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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Mary Everest Boole   13 December 1866


Dear Sir

Will you excuse my venturing to ask you a question to which no one’s answer but your own would be quite satisfactory to me.

Do you consider the holding of your Theory of Natural Selection, in its fullest & most unreserved sense, to be inconsistent,—I do not say with any particular scheme of Theological doctrine,—but with the following belief, viz:

That knowledge is given to man by the direct Inspiration of the Spirit of God.

That God is a personal and Infinitely good Being.

That the effect of the action of the Spirit of God on the brain of man is especially a moral effect.

And that each individual man has, within certain limits, a power of choice as to how far he will yield to his hereditary animal impulses, and how far he will rather follow the guidance of the Spirit Who is educating him into a power of resisting those impulses in obedience to moral motives.

The reason why I ask you is this. My own impression has always been,—not only that your theory was quite compatible with the faith to which I have just tried to give expression,—but that your books afforded me a clue which would guide me in applying that faith to the solution of certain complicated psychological problems which it was of practical importance to me, as a mother, to solve.1 I felt that you had supplied one of the missing links,—not to say the missing link,—between the facts of Science & the promises of religion. Every year’s experience tends to deepen in me that impression.

But I have lately read remarks, on the probable bearing of your theory on religious & moral questions, which have perplexed & pained me sorely.2 I know that the persons who make such remarks must be cleverer & wiser than myself. I cannot feel sure that they are mistaken unless you will tell me so. And I think,—I cannot know for certain, but I think,—that, if I were an author, I would rather that the humblest student of my works should apply to me directly in a difficulty than that she should puzzle too long over adverse & probably mistaken or thoughtless criticisms.

At the same time I feel that you have a perfect right to refuse to answer such questions as I have asked you. Science must take her path & Theology hers, and they will meet when & where & how God pleases, & you are in no sense responsible for it, if the meeting-point should be still very far off. If I receive no answer to this letter, I shall infer nothing from your silence except that you felt I had no right to make such inquiries of a stranger.

I remain | Dear Sir | Yours truly | Mary Boole

43 Harley Street | London W.

Decr. 13th. 1866


Boole was the mother of five daughters. She was employed as a librarian in Queen’s College, Harley Street, London, the first women’s college in England. Although she had no formal teaching duties, she gave Sunday evening talks in which she discussed the relationship of different forms of knowledge. She was especially interested in the psychology of learning and her ideas on child psychology and learning were later taken up by educators in America (Cobham 1951).
Boole may have come across the remarks on CD’s theory and religion while preparing her book, The message of psychic science to mothers and nurses (Boole 1883; for Boole’s discussion of CD’s theory, see ibid., pp. 33–43). In the preface to Boole’s Collected works (Boole 1931, 1: vii–viii), Ethel Dummer wrote that Boole’s book was a ‘series of talks to a group of London mothers who, finding their religion threatened by Darwin’s new theories, sought Mrs. Boole’s philosophic wisdom’. Although only published in 1883, Boole’s book was completed in 1868 (see Boole 1931, 1: 81).


Boole, Mary Everest. 1931. Collected works. Edited by E. M. Cobham. Preface by Ethel S. Dummer. 4 vols. London: C. W. Daniel.


Asks whether CD believes natural selection obviates man’s ability to be guided by spiritual motives. Is anxious that his theory be compatible with her faith.

Letter details

Letter no.
Mary Everest Boole
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Harley St, 43
Source of text
DAR 160: 249
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5303,” accessed on 18 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14