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Darwin Correspondence Project

From St G. J. Mivart   26 January 1871

7, North Bank, | N.W.

Janry. 26th 1871.

My dear Sir

I am exceedingly concerned to hear you have been confined to your bed-room & that you are still more or less unwell—1 I regret you should have taken the trouble to reply to me so quickly and I beg that in future you will never hurry to do so as I shall always attribute your silence to some accidental hindrance.

I am very glad you do not now think that I was biassed by an odium theologicum2   you will be still more convinced that I was not, when we have had a chat. It was by no means unnatural that you should have thought I was.

I do not think that my facts as to geographical distribution tell against evolution— It is quite conceivable to me that pleurodont lizards might have been evolved independently in two places & that Solenodon & Centetes might have had only a remote common ancestry.3

It is fortunate for science, my dear Sir, that you did take what you will forgive me for calling an exaggerated view of the action of “Natural Selection” since but for that, you would not have brought the world to see the truth of the doctrine of Evolution henceforth indisputably associated with your name & labours.

I cannot agree with you in thinking I should have done better to have “given up natural selection altogether”. at p. 240 I have said what I believe Nat. Selection does do & which seems to me no trifling or unimportant work subordinate as it may be.4

I have referred to my notes as to the the phrase you speak of— Unfortunately I have no copy of your work on “An. & plants u. domestcn.” but my note is as enclosed After mentioning the frequent sudden appearances of domestic varieties Mr Darwin speaks of “the false belief as to the similarity of natural species in this respect” An. & Plants under Domestication. Vol II. p. 414.5

I have now read the first part of Vol. I. you have kindly sent me and excepting my strong divergence as to the “Moral sense” &c I have been delighted with it.6 Your remark as to an objector revealing his descent by the very act of sneering is capital.7 As to man’s relationship (as regards his animality) to other animals I am quite disposed to agree with you and to think that his bodily distinctness is rather under than over that of a family.8 In my fragments on the back & limb-bones of the Primates I showed my conviction that as regards those parts he was far more like the higher Apes than the higher Apes were like the lower ones9 & although I could not speak of the whole, of his organization, because I had not worked at it, I was inclined to suspect that all it’s details would tell the same story. This does not of course prevent my regarding him in the light of his spiritual nature & something different from the whole visible creation and being really therefore (as I think I once before said to you) more different from a Gorilla than is a Gorilla from a lump of granite.

My little book, in spite of it’s opposition to some of your views, will tend I think to make what you say as to man’s descent less unpalatable to many, & will therefore hinder some from withholding that appreciation which is your due.10 I mean that if through what I have said some see that they can hold all you say as regards man’s animality without giving up a fraction of truths of another order they will thereby be less indisposed to do you justice.

I look forward with interest to see what you will say as to sexual selection in Apes and whether you think the coyness of the Simian maiden has caused the blush to mantle not on her own cheek but to permanently tinge the livery of her admirer—

With very kind regards & the hope you may soon be in your usual health at last & thanking you for your promise of a visit when you can manage it I remain | My dear Sir | Your’s very truly | St Geo Mivart.

Your notion as to the explanation of lunar periodicity is very ingenious though I know you only throw it out as a suggestion11


Odium theologicum: ‘hatred of the kind which proverbially characterizes theological disputes’ (OED).
The existence of pleurodont lizards in South America and Madagascar, and of Centetes (now Hemicentetes, the tenrec) and Solenodon (members of the same infraclass, Eutheria) in Madagascar and the West Indies respectively was discussed in Mivart 1871a, pp. 147–8.
In Mivart 1871a, pp. 240–1, Mivart puts forward a view of an innate force by which new species, which are not monstrosities but ‘harmonious wholes’, are from time to time manifested by ordinary generation; these new species being markedly distinct from the old ones, and the change being stimulated by external conditions. He listed his beliefs on natural selection: ‘That “Natural Selection” rigorously destroys monstrosities, and abortive and feeble attempts at the performance of the evolutionary process. | That “Natural Selection” removes the antecedent species rapidly when the new one evolved is more in harmony with surrounding conditions. | That “Natural Selection” favours and develops useful variations, though it is impotent to originate them or to erect the physiological barrier which seems to exist between species.’
CD discussed morality in chapter 5 of Descent (On the development of the intellectual and moral faculties during primeval and civilised times).
In Descent 1: 127, CD wrote: ‘He who rejects with scorn the belief that the shape of his own canines, and their occasional great development in other men, are due to our early progenitors having been provided with these formidable weapons, will probably reveal by sneering the line of his descent. For though he no longer intends, nor has the power, to use these teeth as weapons, he will unconsciously retract his “snarling muscles” … so as to expose them ready for action, like a dog prepared to fight.’
In Descent 1: 194–5, CD wrote: ‘Although, as we have now seen, man has no just right to form a separate Order for his own reception, he may perhaps claim a distinct Sub-order or Family.’ He remarked that Thomas Henry Huxley classified humans in their own suborder of the Primates, but added, ‘under a genealogical point of view it appears that this rank is too high, and that man ought to form merely a Family, or possibly even a Sub-family.’
Mivart’s papers on the appendicular and axial skeleton of the primates are Mivart 1865, 1866, and 1867.
Mivart refers to his On the genesis of species (Mivart 1871a).
In Descent 1: 212 n. 27, CD suggested that if vertebrates descended from tidal animals, this would explain why so many vital processes ran their course according to lunar periods.


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

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Is glad CD does not believe he is biased by an odium theologicum. Comments on the first volume of Descent. Is convinced of the truth of evolution, but believes natural selection plays only a secondary role and that man is fundamentally different from the rest of creation.

Letter details

Letter no.
St George Jackson Mivart
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, North Bank, 7
Source of text
DAR 171: 192
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7458,” accessed on 15 April 2024,

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