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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. E. Litchfield   [1 February 1880]1

4, Bryanston Street, | Portman Square. W.

My dear Father—

R was very late coming in so that we had rather a hurried consultation over the letter & I did not thank you for caring to consult us—which I do most heartily whatever you do with our advice— You will see by my first letter which was written before I got yours how sure I felt that you wd not think of answering Butler.2

I foresee one result of your letter that Butler will say you have been guilty of another quibble— first you say to him that it never occurred to you to state that Krause had altered his article & then that you actually had it in the proof sheets & as you say accidentally omitted to publish it— Now, Butler, will say which of these two statements are true—& so it gives him scope for a whole set of fresh insults—& with his clever pen he can make something very disagreeable, out of this— The world will only know or at any rate remember that you & Butler had a controversy in which he will have the last word— If they understand it at all they’ll see that its nothing whatever against you—but if they merely know there have been letters backwards & forwards they may think there is some ground for Butlers accusation agst you of jealousy of yr grandfather—3

If you leave the letter alone the facts are all there for those who care to read them, & it remains that Butler said some nasty spiteful things which you didn’t care to answer

So Goodbye dear Father— You get enough advice from us in quantity—

your most affec. | H E L

[Enclosure 1]

4, Bryanston Street, | Portman Square. W.

1 Feb 1880

Dear Mr. Darwin,

Henrietta asks me to write my ideas on the Butler letter & your proposed answer.4

When I read Butler’s statement at the Club5 yesty I was much relieved to find that it was of a kind which, as I thought made any answer absolutely unnecessary. Neither in form, nor in substance, is it such as to suggest that a reply is expected. You will observe that it does not, as is common with newspaper attacks, ask for any further information or explanation, or touch any point of fact on which either the assailant, or a reader, could require such— In short, I never was clearer about anything than that, if it were my case, I should say nothing.

I tried, a second time, to read the Statement, as if I were an outsider who knew nothing of the quarrel, & felt entirely sure this is the right conclusion.

Not one reader in a thousand will make head or tail of the grievance. It’s all muddled up with complaints agst divers reviewers—6 This alone practically neutralizes any effect it might have had otherwise. Then if an attentive reader does care to look back & see what the complaint was he will also see (though in a brief form) your substantial reply: and this is on the face of it, sufficient for the purpose. All the rest of B.’s insinuations read to an outsider as merely the annoyance & venom of a man out of temper & hitting wildly about him.

If you answer him you bring about exactly the result he most wants, wh is to fill people’s heads with the notion that yr. bk. is in some way a reply or rejoinder to his: in fact you make it a “Darwin–Butler affaire” as the French wd. say—and this is what will delight him.

As it stands there is nothing wh. any friend of yrs. or any absolutely indifferent person cd want explained or answered, and the tone of Butler is of itself quite enough to deprive him of any shadow of claim to an answer wh. a loyal and friendly correspondent might have.

What I am trying to convey in this letter is that I have thought the thing over as a cold outsider. & that it is in this character that I am against any reply to B.

I agree however wholly with all that H. says as to yr. draft reply.

Yrs affec | R B. L

[Enclosure 2]

4, Bryanston Street, | Portman Square. W.

To Father7

But in any case omit interpolated sentence about you   Could give explanation of how omission came to be made8   People will easily guess that such an accident is possible & this weakens the effect— Also & this is much more important omit last sentence which shows that Butler has stung you—9 of course there is no question of a controversy between you & the letter shd be done with a perfectly dry cold manner. I shd like you to treat Butler like a man does a woman who hits him— it isn’t pleasant, but its impossible to meet it—

Your character for perfect fairness & magnanimity is known to everybody who knows anything of science & to think that anybody will heed what Butler says is absurd— I shd be very sorry that this last sentence shd go forth—

R. wants to say some more but hasn’t time before John’s train—so please don’t make up yr mind—till you hear from us by post—10

We have copied out your letter to Athenæum so as to make any corrections

John going


The date is established by the date of the first enclosure.This packet of letters was sent by hand to CD in response to the letter to H. E. Litchfield, 1 February [1880]. The letters are presented in the probable sequence in which they were written.
See letter to H. E. Litchfield, 1 February [1880]. The ‘first letter’ has not been found. Henrietta refers to Samuel Butler.
Henrietta Emma Litchfield had been sent one or two draft letters from CD to the Athenæum, along with a copy of the Athenæum containing the letter from Samuel Butler (see letter to H. E. Litchfield, 1 February [1880] and three enclosures). In his first draft response, CD had stated that text had inadvertently been left out of the preface to Erasmus Darwin explaining that Ernst Krause’s original essay (Krause 1879a) had been revised (see letter to H. E. Litchfield, 1 February [1880], enclosure 2). Erasmus Darwin was CD’s grandfather.
Richard Buckley Litchfield appears to have read Henrietta’s letter before writing his own view on the matter.
The club was probably the Oxford and Cambridge Club (H. E. Litchfield 1910, p. 245).
See letter to H. E. Litchfield, 1 February [1880], enclosure 1, and nn. 13–15.
This note was evidently written after further discussion between Henrietta and her husband.
The interpolated sentence in CD’s second draft letter begins, ‘I could explain …’ It is written between the lines (see letter to H. E. Litchfield, 1 February [1880], enclosure 3). This sentence is enclosed in pencil square brackets. In his first draft letter, CD gave a more detailed description of how a section of the preface to Erasmus Darwin had accidentally been omitted (see n. 3, above).
The last sentence in CD’s first draft letter to the Athenæum was shortened and slightly modified in his second draft, where it was enclosed with square brackets (letter to H. E. Litchfield, 1 February [1880], enclosures 2 and 3).
John Skinner was CD’s coachman. In a letter dated 4 February 1880 (DAR 219.1: 134), Emma Darwin wrote to her son William Erasmus Darwin, ‘F. got so anxious to get his answer to Butler’s attack off his mind that he sent John up w. it to R. & Hen. for their approval. They sent it down again with 2 very sensible letters from R. & Hen warmly dissuading him from taking any notice.’


Erasmus Darwin. By Ernst Krause. Translated from the German by W. S. Dallas, with a preliminary notice by Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1879.

Krause, Ernst. 1879a. Erasmus Darwin, der Großvater und Vorkämpfer Charles Darwin’s: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Descendenz-Theorie. Kosmos 4 (1878–9): 397–424.

Litchfield, Henrietta Emma. 1910. Richard Buckley Litchfield: a memoir written for his friends by his wife. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Advise against making any reply to Samuel Butler’s charges.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henrietta Emma Darwin/Henrietta Emma Litchfield; Richard Buckley Litchfield
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Bryanston St, 4
Source of text
DAR 92: B72–4; B91–4
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12450,” accessed on 14 April 2024,