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Darwin Correspondence Project

To George Rolleston   2 September [1875]1

Bassett, Southampton

Sept 2nd

My dear Sir

I am much obliged to you for having sent me your Address, which has interested me greatly.2 I quite subscribe to what you say about Mr Bagehot’s striking remark, & wish I had not quoted it.—3 I can perceive no sort of reflection or blame on anything which I have written, & I know well that I deserve many a good slap on the face.—

The decrease of savage populations interests me much, & I shd. like you sometime to look at a discussion on this subject which I have introduced in the 2nd. Edit. of the Descent of Man, & which you can find (for I have no copy here) in the list of additions.4 The facts have convinced me that lessened fertility & the poor constitution of the children is one chief cause of such decrease; & that the case is strictly parallel to the sterility of many wild animals when made captive. The civilisation of savages & the captivity of wild animals leading to the same result.

I was pleased to see your reference to Chauncey Wright’s article.5

Again thanking you for your address, which like all your writings shows that you are determined to think on all points for yourself

I remain| My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from George Rolleston, 30 August 1875.
With his letter of 30 August 1875, Rolleston had sent a copy of his address to the anthropology section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Rolleston 1875). The copy has not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL.
In Descent 1: 239 and 2d ed., p. 183, CD had cited Walter Bagehot’s remark that savages did not waste away before the classical nations as they did before modern civilised nations; had they done so old moralists would have mused over the event, but there was no lament in any writer of that period over the perishing barbarians. Rolleston objected that the absence of a historical record did not prove that barbarian races had not in fact dwindled, and cited a passage in Job 30:3 that he said could be a description of a barbarous race perishing (Rolleston 1875, p. 145).
See Descent 2d ed., pp. 188–90.
In Rolleston 1875, p. 150, Rolleston cited Chauncey Wright’s suggestion that human brains were were larger in relation to their bodies than those of related species possibly because of the brain power required by the use of language (C. Wright 1870, p. 295).


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Wright, Chauncey. 1870. [Review of Contributions to the theory of natural selection, by Alfred Russel Wallace, 1870.] North American Review 111: 282–311.


Thanks for GR’s "Address" [see 10141].

Wishes he had not quoted Bagehot’s remark [in Descent 1: 239] about decrease in savage populations. Interest in subject.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Rolleston
Sent from
Source of text
Wellcome Collection (MS.6119/68)
Physical description
ALS 4pp cov

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10150,” accessed on 18 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23