skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Herbert Spencer   31 October [1873]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Oct 31

Dear Spencer

I have not a word to say against your view, & indeed I think it must hold good, though one would like to have some evidence of a daily movement becoming fixed in one direction & inherited.—2 With respect to assymmetry in the flowers themselves, I remain contented from all that I have seen, with adaptation to visits of insects.— There is, however, another factor which it is likely enough may have come into play, viz the protection of the anthers & pollen from the injurious effects of rain: I think so because several flowers inhabiting rainy countries as A. Kerner has lately shown, bend their heads down during rainy weather—3 If this movement became fixed & inherited, we shd have, according to your view, a species with permanently dependent flowers.

I was glad to receive today an advertisement of your book. I have been wonderfully interested by the articles in the Contemporary.4 Those were splendid hits about the P. of Wales & Gladstone.5 I never before read a good defence of Toryism.6 In one place, (but I cannot for the life of me recollect where or what it exactly was) I thought that you would have profited by my principle (i.e. if you do not reject it) given in my Descent of Man, that new characters which appear late in life are those which are transmitted to the same sex alone. I have advanced some pretty strong evidence, & the principle is of great importance in relation to secondary sexual likenesses.7 I have applied it to man and woman, & possibly it was here that I thought that you would have profited by the doctrine.— I fear this note will be almost illegible, but I am very tired.

Yours vy sincerely | (signed) Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the reference to Spencer’s Study of sociology (Spencer 1873b; see n. 4, below).
No letter from Spencer on this subject has been found. The copy of the letter was made by Spencer himself for Francis Darwin’s ML; Spencer added a note after ‘daily movement’: ‘This seems to be a misunderstanding. The change in question is a change from a bi-lateral position of paired flowers to a uni-lateral position, consequent on permanent change of relation to the environment caused by the growth of the plant.’ The second paragraph of the letter was published in ML 1: 351–2.
CD cited Anton Kerner von Marilaun’s ‘Die Schutzmittel des Pollens’ (Kerner von Marilaun 1873, pp. 127–38) for this information in Movement in plants, p. 414. CD’s separately paginated annotated copy is in DAR 136: 14.
Spencer added a note to his transcription: ‘This refers to the Study of Sociology’. Spencer’s articles in the Contemporary Review (Spencer 1872–3) were republished in book form in November 1873 (Publishers’ Circular, 17 November 1873).
In Spencer 1873b, p. 393, Spencer wrote of William Ewart Gladstone, the prime minister, ‘In common with the ancient Greek, he regards as irreligious, any explanation of Nature which dispenses with immediate divine superintendence’. He also suggested that there was a ‘wholly illogical’ partnership between ideas of natural causation and natural interference, as shown by the fact that when Albert Edward, the prince of Wales, recovered from typhoid, a thanksgiving service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral, and a baronetcy was given to his doctor (ibid., p. 394, ODNB).
Spencer had written, ‘The desirable thing is, that a growth of ideas and feelings tending to produce modification, shall be joined with a continuance of ideas and feeling tending to preserve stability’ (Spencer 1873b, p. 395).
Spencer added a note to his transcription: ‘This remark no doubt refers to my argument concerning the mental differentiation of the sexes of the human race consequent upon the conditions of savage life.’ Spencer argued that women had evolved through natural selection an greater admiration than men for power (Spencer 1873b, p. 377). See also Descent 1: 285–300.


Discusses adaptations in flowers and their heritability.

Mentions advertisements for HS’s book [? Study of sociology (1873)].

Thought HS would have profited by principle that a character appearing late in life is inherited at same age.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Herbert Spencer
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 147: 486
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9119,” accessed on 16 February 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21