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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Samuel Butler   1 April [1873]1

16. Montague St. | Portland Sq—

April 1st.

My dear Mr Butler

I have delayed thanking you for your present until I had read it through, which I have now done. It has interested me greatly & is extremely curious.— If I had not known that you had written it, I shd. not even have suspected that the author was not orthodox within the wide stated limits.2 I shd. have thought that he was a conscientious man like Blanco White whose autobiography you no doubt know.3

It will be a curious problem whether the orthodox will have so good a scent as to detect your heresy.— I have just seen G. R. Greg4 & told him of the book, (but not of course who wrote it.⁠⟨⁠)⁠⟩⁠ & he will read it.

He ⁠⟨⁠re⁠⟩⁠marked that the orthodox will read almost anything if not purposely made offensive to them; & no one can say that you have done this. But you will soon be universally know: Leslie Stephen, a regular reviewer, who was lunching here, knew you were the author.— What has struck me much in your book, is your dramatic power,—that is the way in which you earnestly & thoroughily assume the character, & think the thoughts, of the man you pretend to be. Hence I conclude that you cd write a really good novel.— I have been surprised at the strength of the case which you make for Jesus not having died on the cross;5 but I do not know whether to be convinced in the way of small criticisms—there seems too much reiteration in about the middle of the book. It would, I think, be well, when long & many passages are in inverted commas to repeat who is speaking,—I got sometimes confused. Your book must have cost you much labour; & I heartily hope it will be widely distributed; but it is not light reading.

I have been very sorry to hear of your strain: if you cd have come here, we shd. have been very glad to have seen you at luncheon or dinner.—

Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the address. CD stayed at 16 Montague Street, London, from 15 March until 10 April 1873 (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
CD had been sent a copy of the second edition of The fair haven ([Butler] 1873); his annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 645). The book had been published under the pseudonym John Pickard Owen.
CD refers to the posthumously published edited version of Joseph Blanco White’s autobiography (J. B. White 1845). White had been a Roman Catholic priest, then an Anglican priest, and ultimately an advocate of non-denominational Christianity (ODNB).
Francis Darwin thought CD probably meant William Rathbone Greg (see Jones 1919, 1: 187).
Butler had argued that a case could be made that Jesus had not been among those crucified, and that his reappearance following an absence was interpreted as resurrection by those who believed he had been killed ([Butler] 1873, pp. 27–51). Butler contrasted this argument with that of David Friedrich Strauss, who had argued that Jesus had been killed, but not resurrected, and that his disciples experienced a group hallucination (Strauss 1836).


[Butler, Samuel.] 1873. The fair haven. A work in defence of the miraculous element in our Lord’s ministry upon earth, both as against rationalistic impugners and certain Orthodox defenders. By the late John Pickard Owen, edited by William Bickersteth Owen, with a memoir of the author. 2d edition. London: Trübner.

Jones, Henry Festing. 1919. Samuel Butler, author of ‘Erewhon’, 1835–1902: a memoir. 2 vols. London: Macmillan.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

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.

Strauss, David Friedrich. 1836. Das Leben Jesu: kritisch bearbeitet von Dr. D. F. Strauss, gepruft für Theologen und Nichttheologen von Wilhelm Hoffmann. Stuttgart: P. Balz’sche Buchhandlung.

White, Joseph Blanco. 1845. The life of the Rev. Joseph Blanco White. Edited by John Hamilton Thom. 3 vols. London: John Chapman.


Comments on SB’s book [The fair haven (1873)]. CD is struck by SB’s dramatic power – thinks he could write "a really good novel". Surprised at strength of case SB makes that Jesus did not die on the cross. SB’s identity will soon be universally known: Leslie Stephen knows he is the author.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Samuel Butler
Sent from
London, Montague St, 16
Source of text
The British Library (Add MS 34486 D: 60–1)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8835,” accessed on 29 May 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21