop Wilkins's locomotive that was to sail with us to the moon. Many of your wide conclusions are based upon assumptions which can neither be proved nor disproved, why then express them in the language and arrangement of philosophical induction?

I found that the prefix "tra" is a variant of "trans", but I still can't get the meaning of "trans-road of ..." nor the meaning of "started us in machinery"

1 Answer 1


Whenever I see something weird in a transcribed book at Gutenberg.org, I try to find a scan of the original. This one turns out to be a bad OCR. The word is tram-road, a road for wheeled carts. The sentence reads:

You have deserted—after a start in that tram-road of all solid physical truth—the true method of induction...


Darwin quote

  • 1
    I think that a tram-road would have rails
    – mikado
    Jun 30, 2021 at 5:50
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    For OP's second question, I think the sentence can be parsed better as "started us in [machinery as wild, I think, as... to the moon]". I've no idea what "started" is doing in this context - left as a comment since not enough to be an answer
    – bobble
    Jun 30, 2021 at 20:26
  • I think that it may mean "started a wild machinery while we are in it" Jun 30, 2021 at 21:08
  • 1
    I submitted an erratum to Project Gutenberg as described here and the typo is now fixed. Nov 30, 2022 at 18:05

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