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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Rolleston   30 September 1868


Sept 30. 1868.

My dear Sir.

When I had the advantage of seeing you in the College of Surgeons early this year,1 I ventured to make some remarks to you upon the extent to which your doctrines were applicable to our mental organization. I said then that I would, with your permission, send to you an extract from a paper by Dean Alford which appeared in the “Good Words” for January 1868. This I do now; and I have pasted on the same sheet of paper some remarks of my own which I made in an Address I had to deliver a few weeks back before the British Medical Association.2 I may say that I understood Mr Berkeley to take much the same line in the Address which he delivered a few days ago at Norwich to the Biological Section of the British Association.3

That a man’s ratiocinative powers are qualitatively not dissimilar from those of the lower animals and very largely dependent upon his material organization may be granted. And what applies to the method by which these powers and structures have been evolved in the lower creatures will be considered by most men to be more or less applicable to the method by which these powers and structures have been perfected in us. But here the question of the difference of soul or life from spirit comes in; and I suppose that Dean Alford, like Professor Ferriar and myself, would say with DesCartes that the lower animals were merely animated machines.—4

I will not however trouble you with any more mss, for all I have to lay before you is in print on the accompanying piece of foolscap—

I must beg of you not to trouble Yourself to answer this—

I am | Yours very Truly | George Rolleston


CD may have visited the Royal College of Surgeons in March 1868; he was in London from 3 March until 1 April (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
Henry Alford, dean of Canterbury, was a frequent contributor to Good Words (ODNB). The extracts sent by Rolleston are in DAR 80: 171 and comprise most of page 26 of Alford 1868 and two paragraphs of Rolleston’s address on physiology delivered on 5 August 1868 to the annual meeting of the British Medical Association at Oxford (Rolleston 1868, p. 184).
Miles Joseph Berkeley gave the opening address to the biology section at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in August 1868 (Berkeley 1868). See the letter to M. J. Berkeley, 7 September 1868, for CD’s comments on the address; see also letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 September 1868.
Rolleston refers probably to the Scottish metaphysician, James Frederick Ferrier, and to René Descartes.


Alford, Henry. 1868. The Christian conscience. Good Words, 1 January 1868, pp. 25–32.

Berkeley, Miles Joseph. 1868. [Address to the biology section.] Report of the 38th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Norwich, Transactions of the sections, pp. 83–7.

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.

Rolleston, George. 1868. [The address in physiology delivered before the annual meeting of the British Medical Association.] [Read 5 August 1868.] Lancet 92: 176–84.


CD’s doctrines apply to man’s mental organisation, but the soul is a different matter. Cites Dean Henry Alford, M. J. Berkeley, and Prof. [J. F.?] Ferrier.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Rolleston
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 208
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6401,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16