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Darwin Correspondence Project


From F. W. Harmer   31 August 1872

Heigham Grove, | Norwich.

Aug 31/72

Dear Sir

I trust you will allow me to thank you for your kind reply to my enquiry.1

I should not have engaged in a controversy with Mr. Lyon whose book seems to me abt. on a par with “Dame Europa’s School” had I not been almost forced into it.2

Dr. Bateman, a medical man of this City, the author of a work on “Aphasia”,3 read some time since, before the Victoria Institute in London,4 a paper in which he claimed to prove the “fallacy of Darwinism”(!) by shewing that “speech could not be traced to a material centre”,5 & he published a letter in our “Daily Press” to the same effect.6

I was unwise enough to reply to the latter, that a theory was not disproved by a mere objection being urged against it, & also to attempt to explain that an argument which he rested great weight upon, viz. the non production of the missing link, was valueless, owing to the imperfection of the Geological record—7

Dr. Bateman summoned Mr. Lyon to his assistance, with whom I at first declined to discuss the matter, but my refusal to do so was received so triumphantly by them as an acknowledgement of the collapse of my case that I felt unwilling to let the subject drop.

I trust you will pardon my doing so— I fear it almost borders on the intrusive—but I venture to take the opportunity which your courteous reply has given me, as a religious man, on behalf of a rapidly increasing number of persons with whom I am associated, of assuring you how warmly we protest against the unfair & personal attacks to which you have been & still are subjected, in the name of religion & by its self constituted champions. Mr. Lyon is, I believe an Independent minister at Tunbridge Wells—

Again thanking you | I am | Yours truly | F. W. Harmer

Chas Darwin Esq F.R.S. &c


Letter to F. W. Harmer, 29 August 1872.
William Penman Lyon’s book, Homo versus Darwin (Lyon [1871]), was written in the form of a judicial trial. The fight at Dame Europa’s school (Pullen [1871]), was a satire on the Franco-Prussian War, portraying the battles between European countries as fights between schoolchildren.
Frederic Bateman had sent CD a copy of his book On aphasia, or loss of speech: and the localisation of the faculty of articulate language (Bateman 1870; see Correspondence vol. 19, letter from Frederic Bateman, 31 March [1871] and n. 2). CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 35). The work is cited in Expression, p. 357 n., and Descent 2d ed., p. 72 n. 14, and p. 88 n. 60.
Bateman’s paper, ‘Darwinism tested by recent researches on language’, was delivered at a meeting of the Victoria Institute on 18 March 1872 (Bateman 1872). The Victoria Institute was founded in 1865 to investigate questions of philosophy and science for their bearing on Christianity. On the founding of the society, see Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute, or Philosophical Society of Great Britain 1 (1866): 1–36.
The quotations do not appear in Bateman’s published paper (Bateman 1872), which argued that no definite portion of the brain had yet been identified as the seat of language, and that human speech ought to be regarded as different in kind from that of animals. On Bateman’s theory of language in relation to cerebral localisation studies, see Radick 2007, pp. 58–64. For CD’s discussion of the origins of language, see Descent 1: 53–62.
The controversy between Harmer, Lyon, and Bateman was conducted in the Eastern Daily Press. Bateman’s letter was in the issue of 25 April 1872, p. 2.
Eastern Daily Press, 30 April 1872, p. 2.

Letter details

Letter no.
Harmer, F. W.
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 166: 103
Physical description


He became entrapped in the W. Lyon controversy by defending CD against Frederic Bateman of Norwich.

As a religious man, FWH wants to apologise for the attacks CD has suffered in the name of religion.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8499,” accessed on 14 February 2016,