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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. A. Gaskell   15 November 1878

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Nov. 15th. 1878

Dear Sir.

Your letter seems to me very interesting and clearly expressed; and I hope that you are in the right.1 Your second law appears to be largely acted on in all civilised countries, and I just alluded to it in my remarks to the effect (as far as I remember) that the evil which would follow by checking benevolence and sympathy in not fostering the weak and diseased would be greater than by allowing them to survive and then to procreate.2

With regard to your third law, I do not know whether you have read an article (I forget when published) by F. Galton in which he proposes certificates of health &c for marriage and that the best should be matched.3 I have lately been led to reflect a little (for now that I am growing old my work has become [nothing] special) on the artificial checks but doubt greatly, whether such would be advantageous to the world at large at present, however it may be in the distant future.4 Suppose that such checks had been in action during the last 2 or 3 centuries, or even for a shorter time in Britain, what a difference it would have made in the world, when we consider America, Australia New Zealand and S. Africa! No words can exaggerate the importance in my opinion of our colonization for the future history of the world.

If it were universally known that the birth of children could be prevented, and this were not thought immoral by married persons would there not be great danger of extreme profligacy amongst unmarried women, and might we not become like the “arreoi” societies in the Pacific.—5 In the course of a century, France will tell us the result in many ways and we can already see that the French nation does not spread or increase much.

I am glad that you intend to continue your investigations, and I hope ultimately may publish on the subject.—

I beg leave to remain | Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Ch. Darwin

This note is badly expressed and written, but I have not time or strength to rewrite it.—

G.A. Gaskell Esqre.


See Descent 1: 168–9.
CD may have in mind Francis Galton’s paper ‘Hereditary improvement’, in which Galton suggested a plan for the improvement of the human race, including a register of the ‘most promising individuals’ and incentives for them to intermarry (F. Galton 1873).
When asked to testify in support of the birth-control advocates Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant the previous year, CD declined, as he believed such practices would in time spread to unmarried women, and that the consequent weakening of the family bond would be the ‘greatest of all possible evils to mankind’ (Correspondence vol. 25, letter from Charles Bradlaugh, 5 June 1877, and letter to Charles Bradlaugh, 6 June 1877). See also letter to M. H. Truelove, 1 July 1878.
The arreoi (eareeoie, arioi, arrioi, or arreyoi) sect of Tahiti was commonly used as an example of a culture practising both promiscuity and infanticide (see for example Malthus 1826, 1: 73–4).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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

Malthus, Thomas Robert. 1826. An essay on the principle of population; or, a view of its past and present effects on human happiness; with an inquiry into our prospects respecting the future removal or mitigation of the evils which it occasions. 6th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.


CD hopes GAG is right [see 11744]. His second law seems largely acted on in civilised societies. Evil that would follow from checking benevolence to weak and diseased would be greater than by allowing them to survive and procreate. CD doubts that artificial checks would be advantageous to the world at large. If birth could be prevented, and control were not thought immoral, "would there not be a danger of profligacy amongst unmarried women?"

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Arthur Gaskell
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 144: 327
Physical description
4pp & Adraft 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11745,” accessed on 9 March 2021,