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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   14 May 1873

Dr. Rayner’s | Malvern

May 14, ’73

My dear Sir

I have got safely through the work, I will not say to my own satisfaction—but after all it does not much matter.1 The book wont live—I doubt whether a work of travels can be made to live—unless like your Journal it is also a work of science—or unless like Eothen it is a collection of witty essays.2

I thought afterwards that what I said at lunch the other day3 seemed to show an indifference to painstaking in style: but my opinion (such as it is) is really quite the other way. For my own part I find it so difficult to make a paragraph read well, that I have always had a pleasure in finding out that the great masters of style only did what they did by means of transposition—erasure &c.— All such cases I have noted down & can mention a few from memory— Pascal wrote one of his short Lettres Provinciales—seven times— Balzac had 16 proofs of the Peau de Chagrin—4 He is considered the best modern French writer so far as style is concerned— Rousseau is another case— item Dickens & Macaulay. In short it seems to be a rule to which there are few exceptions Thackeray seems to have been one—5

I am down here not for the cure, but merely for air & water— I know a lady in this neighbourhood who told me that Dr. Rayner took non-patients,6 and that there was always plenty of croquet going on—so here I have come in preference to making visits, and going through heavy late dinners &c.—

I hope that you were none the worse for your trip to London which certainly gave pleasure (to my knowledge) to a great number of your friends & disciples—7 I met an American young lady in London the other day—an old friend of mine—& we spoke of Chauncey Wright— Oh, she said, Mr. Wright thinks that there is no country like England; & I believe he thinks that there is no man like Mr. Darwin. Here she made une petite moue8—probably not liking your theory— One young lady with whom I correspond was shocked to hear I was a Darwinian— Me a monkey indeed! she said— However in her last letter she said she was pretty nearly converted for she sat next at dinner to a naval man who described the Fuegians to her—their habit of eating missionaries raw &c.—& her opinion seems to be now precisely what you express in your Conclusion—that if we must own them for our ancestors, we can go a little lower down without feeling the drop.

I dont write this to inveigle you into a correspondence— I know how much you have to do in that way, and beg you wont trouble to answer this letter. But if you can spare me a few lines, after you have read my book I shall be very glad to have them   You will receive a copy in a fortnight or less—9

Yours very truly | Winwood Reade


Reade had completed The African sketch-book (W. W. Reade 1873). It was published in June 1873 (see Publishers’ Circular, 17 June 1873, p. 413).
The references are to Journal of researches and Eothen; or traces of travel brought home from the east (Kinglake 1844).
Reade probably met CD when the Darwins were in London in March and April (see n. 7, below).
Blaise Pascal’s Lettres provinciales (Provincial letters; Pascal 1657) and Honoré de Balzac’s novel La peau de chagrin (The wild ass’s skin; Balzac 1831).
Reade refers to Jean Jacques Rousseau, Charles Dickens, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and William Makepeace Thackeray.
Thomas Rayner ran a hydropathic establishment in Malvern.
CD had been in London from 15 March to 10 April (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
Une petite moue: a little pout.
CD’s annotated copy of W. W. Reade 1873 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 697–8).


Balzac, Honoré de. 1831. La peau de chagrin, roman philosophique. 2 vols. Paris: Charles Gosselin.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Kinglake, Alexander William. 1844. Eothen; or, Traces of travel brought home from the East. London: J. Ollivier.

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.

Pascal, Blaise. 1657. Les provinciales, ou les lettres escrites par Louis de Montalte, à un provincial de ses amis, & aux RR. PP. Jésuites: sur le sujet de la morale, & de la politique de ces peres. Cologne: Pierre de la Vallée.

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


Has completed his book [The African sketch-book (1873)].

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 67
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8912,” accessed on 15 January 2021,

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