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Darwin Correspondence Project

To St G. J. Mivart   [23 January 1871]1

I have read your B quicker than I expect & with greater interest though of course not with pleasure.2 As far as I am personally concerned there is not a word I objected to. You have indeed, considering how eager an opponent you are, treated me with extraordinary courtesy. Your book seems an admirable summary of all the objections which have been urged against natural S. & I daresay will have a powerful influence on many men.— I think something cd be said on my side on many points & I do not see the force of many of your objections, which no doubt you will allude to properly; if I had ever thought that I or anyone cd explain [how] hundreds of structures occur by natural selection— your facts, & many others in my own portfolios, wd form a [crushing defeat] but I have always never thought that cd be done & then only with some degree of probability in a few rare cases (some given in the origin) in which a fair number of gradational steps still exist;—but these seem to me sufficient to redirect the path. I think as you give my words (at top p. 60) you ought to have given to the end of the sentence, p. 105 which brings my view in harmony with all that I have written about so-called unconscious selection.3 Nor do I think it can be said that I change my position, considering that I had previously argued against single marked variations having been preserved— When you quote (p.35) no inverted commas my words about analogous variation, you change by accident mock into mimic:4 Mock was a rather badly-chosen word:—for I ought to have remembered the sense in which mimickry is [now] used, but mimick in that sense was far from my mind [on the contrary] almost shew I was not thinking: (a) But all this signifies very little.— Judgment will ultimately be formed by the interested public on a wide basis— As yet I by no means [give up the unseen] power of Nat. selection; nor can I see [any probability in a] [5 words illeg] principle of [advancement in regeneration].

I will not trouble you with any remarks on specific parts as I have long observed that when 2 men differ so fundamentally as we do on a multitude of points, arguments only make a division wider; & that I for one shd be sorry for.— Shortly after publication of Origin I remember writing to a Cambridge & as I have often [said] [that] whether natur selection was more or less admitted, signifies little in comparison with the admission of the general principle of evolution & this I am delighted to see you fully hold.—

Wishing you all the highest success which you are worthy in every branch of natural sciences, [excepting] in [attacking] natural seln | I remain | my dear Sir | Yours sincerely | C.D.

Before a new Edit. of your book I wd advise you to consider the Rods of Corti5

Lastly I do not You ought so repeatedly to ignore when you speak of Darwin all that I have said on inherited effects of habit or use.6 Nor do I deny the direct & [definite] action of condition of life life yet you repeatedly say that I [admit] only [illeg] Natural Selection But no controversist ever I suppose did appear fair to his antagonist   So I will say no more— Nor will I   No I must not say this, for some of my opponents have & I daresay [most] intended to do so.

I do not believe any other person has taken such pain to show that the effects of use & disuse are inherited, as I have done.— So again when [thus] speaking you ignore my remarks on what I call direct & definite action; [though] you allude further [more] to all these points. I suppose, however, no controverter ever does appear [quite] fair to the man attacked. No


The date is established by the reference to this letter in the letter from St G. J. Mivart, 24 January 1871.
CD refers to Mivart’s On the genesis of species (Mivart 1871a; see letter from St G. J. Mivart, 19 January 1871).
Mivart 1871a, p. 35, misquotes CD’s statement ‘varieties of one species frequently mock distinct species—a fact in perfect harmony with the foregoing cases, and explicable only on the theory of descent’ (Variation 2: 351).
CD refers to the fibres of Corti, structures in the ear that were thought to help in distinguishing tone and to be vital to the appreciation of music (see Mivart 1871a, pp. 53–4 and 279–80).
See, for example, Origin, pp. 134–9, Variation 2: 295–303.


Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Comments on StGJM’s book [Genesis of species (1871)]. Has no personal objection to a word of it, but regrets their views differ so much.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
St George Jackson Mivart
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 96: 95–6
Physical description
ADraftS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7453,” accessed on 15 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19