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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Murray   9 May [1874]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

May 9th

My dear Mr Murray

Mr Mc. Lennan writes to me that he applied to you to publish a new Edit. of his Primitive marriage & that you said you had never heard of it & advised him to apply elsewhere.—2 I am sure that you will excuse me telling you that I think it a most valuable book & extremely interesting. I have often quoted it as a good book unknown solely from bad publishing. I do not think that it is too indelicate. Several men & good judges have expressed to me their high opinion of its value.3

If what I say has any effect on you, you could no doubt borrow a copy (one is not to be purchased) from “F. F. Mc. Lennan 61. Bedford Gardens Campden Hill W.” & could then judge for yourself or through your advisers.—

Why I trouble you is chiefly because I have for some time back blamed Mr Mc. Lennan & told him it was a sin & shame that such a book shd. be out of print.— If you decide not to look at the book pray inform me that I may inform Mr Mc. Lennan. But if you determine to look at it, do not waste your time by writing to me

Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from J. F. McLennan, 5 May 1874.
CD refers to John Ferguson McLennan and his book Primitive marriage: an inquiry into the origin of the form of capture in marriage ceremonies (McLennan 1865); see letters from J. F. McLennan, 5 May 1874 and 8 May 1874. The first edition of McLennan 1865 was published by Adam and Charles Black of Edinburgh. No second edition was published. No reply from Murray has been found, but see the letter from J. F. McLennan, 13 May 1874. There is a note at the top of this letter reading ‘Declined May 11– JM’.
CD cited McLennan 1865 in Descent as an authority on mating and marriage customs and on infanticide in native cultures, describing the book as ‘extremely valuable’ (Descent 2: 358, 363, 365, 374).


Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

McLennan, John Ferguson. 1865. Primitive marriage: an inquiry into the origin of the form of capture in marriage ceremonies. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black.


Recommends that JM consider publishing a new edition of J. F. McLennan’s Primitive marriage [1865]. CD considers it very valuable and not too indelicate.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Murray
Sent from
Source of text
National Library of Scotland (John Murray Archive) (Ms. 42152 ff. 347–347A)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9451,” accessed on 29 November 2020,

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