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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Lubbock   18 March [1871]1

High Elms.

18 Mar.

My dear Mr Darwin

I have now finished the “Descent”,—I need not say with the greatest interest,—& I venture to trouble you with a few remarks.

V. 1. P. 325 re Hectocotylus. If I remember right Aristotle mentions this, & it has always struck me as a remarkable instance of the universality of his genius.2

109— Variation of muscles. I do not know whether it would be worth while to refer to my paper on the muscles of Pygæra bucephala (Linn Trans. 1858) in which I have described many cases of variations.3

V. 2. P. 361 & 383. I am surprised that you quote the analogy of the lower animals as opposing our views on Communal Marriage. I think the lower animals support us. What monkey ever watched over the conduct of a daughter? or scrupled to carry off anothers wife? The struggle for the females which you shew to prevail so generally clearly negatives the existence of marriage as giving a recognised right.

Communal marriage does not necessarily involve the actual practise of promiscuous intercourse, but seems to me to indicate the retention by woman of all her rights over herself, which she may exercise as she pleases; whereas marriage is the surrender of them to another, who thus acquires a right to complain if she is, even with her own consent, carried off by another man.

The essence of marriage among the lower races of man is the subjection of women to a single man, or (rarely) group of men.

Believe me | yours most sincerely | John Lubbock

C Darwin Esq

CD annotations

3.1 109— … variations. 3.3] ‘(Variation under Nature)’ added pencil, square brackets in MS
Top of letter: ‘Communal Marriage.—’ added pencil


The year is established by the reference to Descent, which was published in February 1871 (Freeman 1977). Lubbock’s name is on CD’s presentation list (see Correspondence vol. 19, Appendix IV).
In Descent 1: 325–6, CD noted that Georges Cuvier had mistaken the hectocotylus (a specialised arm of cephalopods that can be cast off from the body during mating) for a parasitic worm. Hectocotylus was the generic name given by Cuvier for this ‘worm’. See Aristotle, History of animals, V: 541b and Generation of animals, 720b.
Lubbock refers to his study of the muscles of the larva of the moth Pygaera bucephala (now Phalera bucephala, the buff-tip; Lubbock 1858b). CD had alluded to Lubbock 1858b in Origin, p. 46, where he noted that Lubbock had ‘quite recently shown that the muscles in the larvae of certain insects are very far from uniform’.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

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.


Comments on Descent [2: 358–60] especially on CD’s view that behaviour of lower animals is evidence against JL’s interpretation [of aboriginal promiscuity]. View on communal marriage.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Lubbock, 4th baronet and 1st Baron Avebury
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
High Elms
Source of text
DAR 89: 175–6
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7598,” accessed on 15 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19