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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Rolleston   30 August 1875

British Association | Bristol.

Aug 30. | 1875.

Dear Sir,

At page 4–5 of the enclosed Address you will find that I have controverted Mr Bagehot’s view as to the extinction of the Barbarians in the times of classical antiquity as also the view of Pöppig as to there being some occult influence exercised by civilization to the disadvantage of savagery when the two come into contact—1

I write to say that I took up this subject without any wish to impugn any views of yours as such, but with the desire of having my say upon certain Antisanitarian Transactions and malfeasance of which I had had a painful experience—2

On reading however what I said, and had written somewhat hastily, it has struck me that what I have said might bear the former interpretation in the eyes of persons who might not read other papers of mine, and indeed other parts of the same Address in which my adhesion, whatever it is worth, to your views in general is plainly enough implied.3 I have ventured to write this explanation to you for several reasons.

I am | Yours very Truly | George Rolleston


The enclosure has not been found but was a copy of Rolleston’s address to the anthropology section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Rolleston 1875). Walter Bagehot, in a passage quoted by CD in Descent 1: 239, asserted that populations of native peoples had not declined when in contact with civilisation in the classical era as they had in modern times. In his address, Rolleston criticised the argument as relying on negative evidence, and suggested that a passage in Job 30: 3–8 described just such a decline (Rolleston 1875, p. 145). In 1840, Eduard Friedrich Pöppig had published an encyclopaedia entry on Native Americans, predicting their extinction within a century (Ersch and Gruber 1818–89 s.v. ‘Indier, Indianer’; see especially p. 86).
In his address, Rolleston highlighted the role of disease in population decline not only in native peoples but also in the western world, referring in particular to the smallpox epidemic of 1871 (Rolleston 1875, pp. 144–6). Rolleston, as a member of the Oxford Local Board, had met considerable opposition in his campaigns to improve sanitation in the city and increase resources for the smallpox hospital (Rolleston 1884, 1: liii–liv).
Rolleston had published evidence that there was no essential difference between simian and human brains, and was a noted supporter of Thomas Henry Huxley against Richard Owen in the so-called ‘hippocampus controversy’ (Rolleston 1861; see also Rolleston 1884, 1: xxxiii–xxxvii, and Correspondence vols. 8–10, especially Correspondence vol. 10, letter from T. H. Huxley, 9 October 1862 and n. 7). In his address, Rolleston stated that the unity of the human species could not be questioned (Rolleston 1875, p. 154).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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

Rolleston, George. 1884. Scientific papers and addresses. Arranged and edited by William Turner, with a biographical sketch by Edward B. Tylor. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Sends copy of his "Address [to the department of anthropology", Rep. BAAS 45 (1875): 142–56].

Notes criticism of remark by Walter Bagehot dealing with extinction of barbarians [cited in Descent 1: 239].

Letter details

Letter no.
George Rolleston
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
BAAS, Bristol
Source of text
DAR 147: 554
Physical description
S 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10141,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23