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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Boott   29 February 1860

24 Gower St. W.C

Feby 29, 1860

My Dear Mr Darwin

I return you Grays paper which I have twice read, & which I shall read again, as he has promised me a copy.1 He does not grapple with your hypothesis, as Huxley calls it, nor do I see how he could, in the wish he had to oppose Agassiz. I do not see how anyone can grapple with it, for your Book is like the outward aspects of nature, so full, that the Author of nature alone can deal with it. I am a reader, anxious for light, which my mental optics can only accomodate to the degree of their structure, & I can only admire, consider, scratch my head & gape, as the varying impressions crowd upon me enlightening & confusing me. You have not had a more devout reader. I have owed to you untold benefits. I have always said, condemn me to a Robinson Crusoe Islet, & let me have the choice of the Books of the World for my companions, & I would claim for my portmanteau the 4 Gospels (excluding the Epistles) White’s Selbourne—2your voyage in the Beagle    Shakespeare, Byron, Burns & everything of Milton, & I would be content to work out in solitude my claims for salvation.

I greatly admire your Book, which I have read twice & which I shall read as I do the precepts of Christ & the parable of the prodigal son, till my eyes fail me, & I have to trust to my memory for my devotion to that which quickens my intellectual & moral sense. I owe you (a poor debtor) a thousand obligations. You have enlarged my mind, filled it with power, given an upward direction to my thoughts, & conciliated my respect for humanity. I have for long years sat a humble listener to your teaching—but untill lately you asked nothing of me but admiration for the most perspicuous interpreter of nature. Now you demand of me a faith “in the substance of things not known & the evidence of things not seen”3—which requires all those dispositions of mind which faith implies. So far, my faith has been individual & personal. I have a profound reverence for Abraham & Moses & Jesus Christ, & I have much of the same reverence for you, whom I look upon as the High priest of nature. But the Church would condemn me to the stake for my religious creed, & you would commiserate my difficulties in adopting all your inferences.

So little reliance have I however on my own discernment, that I read your book with all the spirit of faith & all the consciousness of self-weakness, so that my reverence is constantly at war with my doubts, & I feel as much debased on the one hand as you are exalted on the other. My own side of the balance has a natural tendency to sink & yours to rise. It is the fullest Book I ever read, the most candid—the most ingenious, & the most suggestive. From my humble state I have said again & again, as I have floundered often in difficulties “Quid æternis minorem conciliis animum fatigas?’—4

You have done me one essential service. You have put me at rest about the perplexing variations in Carex—a genus which at times I wish to God I had had nothing to do with for its mazes lead me in wanderings lost.5 I can follow your effects of natural selection in it safely, but when you bring millions of years into play, & ask me to believe in a common ancestor to the Sedge-palm, Oak &c you are like the Church, which demands of me a faith I have no elements for. I cannot attain to the belief in the Divinity of Christ, his resurrection—the miracles or the Apostolic succession or the verbal inspiration—& if I am to be d— for it, it is as least a graceful recollection that the rose & violet, which you make my fellow mortals go with me. I do not envy you meeting our common mother Eve hereafter. You will have a rougher reception than æneas had from Dido,6 for tho‘ Decandolle had alluded to the struggle for existence in plants as well as animals,7 You have above all shewn what Eve produced in the fall of our race.

What a mystery is nature, & the destiny of man! To one, like myself, approaching the psalmists age,8 it is natural to look beyond the curtain that falls between the present & the future scene. While I see much in the instinctive religion which nature plants in the mind, I separate myself the more & more from the Church—& knowing nothing beyond my admiration for the beauties & the mysteries of this glorious world, I shall go with a conviction that the power which created & has sustained me will provide for me hereafter—& that is enough for me. Of this world & its marvels, nothing has so much impressed me as the human mind, & no one has more conciliated my homage than your own—

With the deepest respect | Yrs sincerely | F. Boott

C. Darwin Esq


[Gray] 1860a, which CD had forwarded to Boott via Joseph Dalton Hooker (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [23 February 1860]).
Heb. 11:1.
Horace Odes 2.11.12: ‘Why, with planning for the future, weary your soul unequal to the task’.
Boott was an expert on the taxonomy of the genus Carex, the sedges.
Boott refers to Virgil Aeniad 6: 450–76, in which Dido coldly refuses to speak to her former lover, Æneas.
A. P. de Candolle 1820, p. 384. CD’s annotated copy of this work is in the Darwin Library–CUL. In Origin, p. 62, CD referred to Augustin Pyramus de Candolle’s discussion of the competition in nature of all living beings.
Boott, aged sixty-eight, alludes to the expression ‘threescore years and ten’ (Psalms 90:10).


Candolle, Augustin Pyramus de. 1820. Géographie botanique. In Dictionnaire des sciences naturelles. Edited by Frédéric Georges Cuvier. 61 vols. Strasbourg and Paris. 1816–45. Vol. 18, pp. 359–422.

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.

White, Gilbert. 1789. The natural history and antiquities of Selborne, in the county of Southampton. 2 vols. London.


Returns paper by Asa Gray [? "Review of Darwin’s theory", Am. J. Sci. 2d ser. 29 (1860): 153–84].

Greatly admires Origin.

Can follow effects of natural selection in Carex, but when CD brings millions of years into play, he is like Church which demands faith. FB cannot believe in divinity of Christ, resurrection, or miracles.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Boott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Gower St, 24
Source of text
DAR 98 (ser. 2): 27–8
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2717,” accessed on 3 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8