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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Lawson Tait   22 February [1876]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Feb 22 75

My dear Sir

I shall be pleased to read your review in the Spectator.2 Herbert Spencer is the inventor of the term “survival of the fittest”. I have sometimes used this term, and intended to use it much oftener, but found a substantive like “natural selection” much more convenient.3

I think there is much truth in the distinction which you draw but it is so fine a one that I rather doubt whether the public would appreciate it, so as to understand or use it.4 I have often spoken of Natural Selection destroying the individuals which do not come up to the proper standard in structure, & this comes to nearly the same thing5

My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Lawson Tait, 21 February 1876.
See letter from Lawson Tait, 21 February 1876. Tait’s review of Variation 2d ed. appeared in two parts in the Spectator on 4 and 25 March 1876 (L. Tait 1876b).
In his letter to CD of 21 February 1876, Tait had drawn a distinction between survival of the fittest and what he termed ‘survival by reason of fitness’. See also L. Tait 1876b, pp. 20–1.
See, for example, Origin, p. 104, or Variation 1: 4.


Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Herbert Spencer invented the term "survival of the fittest". CD used it but found "natural selection" more convenient.

He has often spoken of natural selection’s destruction of individuals which do not come up to "proper standards of structure", which comes to nearly the same thing as RLT’s suggested distinction.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Robert Lawson (Lawson) Tait
Sent from
Source of text
Randall House, Santa Barbara (dealers) (Catalogue XXV, 1993)
Physical description
LS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10406,” accessed on 1 October 2023,

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