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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   20 May 1872

11 St. Mary Abbot’s Terrace | Kensington

May 20.—72

My dear Sir

I do not know how to thank you for your very kind letter; as you will see by the enclosed reviews I have not had much encouragement in print, & though I was prepared for any amount of abuse on the religious business, & any amount of ignorance on my exposition of your theory in ch iv, I did think they wd. say the 1st. chapter was well written.1 The Athenæum contains 14 distinct terms of abuse & three allusions to a book written in my teens—2 But I rather like the Scotsman, & I think he is more a friend of ours than he chooses to say.3

Well as I was going to say your letter has really cheered me up for though I know how kindly is your nature & that you are one of those who appreciate something in everything you read, and therefore that you are a more friendly critic than the general reader wd. be, yet as you condemn nothing in the book wh. I have not already myself condemned, and have selected for your praise those passages in which I put my trust—I am accordingly emboldened to place faith in the book at least to a moderate extent. Its chief defect—& it cannot get over it—is that of form. I began it as a chapter to be inserted in my travels: then it became a Hist. of Africa: then what it is   I shall in the course of 2 years or so, perhaps less, recast it—cut out & transplant Africa & the polemics, make it a Universal Hist. breaking it up into smaller chapters—putting in dates—maps—& authorities as you suggest.4

Savages breaking out into verse is personal knowledge.5 I can give you a description of a case whenever you wish. I found Blyth (of India) at the Geographical6 reading that part in the Library— We were introduced but my name was not mentioned & he pointed out that passage to me saying “There is a good deal of truth in that you know”— he also read me several other passages with approval—e.g. the preceding passages on p 441— But I said who is this man? Does he know anything abt. savages. Whereupon he gave me a short account of myself. He did not seem to like the anti-Jesus part regarding it as premature & such seems to be the general opinion. However I mean to devote my life to war on Christianity.

I know the passage you allude to about the tendrils & had it in fact noted down to be used. But the extreme brevity required in c. iv. has prevented me as you observe from giving facts.7 However I am not aware that I say anything about moral & intellectual evolution which has not been said by yourself or which may not be fairly deduced from what you say— I dont think I can teach you anything on that point. I am glad the passage on Mind & Matter in p 410 did not strike you as absurd. I was rather nervous about it.8

As to the prospects of the book I am dubious & were it not that I shd. be sorry for Trübner9 to lose money I shd. not much care. It cannot become a classic in its present form but 〈l〉ooking upon it as a rude block I believe I can carve it into a permanent work, adding new facts—& what is of more importance new ideas—

My travels will be out in the autumn—10 It will be a book written for women—in a kind of prose poem if I can manage it—& will therefore not contain much ethnological detail   I shall supplement it with miscellaneous essays on Africa— I suppose you do not agree with the passage abt. Caffres identity with negroes (273): a naval surgeon who has been on both coasts & also at the Cape told me however that he was never of any other opinion.11 I merely go by portraits of Caffres that I have seen, not having been at the Cape.

Erewhon seems likely to have a run— Author did not put his name to it because his father is a clergyman—12

Burton who tells me he had a delightful lunch with you, is just off to Iceland.13

As I said before I do not know how to thank you. I will merely say that I went to my work this morning in a happier frame of mind than I have been for many a day.

I remain | yours very truly | Winwood Reade


CD’s letter to Reade has not been found, but see the letter from W. W. Reade, 16 May 1872. Reade refers to his Martyrdom of man (Reade 1872).
The reviewer in the Athenæum, 11 May 1872, pp. 587–8, described Reade 1872 as thoroughly worthless, needlessly profane, indecent, trashy, offensive, pretentious, vulgar, and blasphemous; the reviewer compared it to a three-volume novel published by Reade in 1860, Liberty Hall (Reade 1860).
Reade 1872 was reviewed in the Scotsman, 17 May 1872, p. 3; the reviewer accused Reade of being led by an ‘erratic fancy’, which did not permit of his being ‘strictly logical, to say nothing about accuracy’, and concluded, ‘The man who constructs a new scheme of creation, demolishes old religions, and constructs one that is new, should be moderate in tone, and not like Mr Reade, use the language of the betting ring with the freedom of a horse-couper or fishwife.’
Reade published his travels in Africa in 1873 (African sketch-book, Reade 1873), but the work of recasting Reade 1872 was never completed.
In Reade 1872, pp. 440–1, Reade suggested that the conversation of primeval humans was conducted in verse and song, adding that modern-day peasants and savages sang in their talk, like people in an opera.
Edward Blyth had spent more than twenty years in India (ODNB). The Royal Geographical Society had premises at 1 Savile Row, London (Post Office London directory 1872).
Chapter 4 (the last chapter) of Reade 1872, ‘Intellect’, covered the period from the origin of the universe to the development of organised religion. CD had written on the development of tendrils (see Climbing plants), but it is not known to what specific point he had alluded.
In Reade 1872, p. 410, Reade wrote, ‘Mind is a property of matter. Matter is inhabited by mind. There can be no mind without matter; there can be no matter without mind.’ He went on to argue that the difference between the tendency of atoms to cohere and the thoughts and emotions of a human mind was one of degree and complexity only.
Nicholas Trübner was the publisher of Reade 1872.
Reade’s African sketch-book (Reade 1873) was not published until 1873.
See Reade 1872, p. 273; see also Correspondence vol. 19, letter from W. W. Reade, 1 February 1871. The naval surgeon has not been identified.
Thomas Butler, rector of Langar, was the father of Samuel Butler (1835–1902), the anonymous author of Erewhon ([S. Butler] 1872a). See also letter from Samuel Butler, 11 May 1872.
Richard Francis Burton was going to Iceland to look for sulphur (ODNB). See also letter from J. J. Aubertin, 16 January 1872 and n. 4.


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

Climbing plants: On the movements and habits of climbing plants. By Charles Darwin. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green; Williams & Norgate. 1865.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

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.

Reade, William Winwood. 1860. Liberty Hall, Oxon. 3 vols. London: C. J. Skeet.

Reade, William Winwood. 1872. The martyrdom of man. London: Trübner & Co.

Reade, William Winwood. 1873. The African sketch-book. 2 vols. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.


His book has received bad reviews; therefore CD’s letter cheers him up.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 61
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8341,” accessed on 15 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20