skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Nicolai Mengden1   2 April 1879

Hochgeehrter Herr!

Da ich vor einem Jahre an mir selber erfahren habe, wie gütig Sie den Bitten, die man an Sie zu richten wagt erfüllen, da Sie ja die Sendung Ihrer werthen Namensunterschrift nicht verweigern, so wage ich jetzt wiederum mit einer unbescheidenen Bitte an Sie heranzutreten, um deren Erfüllung ich Sie inständig zu bitten wage.2

Ich habe Einiges in Ihren Schriften gelesen, die ich als 17 jähriger Mensch natürlich nicht verstanden habe, und durch Haeckels Wort: “Die Entwickelungsgeschichte ist der wahre Weg zur Erkenntniss”. Und durch seine “natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte, und durch das Gerede vieler, die Sie sicher nicht verstehen könne, bin ich an mir selber irre geworden, und Zweifel sind in mir aufgestiegen, und daher wage ich es Sie zu fragen, ob bei dem festen Glauben an Ihre Theorie ein Gott bestehen kann, oder ob man nur die Wahl hat zwischen Ihrer Theorie und dem Glauben an Gott, und ob diejenigen die an Ihre Theorie glauben auch an Gott glauben können und müssen?3

Wohl merke ich das meine Bitte sehr anmaßend ist und dennoch bitte ich Sie mir doch antworten zu wollen.

Da ich mir vorgenommen habe Ihrem Rathe gemäß mich zu handeln, um mich vollkommen nach dem, was Sie mir schreiben werden zu richten.

Wenn Sie aber die Frage für zu unverschämt halten und nicht beantworten wollen, so bitte ich Sie mir wenigstens Verzeihung zu geben. Ich wollte Wahrheit haben und da ich nicht Jemanden kannte außer Ihnen der mir Auskunft geben konnte habe ich dieses Gesuch gewagt.

Mit der Versicherung meiner grössten Verehrung | Ihr dankbar ergebener | N. Mengden

Dresden den 2 IIII. 79.

P.S. Da es mir unmöglich war englische Marken zu erhalten so bitte ich Sie mir die Antwort unfrankirt zukommen zu lassen, da sie dann auch wohl sicherer an mich gelangen würde.

[Contemporary translation]

Having found a year ago how kindly you comply with requests addressed to you, as you did not refuse me your valued autograph, I venture once again to trouble you with a request, compliance with which I ask particularly.

I have read some things in your writings which as a youth of 17 years I have naturally not understood; and through Hæckel’s saying that the Evolution Record (Entwickelungsgeschichte) is the true way to knowledge, & through his “Natural History of Creation”, and through the talk of many who surely cannot understand you, I have got bewildered, & doubts have risen up, & therefore I venture to ask you whether, with a firm belief in your theory, a God can exist; or whether one has only the choice between a belief in your theory, and a belief in God, or whether those who believe in your theory can and must believe in a God?

I am quite aware that my request is a very presumptuous one, nevertheless I beg that you will answer me. I have made up my mind to act according to your advice, and to be directed by what you say.

If however you should consider my request too presumptuous, and should not be willing to answer, I beg you will at least forgive me. I desire truth, and as I know no one except yourself who can tell me what I ask, I venture to prefer this request to you.

With the assurance of | My highest respect | your gratefully devoted (signed) M. Mengden.

P.S. As it was impossible for me to procure English Stamps, I beg you will send the answer unstamped, as it would in that way be more sure to reach me.

CD annotations

Verso of last page: ‘quite compatible with a belief in God; but then you must remember that different persons have widely different definitions of what they mean by God.—’ ink

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Appendix I.
Neither Mengden’s earlier letter nor CD’s reply have been found. Mengden corresponded with Francis Darwin after CD’s death and mentioned these earlier letters, noting he had written in early 1878 and received CD’s reply, dated 7 February 1878, eight days later (letter from Nicolai Mengden to Francis Darwin, June 1882; DAR 139.12: 14).
The source of the quotation from Ernst Haeckel has not been identified. Haeckel’s popular book Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (Natural history of creation; Haeckel 1868) had been through seven editions, the most recent published in 1879 (Haeckel 1879f). As an alternative to church-based religions, Haeckel proposed a monistic natural religion, which he referred to as the religion of the future (Haeckel 1879, pp. 681–2; for more on the development of Haeckel’s monism, see T. H. Weir 2012).

Bibliography

Haeckel, Ernst. 1868c. Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte. Gemeinverständliche wissenschaftliche Vorträge über die Entwickelungslehre im Allgemeinen und diejenige von Darwin, Goethe und Lamarck, im Besonderen über die Anwendung derselben auf den Ursprung des Menschen und andere damit zusammenhangende Grundfragen der Naturwissenschaft. Berlin: Georg Reimer.

Haeckel, Ernst. 1879f. Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte. Gemeinverständliche wissenschaftliche Vorträge über die Entwickelungslehre im Allgemeinen und diejenige von Darwin, Goethe und Lamarck im Besonderen. 7th edition. Berlin: Georg Reimer.

Weir, Todd H. 2012 The riddles of monism: an introductory essay. In Monism: science, philosophy, religion, and the history of a worldview, edited by Todd H. Weir. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Translation

From Nicolai Mengden1   2 April 1879

Most esteemed Sir!

Since I experienced for myself a year ago how kindly you fulfill the requests one dares make to you, as you did not refuse to send me your honoured autograph, I now venture to approach you yet again with an immodest request, which I implore you to fulfill.2

I have read quite a bit in your writing, which I as a 17-year-old person naturally did not understand, and through Haeckel’s statement “developmental history is the true path to knowledge” and through his “natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte, and from the talk of many who surely are unable to understand you, I became very muddled, doubt began to grow in me, and as a result I make bold to ask you whether a god can exist for a true believer in your theory, or whether one must choose between your theory and a belief in God, and whether those who believe in your theory can and must also believe in God?3

I am quite aware that my request is very presumptuous and nevertheless I pray you are willing to respond.

However, I have resolved to act in accordance with your advice, in order to follow what you tell me absolutely.

Should you find my question impudent and prefer not to respond, I ask you at least to forgive me. I wanted truth and since I knew no-one except you who could advise me I dared to make this request.

With the assurance of my greatest respect | Yours gratefully devoted | N. Mengden

Dresden 2 IIII. 79.

P.S. Since it was not possible to obtain English stamps I beg you to send the reply unfranked, for it would then be more certain to reach me.

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original German and a contemporary translation, see p. QQQQ.
Neither Mengden’s earlier letter nor CD’s reply have been found. Mengden corresponded with Francis Darwin after CD’s death and mentioned these earlier letters, noting he had written in early 1878 and received CD’s reply, dated 7 February 1878, eight days later (letter from Nicolai Mengden to Francis Darwin, June 1882; DAR 139.12: 14).
The source of the quotation from Ernst Haeckel has not been identified. Haeckel’s popular book Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (Natural history of creation; Haeckel 1868) had been through seven editions, the most recent published in 1879 (Haeckel 1879f). As an alternative to church-based religions, Haeckel proposed a monistic natural religion, which he referred to as the religion of the future (Haeckel 1879, pp. 681–2; for more on the development of Haeckel’s monism, see T. H. Weir 2012).

Bibliography

Haeckel, Ernst. 1868c. Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte. Gemeinverständliche wissenschaftliche Vorträge über die Entwickelungslehre im Allgemeinen und diejenige von Darwin, Goethe und Lamarck, im Besonderen über die Anwendung derselben auf den Ursprung des Menschen und andere damit zusammenhangende Grundfragen der Naturwissenschaft. Berlin: Georg Reimer.

Haeckel, Ernst. 1879f. Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte. Gemeinverständliche wissenschaftliche Vorträge über die Entwickelungslehre im Allgemeinen und diejenige von Darwin, Goethe und Lamarck im Besonderen. 7th edition. Berlin: Georg Reimer.

Weir, Todd H. 2012 The riddles of monism: an introductory essay. In Monism: science, philosophy, religion, and the history of a worldview, edited by Todd H. Weir. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Summary

NvM is 17 years old. Confused by reading CD’s works and Ernst Haeckel’s Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte [1868]. Can a believer in CD’s theory believe in God?

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-11971
From
Nicolai Mengden, Baron von Mengden
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Dresden
Source of text
DAR 171: 151
Physical description
3pp (German) †, trans 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11971,” accessed on 30 May 2020, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-11971.xml

letter