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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Lewis Henry Morgan   9 August 1870

London | 15 Bury St. St James.1

August 9. 1870

Dear Sir

I send you by mail an advance copy of the last chapter of my work to which reference is made in the article before the Boston Academy which I sent to you some time ago at the suggestion of Prof Asa Gray of Cambridge.2 The work is not yet issued, although stereotyped: but it will be about Dec 1. Until it is issued by the Smithsonian Institution, I suppose it should be considered as a private communication.

In a general sense the results of my investigations are in harmony with the Darwinian theory so far as man is concerned: and it occurred to me that you might be glad to look over this chapter in advance.3 Although apart from the remainder of the text, and the Tables, the force of the positions taken cannot be fully appreciated.

It must be the next work of Ethnology to study with more care the ages of barbarism, to fix the great and successive stages of progress through it, and to find the sequence of customs and institutions which created these epochs. The most interesting and the formative portion of mans physical and mental history lies in the barbarous ages. The stages of his progress were numerous, and by successive reformatory movements as I think each resulting in the creation of new—or in the further developement of old institutions

I intended to call upon you to pay my respects—and to that end provided myself with a letter of introduction from Prof Gray: but I fear now I shall be compelled to forego it until my return to England in the Spring

With great respect | Yours truly | L H. Morgan

The first of living Englishmen | Charles Darwin.

As your country has given you no title I take the liberty of adding an American designation


In 1870, 15 Bury Street, St James’s, London, was a lodging house (Post Office London directory 1870).
Morgan refers to Systems of consanguinity and affinity of the human family (Morgan 1870); he referred to it in his article, ‘A conjectural solution of the origin of the classificatory system of relationship’ (Morgan 1868, p. 477); no copy of Morgan 1868 has been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL; there is a copy of Morgan 1870 in the Darwin Library–Down.
From an extensive study of kinship terms, in particular those in use in tribes of native Americans and Malays, Morgan concluded that social organisation in humans had developed by gradual stages from an original and universal state of complete promiscuity to a family unit based on stable pairs. He identified two different systems for describing kinship: ‘classificatory’ terms that acknowledge only degree of relationship, so that, for example, a sister’s son or daughter is also referred to as ‘son’ or ‘daughter’, and ‘descriptive’ terms that distinguish individual, lineal relationships (Morgan 1868 and 1870). CD referred to Morgan 1868 in Descent 1: 182 in the context of his argument that all civilised nations are descendants of barbarians, and in Descent 2: 358–61, in relation to the operation of sexual selection among primitive peoples.


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

Morgan, Lewis Henry. 1870. Systems of consanguinity and affinity of the human family. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.


Sends last chapter of his book in press [Systems of consanguinity and affinity of the human family vol. 17 in Smithsonian contributions to knowledge (1871)], which supports CD on man.

Ethnology must study the ages of barbarism as the formative portions of man’s physical and mental history.

Letter details

Letter no.
Lewis Henry Morgan
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Bury St, 15
Source of text
DAR 171: 238
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7299,” accessed on 12 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18