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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Lubbock   11 June [1865]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

June 11

My dear Lubbock

The latter half of your book has been read aloud to me, & the style is so clear & easy (we both think it perfection) that I am now beginning at the beginning.2 I cannot resist telling you how excellently well in my opinion you have done the very interesting chapters on savage life.3 Though you have necessarily only compiled the materials the general result is most original. But I ought to keep the term original for your last chapter which has struck me as an admirable & profound discussion.4 It has quite delighted me for now the public will see what kind of man you are, which I am proud to think I discovered a dozen years ago.5

I do sincerely wish you all success in your election & in politics;6 but after reading this last chapter you must let me say Oh dear Oh dear Oh dear7

yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin

P.S. You pay me a superb compliment but I fear you will be quizzed for it by some of yr friends as too exaggerated.8


The year is established by the reference to Lubbock 1865 (see n. 2, below).
CD refers to Lubbock 1865, an annotated copy of which is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 512–13).
Chapters 11 to 13 (pp. 335–472) in Lubbock 1865 are titled ‘Modern savages’. Chapters 11 and 12 described the culture and technological achievements of many groups of people, ranging from the native inhabitants of Australia and New Zealand to the aboriginal peoples of North America. Lubbock gave brief accounts of the appearance and customs of a number of different peoples that he termed ‘savages’, the chief criterion for inclusion being the non-use of metals. He also limited his accounts to those groups that had been ‘carefully observed by travellers’ (ibid., p. 337). In chapter 13 Lubbock compared the different groups of ‘modern savages’ and contrasted all ‘savage’ peoples with ‘civilised’ societies. CD frequently cited a later edition of Lubbock’s book (Lubbock 1869), especially on savages, in Descent.
CD refers to chapter 14 (pp. 473–92), ‘Concluding remarks’, in Lubbock 1865. In this chapter, Lubbock argued in favour of CD’s theory of transmutation in general but concluded that an ability to control the environment exempted humanity to a large degree from the effects of natural selection (ibid., p. 481).
While Lubbock was a teenager, CD encouraged his father, John William Lubbock, to give him a microscope. CD lent the boy specimens of lower Crustacea from his own collection, and John Lubbock’s earliest scientific work was based on these (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to George Newport, 24 July [1851], n. 6, and letter to J. D. Dana, 27 September [1853] and n. 4).
Lubbock was standing for Parliament in the constituency of West Kent in the election of 22 July 1865 (see The Times, 18 July 1865, p. 6, and 24 July 1865, p. 6).
CD and Joseph Dalton Hooker deplored the loss to science that they predicted would result from Lubbock’s entering politics. See letter from J. D. Hooker, [7–8 April 1865] and n. 14, and letters to J. D. Hooker, 10 [April 1865] and 17 April [1865].
In Lubbock 1865, p. 481, Lubbock wrote: ‘Thus, then, the great principle of Natural Selection, which is to biology what the law of gravitation is for astronomy, not only throws an unexpected light on the past, but illuminates the future with hope.’ Lubbock also wrote: ‘The thoughts of a Shakespeare or a Tennyson, the discoveries of a Newton or a Darwin, become at once the common property of mankind’ (ibid., p. 487).


JL’s book [Prehistoric times (1865)] is "most original".

Wishes him success in politics.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Lubbock, 4th baronet and 1st Baron Avebury
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 263: 7 (EH 88206456)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4858,” accessed on 19 May 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13