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Darwin Correspondence Project

To M. C. Stanley   [18 November 1871]1

Down | Beckenham | Kent


Dear Lady Derby

If you had called here after I had read the article you would have found a much perplexed man.2 I cannot disbelieve Mr. Crookes’ statement, nor can I believe in his result. It has removed some of my difficulty that the supposed power is not an anomaly, but is common in a lesser degree to various persons. It is also a consolation to reflect that gravity acts at any distance, in some wholly unknown manner, & so may nerve force.3 Nothing is so difficult to decide as where to draw a just line between scepticism & credulity.

It was a very long time before scientific men would believe in the fall of aerolites; & this was chiefly owing to so much bad evidence, as in the present case, being mixed up with the good.4

All sorts of objects were said to have been seen falling from the sky—

I very much hope that a number of men, such as Professor Stokes will be induced to witness Mr. Crookes’ experiments.5

Pray believe me | your Ladyship’s | truly obliged | Charles Darwin


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from M. C. Stanley, [16 November 1871] (this volume, Supplement). The Saturday following 15 November 1871 was 18 November.
Stanley visited Down on 15 November 1871 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). The article described William Crookes’s latest investigations of the phenomena associated with spiritualism (Crookes 1871; see letter from M. C. Stanley, [16 November 1871] and n. 3).
Crookes had performed a series of experiments involving spiritualist mediums, and claimed to have demonstrated the existence of a psychic force that was able to act upon objects at a distance (Crookes 1871).
On the history of debates over the origin of aerolites (meteoric stones), see Westrum 1978 and Burke 1986.
Crookes had invited George Gabriel Stokes and others to be present during his experiments (Crookes 1871, p. 478). Francis Galton later attended séances at Crooke’s house; CD was invited to attend, but declined (see Correspondence vol. 20, letters from Francis Galton, 28 March 1872 and 19 April 1872, and letter to Francis Galton, 21 April [1872]).


Much perplexed by W. Crookes’s article. He can neither disbelieve nor believe. Article has removed some of his difficulty in that the supposed power is not an anomaly. Hopes men such as G. G. Stokes will be induced to witness Crookes’s experiments.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Mary Catherine Stanley, countess of Derby
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143: 384
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9209,” accessed on 21 January 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24 (Supplement)