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Darwin Correspondence Project

To E. B. Aveling1   13 October 1880

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | (Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.)

Oct. 13th 1880


Dear Sir

I am much obliged for your kind letter & the enclosure.—2 The publication in any form of your remarks on my writings really requires no consent on my part, & it would be ridiculous in me to give consent to what requires none.— I shd. prefer the Part or Volume not to be dedicated to me (though I thank you for the intended honour) as this implies to a certain extent my approval of the general publication, about which I know nothing.—3 Moreover though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biassed by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion.—

I am sorry to refuse you any request, but I am old & have very little strength, & looking over proof-sheets (as I know by present experience) fatigues me much.—4

I remain Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Ch. Darwin


A Russian translation of this letter in 1931 mistakenly claimed Karl Marx as the recipient, leading to the assumption among scholars that Marx had wished to dedicate the second volume of Das Kapital (Marx 1867–94) to CD. The second volume was published in 1885. It was not until the 1970s that Aveling was reinstated as the recipient of this letter following the realisation that Aveling’s later association with Marx’s daughter had led to his and Marx’s papers being combined. See Colp 1982.
The enclosure was an English translation of a pamphlet by Ludwig Büchner (see letter from E. B. Aveling, 12 October 1880 and n. 7).
Aveling had requested CD’s approval of his plan to discuss CD’s works in a book titled The student’s Darwin (Aveling 1881). He had also asked whether he might dedicate the book to CD. See letter from E. B. Aveling, 12 October 1880.
Aveling had offered to send CD the page-proofs of The student’s Darwin (letter from E. B. Aveling, 12 October 1880).


Aveling, Edward Bibbins. 1881. The student’s Darwin. London: Freethought Publishing Company.

Colp, Ralph. 1982. The myth of the Darwin–Marx letter. History of Political Economy 14: 461–82.

Marx, Karl. 1867–94. Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Oekonomie. 3 vols. Hamburg: Otto Meissner.


Publication of EA’s remarks on CD’s writings requires no consent on CD’s part. CD would prefer that no part or volume be dedicated to him as it would imply his general approval of the publication, of which he knows nothing. Though he is a strong advocate of free-thought CD feels that direct attacks on Christianity and theism produce hardly any effect. Freedom of thought is best promoted by gradual illumination of men’s minds produced by advance of science. Has therefore avoided writing on religion though "I may have been unduly biassed by the pain which it would give members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Edward Bibbens Aveling
Sent from
Source of text
International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam (Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels Papers D. 1014)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12757,” accessed on 4 March 2024,