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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. H. Darwin   19 October [1874]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Oct 19th

My dear George,

We have been greatly interested by your whole letter.2 As I believe that no one can tell whether he can lecture fairly well, until he has tried, & whether his nerves will stand the exertion (& I imagine a person out of health wd be more apt to break down than another), I shd. certainly think it much safer for you to have had a trial in some smaller place & not before the elite of London, as at the R. Institution. But if you think you could succeed I am rather strongly of opinion it wd. be better to take up your new views of Pol. Economy rather than Dress:— I think this latter subject wd. rather rash for a young man unless he was certain that he cd. make it very amusing.3 A man with an established reputation might make the trial & it wd. be thought merely a jeu d’esprit,4 & if it failed nothing more wd. be thought about it. This, however, wd. not be the case with a young man. Assuming that the Pol. Lecture was too abstruse & would interest very few, yet those who did not care about it, or understand it, would not complain: they wd. have a silent conviction that the lecture was worth giving, though they did not profit by it. By some reiteration, I shd think you could make your new view intelligible. No doubt it is a grt evil not having illustrations, & I suppose any wd. be impossible.— A lecture on this subject, wd., I imagine be as intelligible to the multitude as one of Clifford’s.5 I shd add, as one sign, that your mother did not care about your published article on dress. It is a great honour being asked by such a man as Spottiswoode to lecture, but reflect well before you accede. Could you consult him whether such a subject as Pol. Econ. giving him some notion wd. do?

Your health is a serious point in the problem—6

This is the result of my reflexions on the subject.—

We received the Quarterly yesterday, & am sorry I did not forward it at once, but thought that you wd have seen it. The last sentence of the rejoinder is decently fair.— I have written to Murray to thank him for the copy, & have told him that the rejoinder was a fine specimen of words having been used in a Pickwickian sense. I have also told him my conviction that Mivart was the author, & have expressed my plain opinion about the man’s malice & utter disregard of truth.7

I shd doubt whether going to Abinger was worth the cost.—8 Thank you for telling me about Balfour9

Yours affect | C. Darwin

On account of any proofs of Index let me hear whether you go to Abinger & how long you stay there. I do not believe book will be ready for Murray’s sale!!10


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from G. H. Darwin, 18 October 1874.
George had been invited by William Spottiswoode to give a Friday evening lecture at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and George had suggested the topics of political economy or development in dress (see letter from G. H. Darwin, 18 October 1874 and nn. 1, 2, and 4).
Jeu d’esprit (French): a witticism.
William Kingdon Clifford was a mathematician and philosopher of science (ODNB).
George wrote that his health problems would not prevent him from giving the Royal Institution lecture (see letter from G. H. Darwin, 18 October 1874).
CD refers to the October 1874 issue of the Quarterly review (137: 587–9), which contained an unsigned rejoinder from St George Jackson Mivart following George Howard Darwin’s letter defending himself against the anonymous attacks on him by Mivart (see letter to John Murray, 18 October 1874 and n. 1). The last sentence stated: ‘But when a writer, according to his own confession, comes before the public “to attack the institution of marriage”, even though it be “only in so far as that certain changes are required” (such changes being, in our opinion, fatal in their tendency), he must expect searching criticism; and, without implying that Mr. Darwin has in “thought” or “word” approved anything which he wishes to disclaim, we must still maintain that the doctrines which he advocates are most dangerous and pernicious.’
George was thinking of cancelling a planned visit to Abinger Hall (see letter from G. H. Darwin, 18 October 1874 and n. 14).
George was helping CD with the proof-sheets of Descent 2d ed. (letter from G. H. Darwin, 18 April 1874). It was published in November 1874 (letter from R. F. Cooke, 12 November 1874). On John Murray’s November sale dinners, see Murray 1908–9, p. 540.


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Murray, John. 1908–9. Darwin and his publisher. Science Progress in the Twentieth Century 3: 537–42.

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.


Advice to GHD on whether to accept invitation to lecture at the Royal Institution.

Murray has sent the Quarterly Review issue. CD has told Murray that he is convinced Mivart is the author and what he thinks of him.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Howard Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.1: 33
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9687,” accessed on 22 May 2022,

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