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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Herbert Spencer   10 June [1872]1

Bassett, Southampton

June 10th

Dear Spencer

I daresay you will think me a foolish fellow, but I cannot resist the wish to express my unbounded admiration of your article in answer to Mr Martineau.2 It is indeed admirable, & hardly less so your second article on Sociology (which however I have not yet finished): I never believed in the reigning influence of great men on the world’s progress; but if asked why I did not believe, I shd. have been sorely perplexed to have given a good answer.3 Everyone with eyes to see & ears to hear (the number, I fear, are not many) ought to bow their knee to you, as I for one do.—

Believe me | yours most sincerely | Ch. Darwin

We have come here to my son’s house for 10 days’ rest; as I have just finished & sent my M.S. on “Expression of the Emotions in Man & the lower animals” to the Printers.—4

Do not think of wasting your time by acknowledging this scrap.—


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Herbert Spencer, 12 June 1872.
In his response to James Martineau’s article ‘The place of mind in nature and intuition in man’ (J. Martineau 1871), Spencer, while strongly denying that the theory of evolution was intrinsically materialist, countered Martineau’s arguments for the existence of a divine creator and his apparent misinterpretation of Spencer’s doctrine of ‘survival of the fittest’ as ‘survival of the better’ (Spencer 1872).
Between April 1872 and October 1873 Spencer published a sixteen-part paper in the Contemporary Review appealing for social science to be recognised as a discrete and valuable discipline (Spencer 1872–3). In the second part, ‘Is there a social science?’, which appeared in the May 1872 issue, Spencer characterised those who refused to recognise it as ‘the class which sees in the course of civilization little else than the record of remarkable persons and their doings’; his counter-argument was that great persons arose from the societies in which they lived (Spencer 1872–3, part 2, pp. 705–10).
CD sent Expression to the printers William Clowes & Sons in the first week of June (see letter from John Murray, 7 June [1872]); CD and Emma Darwin stayed with William Erasmus Darwin from 8 to 20 June 1872 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).


Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Martineau, James. 1871. The place of mind in nature and intuition in man. Contemporary Review 19: 606–23.

Spencer, Herbert. 1872–3. The study of sociology. Contemporary Review 19: 555–72, 701–18; 20: 307–26, 455–82; 21: 1–26, 159–82, 315–34, 475–502, 635–51, 799–820; 22: 1–17, 165–74, 325–46, 509–32, 663–77.

Spencer, Herbert. 1872. Mr. Martineau on evolution. Contemporary Review 20: 141–54.


Expresses his "unbounded admiration" for HS’s article on Martineau ["Mr Martineau on evolution", Contemp. Rev. 20 (1872): 141–54]

and his article on sociology [Contemp. Rev. 19 (1872): 701–18]. CD never believed in the reigning influence of great men on the world’s progress but could not have given his reasons. "Now every one with eyes to see and ears to hear . . . ought to bow their knee to you, as I for one do."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Herbert Spencer
Sent from
Source of text
University of London, Senate House Library (MS791/80)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8380,” accessed on 20 July 2024,

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