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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Leslie Stephen   12 January [1881]1

13, Hyde Park Gate South. | S.W.


My dear Mr Darwin,

I hope that you will not object to my saying by way of preface to my answer to your question that it would always give me pride & pleasure if I could be of any service to you.2 I owe (like many more distinguished men) so great a debt to your writings that I should be glad to make the most trifling return: and I have (if I may say so) that personal respect for you which every one must feel who knows you at all.

When you tell me that it pains you to be called a liar in your old age, I can quite understand it. To hear you called a liar makes me wish to give Somebody such a slap in the face as he would have cause to remember. But I also reflect that you & your friends are bound also to remember your position & to avoid undignified squabbles. After all a man who insults you in that way is only exhibiting his own want of any claims to respect.

My opinion about the matter is perfectly distinct and unhesitating. I think that you should take no further notice of Mr Butler whatever.

Perhaps it would be wiser to say nothing more: but I give you my reasons on another sheet, wh. you can read or put in the fire as you please.

Your book shall be put in the most honourable place in my library.3 When I have a chance of seeing you, I shall ask you to write my name as there are one or two little Stephens4 who may some day be proud of any token of your esteem for their papa.

Your’s [respectfully] | L. Stephen

I return the books by post.


I think that Mr Darwin should take no further notice of Mr Butler. My reasons are as follows:

Butler has deprived himself of any claim to personal consideration by his want of common courtesy. Any injury done to him should of course be redressed. But he must not be taken as the judge of what constitutes an injury. Had he kept within the bounds of courtesy, it might have been proper to consider his fancies as well as his arguments. As he has exceeded those bounds so grossly, the only question is whether any wrong is being done to him. Now, in my opinion, there is no real injury whatever. If the inaccuracy in the preface injures any one, it injures Mr Darwin: for it takes no notice of the revision (& presumable improvement) of Krause’s article.5 Every statement bearing upon Butler would remain absolutely unaffected whether it were or were not noticed in the preface. When I reprint articles from reviews, I revise them as a matter of course & without thinking myself bound to give any notice of the fact. The publication of Mr Darwin’s letter & the promise to introduce a change in future editions is, in my opinion, amply sufficient for any purposes.6 But in any case, Butler is not injured. He only comes in for a reference, not [promised] in the preface.

This is, I think, the plainer from Butler’s own chapter.7 He does not really even alledge any injury to himself. The true nature of his complaint is clear. He says himself (p. 70) that Mr Darwin did think him worth notice & did not venture to attack him openly. This is the whole pith & substance of his argument. The obvious truth is that his vanity has been wounded. When he saw the book advertized, he expected a formal reply. He found only the allusion at the end of Krause’s article, & the reference to the book in the preface. When he discovered the inaccuracy, he immediately assumed that there must be malice. There was a plot to injure him by underhand methods. How else could anybody fail to give a serious reply to so terrible an antagonist?

This is really his whole case. If any change were to be introduced in consequence, it would not be in any way to Butler’s advantage. The whole point of it would be to relieve Mr Darwin from a possible imputation   It would do Butler no good, but it would deprive him of a pretext for charging Mr Darwin with ill faith.

The whole question, therefore, to my mind comes to this: whether it is worth while for Mr. Darwin to do anything more than he has done in order to avoid this possible misconstruction? I say no, first because Mr Darwin has done quite enough already & has given ample publicity to the facts. Secondly, because the misconstruction is so absurd that nobody could fall into it, unless he were blinded by wounded vanity. It is not conceivable that Mr Darwin wished to sink the fact of Butler having attacked him, for he mentions Butler’s book.: not that he thought him worth a serious answer, for he only publishes Krause’s contemptuous reference; and the slip of the pen upon wh. this absurd theory rests is acknowledged in a letter published in the Athenæum & in Butler’s own book.8 I cannot think, therefore, that the correction is necessary in Mr Darwin’s interest; nor is it called for by justice to Butler; and to make any more fuss about such an infinitesimal detail would look like a consciousness of some appreciable injustice.

CD annotations

5.11 make] ‘make’ above blue ink
Foot of enclosure: ‘Leslie Stephen’ blue ink


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Leslie Stephen, 11 January 1881.
CD had asked his publisher to send Stephen a copy of Erasmus Darwin (see letter to Leslie Stephen, 11 January 1881).
Stephen’s children were Laura Makepeace, Vanessa, and Julian Thoby.
In the preface to Erasmus Darwin, p. iv, CD had stated that Ernst Krause’s essay, which comprised the second part of the book, was completed before the publication of Butler’s Evolution, old and new (Butler 1879), whereas Krause’s original essay (Krause 1879) was substantially modified before it was translated into English, and the revised version included a highly critical allusion to Butler’s work (see Erasmus Darwin, p. 216).
See Correspondence vol. 28, letter to Samuel Butler, 3 January 1880.
Butler’s accusations were in chapter 4 of Unconscious memory (Butler 1880, pp. 58–79).
The letter to Samuel Butler, 3 January 1880, was quoted in full in Butler 1880, pp. 72–3; extracts also appeared in Butler’s letter in the Athenæum, 31 January 1880 (see Correspondence vol. 28, letter to H. E. Litchfield, 1 February [1880], enclosure 1).


Butler, Samuel. 1879. Evolution, old and new: or, the theories of Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck, as compared with that of Mr. Charles Darwin. London: Hardwicke and Bogue.

Butler, Samuel. 1880. Unconscious memory: a comparison between the theory of Dr. Ewald Hering, … and the ‘Philosophy of the unconscious’ of Dr. Edward von Hartmann. London: David Bogue.

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.


Advises CD to "take no notice of Butler whatever" and gives his reasons.

Letter details

Letter no.
Leslie Stephen
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Hyde Park Gate South, 13
Source of text
DAR 92: B68–71
Physical description
ALS 3pp, encl 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13008,” accessed on 12 September 2023,