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Darwin Correspondence Project

To St G. J. Mivart   11 January [1872]1

Down Beckenham | Kent

Jan 11.


My dear Sir

It would be ungracious on my part not to thank you for your letter which I can do with sincerity.2 With time my impression may pass away, & I hope so; but impressions slowly gained & continually strengthened do not readily pass away from the mind in old age.— To aid in the good work I will keep to my resolution & not read your answer to Mr Wright—3 The impression which I have taken can hardly be quite fanciful   Agassiz has uttered splendid sarcasms on me, but I still feel quite friendly towards him:4 Ld Flourens cd. not find words to express his contempt of me:5 Pictet & Hopkins argued with great force against me: Fleeming Jenkins covered me with first-rate ridicule; & his criticisms were true & most useful: but none of their writings have mortified me as yours have done—.6

Besides having been acquainted with you, & thinking that we had a mutual friendly feeling, I think it is the sense of unfairness on your side, which mortifies me. For instance, when you detailed all my changes of opinion & errors (I maintain that the former are very far indeed from being as great as you state),7 if you had wished to be fair, you wd. have allowed that the subject was an intricate one—that nearly all the best naturalists in Europe had written on it & criticised my book—that I had in strongest language (at close of Introduction of Origin in all editions) declared that much remained un-explained. Under these circumstances it wd. prove me a fool not to have changed to a certain extent   If I had said that I cd. explain everything you might have written as you have done.— But it is folly on my part to have written at this length.— You will hardly be able to read or understand this note, & pray do not answer it.— I should be glad to think that I have been foolish & unjust towards you.—

Yours sincerely, | C. Darwin

P.S. If you will look at the last words of Introduction of Origin of 1st & all subsequent editions, you will see how expressly I say that I do not attribute the modification of species exclusively to Natural Selection: & I do not think I cd have chosen a more conspicuous place.—8

I will send you a copy of new Edit. of Origin, soon to be published & now all printed, & I hope there is not a word personally offensive to you or any other man in it— I have had it stereotyped, so that I cannot, thank God, answer any more criticisms.—9 Pray do not write when you receive it; for our minds are so fundamentally different that what appears to me (& at least to some others,) sound reasoning will be to you frivolous.



The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from St G. J. Mivart, 10 January 1872.
See letter from St G. J. Mivart, 10 January 1872 and n. 1. CD refers to Chauncey Wright.
On Louis Agassiz’s disagreements with CD, see Lurie 1960, pp. 252–302. See also Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Asa Gray, 11 August [1860], and Correspondence vol. 16, letter to Louis Agassiz, 19 August 1868.
Marie Jean Pierre Flourens had written a book criticising Origin (Flourens 1864; see also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to T. H. Huxley, 3 October [1864], and Stebbins 1988, p. 130).
François Jules Pictet de la Rive had written a review critical of Origin that CD nevertheless thought ‘perfectly fair’ (Pictet de la Rive 1860; see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to F. J. Pictet de la Rive, 1 April [1860]). CD felt that William Hopkins, in his review, did not understand him fully but he nevertheless appreciated Hopkins’s compliments (Hopkins 1860; see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Charles Lyell, 6 June [1860]). Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin had criticised parts of CD’s reasoning in the North British Review in 1867; CD took account of his arguments in the fifth edition of Origin ([Jenkin] 1867; Origin 5th ed., p. 104). Mivart had criticised the theory of natural selection most recently in his Genesis of species (Mivart 1871a) and an anonymous review of Descent in the Quarterly Review ([Mivart] 1871c).
See [Mivart] 1871c, pp. 50–2.
The last sentence of the introduction to Origin reads, ‘Furthermore, I am convinced that Natural Selection has been the most important but not the exclusive means of modification’ (Origin 5th ed., p. 6).
See Correspondence vol. 19, letter to R. F. Cooke, 4 November 1871. Stereotyping was a process in which movable type was set up and used to make a mould, which could then be used to cast a metal plate for printing. Origin 6th ed. was published in February 1872 (Freeman 1977).


CD believes that StGJM has been unfair in his criticisms and has misrepresented him; he begs him not to write again. "Agassiz has uttered splendid sarcasms on me, but I still feel quite friendly towards him. M. Flourens cd. not find words to express his contempt of me: Pictet & Hopkins argued with great force against me: Fleeming Jenkin covered me with first-rate ridicule; & his crticisms were true & most useful: but none of their writings have mortified me as yours have done …" [See 8154.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
St George Jackson Mivart
Sent from
Source of text
Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums
Physical description
8pp & photocopy

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8156A,” accessed on 18 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20