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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. N. Hoare   10 April 1871

Ashford. Co Wicklow

X April 1871

Dear Sir,

Shortly after the announcement of the ‘Descent of Man’1 being in the press, I happened to come across two passages one in Xenophon, the other in Horace’s Odes, wh appeared to me to point to the principle of ‘Sexual Selection’.

As neither of the passages occur in yr. book I venture to send them to you.

The first is in Xenophon’s Memorabilia of Socrates B. II. 4.2

Socrates says to his son:3 “You surely cannot imagine that men beget children merely to gratify the sensual passions; since all our streets & all our houses are full of the means to appease desire; but it is manifest that only after close examination as to the sort of females fr whom the most robust ([textgreek[be’ltista h(’mi=n te’kna ge’noito]]) children may be begotten to us, do we coming together with them produce offspring.’

In this passage we clearly see that it was an understood principle that men were to choose their wives with a view to the health & vigour of the children.

In the iv ode of the 2nd. Book, Horace consoles Xanthias Phoceus for loving so deeply his beautiful slave. I give Lord Lytton’s translation:4 “How dost thou know but that thy fair-haired Phillis May make thee son-in-law to splendid parents? Doubtless she mourns the wrong to race & hearth gods Injured, but regal. Believe not thy beloved of birth plebeian; A girl so faithful, so averse for lucre, Cd. not be born of an ignoble mother Whom thou wouldst blush for.

I think this passage is the more interesting because Horace argues fr the moral qualities of the girl to the dignity of the Mother— Her beauty seems to have been secondary in his mind— The next verse speaks of ‘That lovely face, those arms, those tapering ankles”.

I hope that you may find these passages interesting; & that so I may have the opportunity of affording even a slight pleasure to one who has given me so much varied information during many years, & has opened up the world of Nature as with an enchanter’s wand.

I am | dear Sir | your obedt. Servant | John N Hoare

Rector of Killiskey | Chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.


CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘After I have said it wd be Utopic to expect no one to [marry except] the good’ pencil5


CD refers to this passage in Descent 2d ed., p. 29.
Socrates’ son was called Lamprocles.
Hoare refers to Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton and Lytton trans. 1869, p. 138. Xanthias Phoceus and his slave, Phillis, are evidently fictitious characters created by Horace.
In Descent 2: 403, CD commented ‘Both sexes ought to refrain from marriage if in any marked degree inferior in body or mind; but such hopes are Utopian’.


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

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


Sends quotations from Xenophon and Horace pointing to sexual selection. [See Descent, 2d ed., p. 29 n.]

Letter details

Letter no.
John Newenham Hoare
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Ashford, co. Wicklow
Source of text
DAR 87: 147–8
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7673,” accessed on 11 July 2020,

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