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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Fiske   31 October 1873

67 Great Russell St., | London, W.C.

Oct. 31, 1873.

My dear Mr. Darwin;

Perhaps you may remember that I sent you, through the kindness of your sons, two years ago, some reports of my lectures in defence of evolution in general and natural selection in particular. You were then so good as to write me a letter containing what I have always regarded as the highest & most valuable praise I have ever received from any one.1

I am now spending two 〈or〉 three months in London, revi〈sin〉g and completing my work on Evolution, which Macmillan will publish in the spring.2 It is designed to popularize the views & discoveries of Mr. Spencer3 and yourself, and will deal also with the metaphysics of the subject, seeking to do away with the absurd anthropomorphic distinction which theological opponents (& Agassiz with them) make between “divine action” and the “action of natural forces.”4

I have known & revered you so many years that it would give me great pleasure if I could meet you & shake hands with you before leaving England. There are some subjects about 〈w〉hich I would fain have a word or two of conversation, but as Mr. Spencer tells me that you are (like himself) feeling poorly at present, and as I know what a bore philosophy is under such circumstances, I shall seek for nothing more than to tell you face to face how much I, in common with all thinking men, owe to you. I shall surely be in England until after Christmas, & will come to Beckenham for an hour or so at any time that may be convenient to you.

I left behind, in America, an article for the Oct. North American on the “Progress from Brute to Man”, and an attack on Agassiz’s fals〈e〉 philosophy in the Oct. Popular Science Monthly.5 It is very likely that either or both might perhaps have some interest for you, and the latter certainly you will not have seen unless Dr Youmans has sent you a copy, for it is tabu in the English market.6 If you haven’t them, I will see that copies are forwarded to you from America.

My friend Chauncey Wright (who talked “Darwinism” to me all the while I was packing my trunk for Europe) sends his warmest regards to you, in which I too join, and am, always with deepest respect, | Yours very truly, | John Fiske.


See Correspondence vol. 19, letter from John Fiske, 23 October 1871, and letter to John Fiske, 9 November 1871. George Howard and Francis Darwin met Fiske in the United States in 1871. For a revised version of Fiske’s lectures, see Fiske 1874.
There is a copy of Fiske’s Outlines of cosmic philosophy (Fiske 1874) in the Darwin Library–Down.
Herbert Spencer.
In his Essay on classification, Louis Agassiz hoped to show that the plan of creation had not ‘grown out of the necessary action of physical laws, but was the free conception of the Almighty Intellect, matured in his thought before it was manifested in tangible external forms’ (Agassiz 1859, p. 10).
Fiske refers to Fiske 1873a and 1873b.
Edward Livingston Youmans was the founder of Popular Science Monthly (ANB). Since Popular Science Monthly was initially a vehicle for publishing Spencer’s works in the US, there would have been copyright problems with distributing it in the UK.


Agassiz, Louis. 1859. An essay on classification. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts; Trübner & Co. [Reprint of vol. 1, pt 1, of Contributions to the natural history of the United States of America. 4 vols. 1857–62.] [Reprint edition. Edited by Edward Lurie. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1962.]

ANB: American national biography. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 24 vols. and supplement. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999–2002.

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

Fiske, John. 1874. Outlines of cosmic philosophy: based on the doctrine of evolution, with criticisms on the positive philosophy. 2 vols. London: Macmillan and Co.


Would like much to visit CD before returning to America;

is completing his work on evolution [Outlines of cosmic philosophy (1874)] for publication. Hopes to do away with the anthropomorphic distinction made between "divine action" and the "action of natural forces".

Letter details

Letter no.
John Fiske
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Gt Russell St, 67
Source of text
DAR 164: 125
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9120,” accessed on 16 January 2021,

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