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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Arthur Nicols   15 April 1871

The Priory | Mill Hill | NW.

April. 15 1871.

Dear Sir.

I have to thank you for your kind communication relative to the editions (?) of “the Descent of Man”—1

As one of the reading public I protest against the incompetent and dishonest criticism of your work which has appeared in almost every one of the Journals except the “Academy” “Nature” and “The Field”.2 The two most notable examples of incompetency and dishonesty appeared in the Athenaeum and Times, to the shame of English Literature.3 Ignorance of the subject and total incompetency to deal with the facts may be pardoned; but when an author is deliberately misrepresented, his strongest cases put out of sight, and his text cut up to suit the critic’s case and jumbled with matter for which the author never was nor could be responsible; when whole columns are quoted without acknowledgment I cannot conceive any thing more disgraceful. Surely we are in want of sound independent criticism not based on mercantile considerations. As far as I can see, the Academy seems likely to fulfil this condition. I expected something better from the Saturday Review4 than a notice which was feeble at the best.

yours faithfully | Arthur Nicols.

To | Chas Darwin. Esq. F.R.S.


CD’s letter to Nicols has not been found, but it was probably a reply to the letter from Arthur Nicols, 7 March 1871. Nicols refers to Descent.
Descent was reviewed by Alfred Russel Wallace in the Academy (Wallace 1871c), by Philip Henry Pye-Smith in Nature (Pye-Smith 1871), and by an anonymous author in the Field, 18 March 1871. For reviews of Descent, see Correspondence vol. 19, Appendix V.
John R. Leifchild reviewed Descent in the Athenæum ([Leifchild] 1871); there was an anonymous review in The Times, 7 April 1871, p. 3, and 8 April 1871, p. 5.
An anonymous review appeared in the Saturday Review, 4 and 11 March 1871; although the review was generally positive, it was critical of CD’s application of sexual selection to human beings (Saturday Review 11 March 1871, pp. 315–16).


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 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.

[Leifchild, John R.] 1871. Review of Descent. Athenæum 4 March 1871, pp. 275–7.

Pye-Smith, Philip Henry. 1871. Review of Descent of man, by Charles Darwin. Nature, 6 April 1871, pp. 442–4, 13 April 1871, pp. 463–5.


Objects to the negative reviews of Descent, notably in the Athenæum and the Times.

The exceptions are the Academy, Nature, and his own, in the Field [37 (1871): 210].

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Arthur (Arthur) Nicols
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Mill Hill
Source of text
DAR 172: 57
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7687,” accessed on 7 December 2019,

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