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Darwin Correspondence Project

To St G. J. Mivart   26 January [1871]1

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

Jan 26

My dear Sir

I have had two bad days in my bed-room & am a good deal shaken & must be brief.— I shd. be an unfeeling wretch, if I was not quite softened by your extremely kind letter.—2 I own that I thought I saw that your religious feelings had led (for I know of no other cause) you to feel personal animosity towards me, but that your kindness had induced you to conquer & mask these feelings, but that they had biassed your arguments. I now quite think that this was an utter delusion & I apologise to you for such thoughts. I express myself very badly but my head feels very weak.— I do most strongly think, & remember writing so just after appearance of Origin, that the belief in Evolution is infinitely more important for science than belief in Nat. Selection;3 but I do not wish to obtrude this opinion in any public work, or at least not without it comes in naturally & is duly guarded.— I think so, because an [immense] field of enquiry is thus opened up on the manner in which each organism has acquired its present structure—causes of variation—mutual sterility—geographical distribution &c &c &c

(By the way do not your adduced facts of anomalous distribution tell quite as much against evolution as against nat. Selection?)4 For my own private part, I shd have felt little interest in evolution if I had not been able to explain in a general manner to my own satisfaction how each organism had become so wonderfully adapted to its conditions. You admit that Nat-selection has done something, but I almost think you wd be puzzled to say what, judging from your argument from jaw of Thylecimus.5 I almost think you wd have been more secure to have followed Owen6 & given Nat. Selection altogether up.—

Pray tell me when I used that horrid arrogant expression—“it is a false belief”—7 When in London, strength & time permitting, I will surely call on you.— Accept my cordial and sincere thanks for your great kindness & for not taking offence with me.— I can write no more.— I do not know whether all this will be intelligible.

Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from St G. J. Mivart, 24 January 1871.
On CD’s illness, see the letter to J. B. Innes, 26 January [1871] and n. 2. CD refers to the letter from Mivart of 24 January 1871.
The reference has not been identified. See also draft letter to St G. J. Mivart, [23 January 1871].
On the geographical distribution of animals, see Mivart 1871a, chapter 7.
In Mivart 1871a, p. 68, Mivart commented on the fact that the anterior molars of the dog (a placental mammal) resembled those of the thylacine (Tasmanian wolf; a marsupial mammal). See also Correspondence vol. 18, letter to W. H. Flower, 25 March [1870] and n. 4.
Richard Owen.


CD apologises for having thought that StGJM’s religious feelings had led him to feel personal animosity towards him. [See 7454.]

He remembers having thought and written that belief in evolution is infinitely more important for science than belief in Natural Selection. For his own part he would have felt little interest in evolution apart from the explanation "in a general manner" of how each organism is so adapted to its conditions.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
St George Jackson Mivart
Sent from
Source of text
Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums
Physical description
4pp & photocopy

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7459A,” accessed on 17 August 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19