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Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. E. Abbot   11 May 1871

Toledo, Ohio, United States,

May 11, 1871.

Mr. Chas. Darwin;

Dear Sir,

Will you pardon a stranger for venturing to correct your misapprehension that you have “but few supporters” in this country? In your note to Prof. Balch, of New York, which I see printed in the N. Y. World, you express this opinion;1 and because I think its correctness would be a sad proof of American ignorance and unintelligence, I take the liberty of saying that my own experience convinces me of the very wide acceptance here of the theory of Natural Selection, at least by the abler and younger educated men. Your books, I am informed by publishers, sell with great rapidity, as also those of Mr. Wallace, Huxley, and so forth.2 For myself, I think your contest with the old theory of immutable and supernaturally created 〈spe〉cies to be what Matthew Ar〈nol〉d’s lively Prussian called the war of Prussia against Au〈str〉ia—the war of “Geist” with “Ungeist.”3 Although not my〈s〉elf entitled to the praise of being a scientific man, I yet take a deep interest in the progress of science; and while at Harvard University I acquired some general knowledge which fits me to understand and appreciate the vast services to science which your “Origin of Species,” “Animals and Plants under Domestication,” and “Descent of Man,” all of which I own, have done and are still doing. Although educated to be a Unitarian minister, and for several years settled as such in New Hampshire, I have ceased to call myself a Christian, and now edit a weekly paper called the Index, advocating absolute freedom of religious th〈ought.〉 I venture to send you 〈    〉 of my recent lecture in Bo〈ston〉 together with a little pa〈m〉phle〈t〉 containing some propositions to which I respectfully invite your attention, as furnishing s〈o〉me little proof that you are not without adherents in America.4 Some articles of mine in the North American Review of 1864 and 1868 on “The Philosophy of Space and Time,” “The Conditioned and the Unconditioned,” and “Philosophical Biology” (the latter a review of Herbert Spencer’s work, which Mr. Spencer thought worthy of replying to in a pamphlet),5 led to some correspondence with Mr. J. S. Mill,6 to whom I am indebted for various favors, including copies of some of his works. These facts I venture to state merely that you may believe me to be somewhat conversant with the opinions of educated men in America, and therefore qualified 〈to be〉ar testimony to the large 〈influ〉ence exerted by your evolu〈tion〉al theory over American thought. I should think very il〈l〉 of my countrymen’s intelligence, 〈    〉, should be ashamed of th〈ei〉r dense stupidity, if they fa〈il〉ed to appreciate the merit and originality of such labors as yours. I enclose a slip from the very last issue of my paper, to which thousands of reading and thinking Americans respond.7

Doubtless you are overrun with correspondence, and I shall not solicit a reply to this. But if you feel able to write a few words only, I shall receive the keenest pleasure from such a favor. Were it not an impertinence, I would ask a photograph, since your generosity to Prof. Balch has inflamed my cupidity; but I beg pardon even for the suggestion.8

I have allowed myself already to say too much, and subscribe myself | With the highest respect yours, | Francis E. Abbot.


Abbot refers to Alfred Russel Wallace and Thomas Henry Huxley.
The reference is to the fictional memoir Friendship’s garland: being the conversations, letters and opinions of the late Arminius, Baron von Thunder-ten-Tronkh (1871) by Matthew Arnold, in which ‘Geist’ (mind or spirit in German) is identified with ‘reason and intelligence’, and ‘Ungeist’ with ‘blind custom and prejudice’ (Arnold 1963, p. 40).
Abbot gave a lecture titled ‘The intuitional and scientific schools of free religion’ on 5 February 1871 as part of a series of Sunday afternoon meetings in the Horticultural Hall, Boston. It was published in the Index, 15 April 1871 (Abbot 1871). Abbot also refers to his pamphlet Truths for the times (Abbot [1870]).
Abbot 1864a, 1864b, and 1868. Spencer’s reply was in the form of a letter to the editor of North American Review, 5 December 1868; it was published not in the journal, however, but as a separate pamphlet (Spencer 1870). Abbot’s criticism and Spencer’s response are briefly discussed in D. Duncan 1908, pp. 144–5.
John Stuart Mill.
The slip has not been found.
CD had enclosed four photographs with his letter to C. L. Balch, 15 April 1871.


Abbot, Francis Ellingwood. [1870.] Truths for the times. Mount Pleasant, Ramsgate: Thomas Scott.

Abbot, Francis Ellingwood. 1871. The intuitional and scientific schools of free religion. [Read 5 February 1871.] Index 2: 113–15.

Arnold, Matthew. 1963. Culture and anarchy with Friendship’s garland and some literary essays. Vol. 5 in Complete prose works of Matthew Arnold. Edited by R. H. Super. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Duncan, David. 1908. The life and letters of Herbert Spencer. London: Methuen & Co.

Spencer, Herbert. 1870. Spontaneous generation, and the hypothesis of physiological units. A reply to the North American Review. New York: D. Appleton.


Wishes to inform CD that, contrary to CD’s impression, natural selection is widely accepted in U. S. by educated men; encloses copies of his lectures, papers, and the Index.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Ellingwood Abbot
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Toledo, Ohio
Source of text
DAR 159: 1
Physical description
4pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7753,” accessed on 13 July 2020,

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