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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Farrer   27 August 1881

Abinger Hall, | Dorking.

27 Aug/81

My dear Mr Darwin,

I have read Grahams book with very great interest. It puts clearly and forcibly a great many things which have been seething in one’s thoughts, and is very valuable as a protest against dogmatism scientific, agnostic or otherwise.

Sometimes when he speaks of Darwinism as a complete account of the Universe I could imagine you saying, as Wilkes did to George III, “Mr Graham, I never was a Darwinite”

I dont like his coupling ‘chance” so much with what he calls Darwinism. No thinking man in these days conceives of “Chance” as anything but a name for our ignorance.

I should think you would repudiate entirely the notion of having supplied materials for a complete theory of the Universe, however much what you have done, has influenced thought. To trace a little farther the course which things have taken in becoming what they are, to enlarge a little the small circle of what is visible to us in the midst of the surrounding Infinite, is surely enough for any one. The astounding thing is, not that we cannot grasp or prove a consistent conception of the whole; but that being the creatures we are, we should wish and attempt to do it, and even feel an inevitable necessity to make the attempt.

There is one point which he has scarcely made, and which has always seemed to me very important in the bearing of Evolution on Ethical and Social questions. It is too long to put into a note, & deserves to be worked out. Shortly, it is this.— The great stumbling block is the existence of evil, of wickedness, of misery; in other words, the failure of each man and of men in general to attain the ideal of goodness and happiness which we have in our minds and conceive to be possible. This weighs most heavily on the noblest minds, and gives a sad colour to the best thinking—and doing. We conceive of this ideal of ours as if it were something absolute, and realizable. But in fact we know nothing of absolute good: all our notions are relative. Better & worse we know; but not good and evil. If we were better than we are, there would still be a better beyond, and we should still feel far as ever from our ideal. And this the noblest minds, those which are most in advance of their fellows, feel most.— Struggle upwards is the very condition of good; and its existence the strongest sign of a tendency to good in the Power by which we live. Struggle involves constant failure and imperfect success. And thus the consciousness of evil & misery becomes an evidence of Good.

Is not this consistent with, indeed the very teaching of Evolution applied to moral subjects— This is too much for a note, but I wanted to tell you how much Graham has interested me.

Sincerely yours | T H Farrer


On William Graham’s book [The creed of science (1881)].

Darwinism, chance, and the existence of evil.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Farrer (1st Baron Farrer)
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Abinger Hall
Source of text
DAR 164: 103
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13298,” accessed on 25 April 2018,