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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   29 January [1874]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Jan. 29th

My dear Huxley

It was very good of you to write so long an account.2 Though the seance did tire you so much it was, I think, really worth the exertion, as the same sorts of things are done at all the seances, even at Crookes;3 & now to my mind an enormous weight of evidence would be requisite to make one believe in anything beyond mere trickery.— It is a very significant fact that Williams now regularly goes to Crookes.—4 I am pleased to think that I declared to all my family the day before yesterday, that the more I thought of all that I had heard happened at Queen Anne St, the more convinced I was that it was all imposture.—5 I would not have believed that H. Wedgwood would so easily have been humbugged:6 my theory was that Williams managed to get the two men on each side of him to hold each others hands, instead of his, & that he was thus free to perform his antics— I am very glad that I issued my ukase7 to you to attend

Yours affecty | Ch. Darwin

George is as much pleased at the result as I am—& attributes all the success to you


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from T. H. Huxley, 27 January 1874.
William Crookes investigated several mediums in the 1870s and 1880s and became convinced that some practitioners possessed genuine psychic abilities (ODNB).
Charles E. Williams was the medium at the séance reported on by Huxley (see letter from T. H. Huxley, 27 January 1874). An observer at a séance held at the home of Crookes claimed to have seen the materialisation of a spirit, ‘John King’, while Williams was asleep behind a curtain in the room with Ellen Crookes keeping her hand on his shoulder (Melton ed. 1996, p. 1406).
CD had been present briefly at a séance in the home of Erasmus Alvey Darwin in mid-January 1874, but did not remain for most of the proceedings (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 January [1874]).
Hensleigh Wedgwood had hosted the séance and was seated next to the medium when the movement of furniture took place (see letter from T. H. Huxley, 27 January 1874).
Ukase: a decree or edict, having the force of law, issued by the Russian emperor or government (OED).


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.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Discusses THH’s account of the séance. CD convinced all are fraudulent.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine Archives (Huxley 5: 377)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9258,” accessed on 15 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22