skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. E. Abbot   20 August 1871

Office of The Index, | Toledo, O.,

Aug. 20, 1871.

Mr. Charles Darwin:

Dear Sir,

Your two very kind letters in response to mine, enclosing your photograph and also three dollars and a half for the “Index,” were duly received, and before this you must have received the papers commencing with the first number of the year.1 I feel so grateful for these favors, which are high honors in my estimation, and so deeply gratified by the flattering opinion you express of my Boston lecture and “Truths for the Times”, that I beg you to accept the accompanying bound volume of my paper for 1870 (the first volume).2 If I may be so bold, I would invite special attention to the series of essays in the first seven numbers.3

If I rightly understand your great theory of the origin of species, it contains nothing inconsistent with the most deep and tender religious feeling. It certainly conflicts with the popular notion of God, but it seems to me to harmonize thoroughly with the enlightened ideas concerning him held by all highly cultured minds of today. In fact, the belief in a God working in Nature by immutable laws of such surpassing sublimity as those whose workings you have traced with unequalled scientific genius, “ennobles” indeed, as you well phrase it;4 and for one I feel that you have done a vast service to true religion by your labors. It is the great aim of my life to show my fellow-men that Science must shape their ideas of God, his laws, and his activity, and that in so doing—in making thought free as air—it is exerting an incalculably beneficent influence over all human society, character, and life. I have never yet received a cent for my editorial labors, but from my inmost heart desire to see them help my fellows to better lives. This is the aim of the Index—to raise mankind to a higher level of thought and life: and the great stream of letters I receive from all parts of the land shows me that I have struck a deep chord in the popular heart.5

Now I have been invited to deliver a lecture on the Origin of Man before the Toledo Society of Natural Sciences.6 May I be so bold as to beg the favor of a little note from you, to be read on that occasion, setting forth your own view of the influence of your theory on religion? Such a note would greatly, very greatly, aid me in my work. The little word “private”, prefixed to your first note, I scrupulously respected, and only quoted one of its sentences anonymously in my paper;7 and as I supposed the same prohibition really covered your second note, though not repeated, I have not used it in print. It would be a great delight to me if I might print just so much of these notes as relates to my lecture and tract; but without your express permission I shall not dream of doing it. Even in a good cause I would not do a dishonorable act.

With most grateful sentiments, I am| most truly your, F. E. Abbot.


Letters to F. E. Abbot, 27 May [1871] and 6 June [1871]. Abbot was editor of the Index, a weekly paper devoted to promoting ‘free religion’; CD had sent money for a subscription and postage with his letter of 6 June [1871]; according to Abbot’s letterhead, the annual subscription was $2.
Abbot refers to Abbot [1870] and Abbot 1871 (see letter from F. E. Abbot, 11 May 1871 and n. 4); no bound copy of issues of the Index from 1870 has been found in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Abbot refers to the following articles, all published in the Index: ‘The giants of Christianity and free religion’ (1 January 1870, pp. 2–4); ‘What is Christianity?’ (8 January 1870, pp. 2–4); ‘What is free religion?’ (15 January 1870, pp. 2–3); ‘Christianity and free religion contrasted as to corner-stones’ (22 January 1870, pp. 2–3); ‘Christianity and free religion contrasted as to institutions, terms of fellowship, social ideal, moral ideal, and essential spirit’ (29 January 1870, pp. 2–3); ‘The practical work of free religion’ (5 February 1870, pp. 2–3); ‘Unitarianism versus freedom’ (12 February 1870, pp. 1–3).
CD wrote in Origin: ‘When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled’ (Origin, pp. 488–9).
On the history and aims of the Toledo Index, see Ahlstrom and Mullin 1987, pp. 81–99.
Abbot was a member of the Toledo Society of Natural Sciences, but no notice of any such lecture has been found.
In the ‘Index Association’ section of the Index for 24 June 1871, p. 196, Abbot wrote: Only yesterday we received from one of the greatest scientific men of England, whose name is famous throughout the entire civilized world, a private letter of which the following was the closing sentence: I have now read ‘Truths for the Times’ and I admire them from my inmost heart; and I believe that I agree to every word. See letter to F. E. Abbot, 27 May [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.

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.


Thanks CD for interest in FEA’s work and for money for Index. Sends 1870 volume of Index.

Praises CD’s services to free-thought.

Asks for CD’s view of the influence of his theory on religion, to use in lecture.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Ellingwood Abbot
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Index , Toledo, Ohio
Source of text
DAR 159: 2
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7912,” accessed on 4 December 2021,

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