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Darwin Correspondence Project

To F. E. Abbot   6 September [1871]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Sept. 6th

Dear Sir

I am much obliged for your letter & very kind present of the vol. of the Index for 1870.2 I sincerely honour your zeal & exertions in the noble cause of truth, & I wish I could assist you. But in truth I do not know what I could write, which would be fit to read before your Lecture (about which I am much pleased to hear).3 My views are far from clear, as you will readily perceive if you will will read the last page in my Variation of Animals & Plants under Domestication.4 I can never make up my mind how far an inward conviction that there must be some Creator or First Cause is really trustworthy evidence. Moreover I have been for the last six weeks much out of health with giddiness & other head-symptoms, & do not feel equal to deep reflexion on the deepest subject which can fill a man’s mind. In fact I have only during the last few days been able to do anything of any sort.—

With respect to my former notes to you, I quite forget their contents.5 I have to write many letters, & can reflect but little on what I write; but, I fully believe & hope that I have never written a word, which at the time I did not think; but I think that you will agree with me that anything which is to be given to the public ought to be maturely weighed & cautiously put. It never occurred to me that you would wish to print any extract from my notes: if it had, I would have kept a copy. I put “private” from habit, only as yet partially acquired, from some hasty notes of mine having been printed, which were not in the least degree worth printing, though otherwise unobjectionable.6

It is simply ridiculous to suppose that my former note to you would be worth sending to me, with any part marked, which you desire to print; but if you like to do so I will at once say whether I shd. have any objection.7 I feel in some degree unwilling to express myself publicly on religious subjects, as I do not feel that I have thought deeply enough to justify any publicity.— Pray forgive this ill-expressed note, but I am tired & cannot rewrite it—

With sincere respect & good wishes, I remain | My dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Ch Darwin

I have shown your Boston Lecture to several persons, & all have been much impressed by it.—8


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from F. E. Abbot, 20 August 1871.
CD refers to the letter from F. E. Abbot, 20 August 1871. Abbot was the editor of the Index (ANB).
Abbot had been asked to give a lecture on human origins before the Toledo Society of Natural Sciences (letter from F. E. Abbot, 20 August 1871).
CD mentioned the contradiction between divine preordination and evidence in nature of plasticity of structure and excessive reproduction in Variation 2: 432.
See letters to F. E. Abbot, 27 May [1871] and 6 June [1871].
See, for example, Correspondence vol. 18, letter to F. P. Cobbe, 20 August [1870] and n. 3.
In the Index, 23 December 1871, p. 404, Abbot printed extracts from the letters to F. E. Abbot, 27 May [1871] and 16 November [1871].


ANB: American national biography. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 24 vols. and supplement. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999–2002.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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


CD’s views [on religion] are far from clear. He cannot make up his mind how far an inward conviction that there must be some Creator or First Cause is really trustworthy evidence. Does not feel he has thought deeply enough to express himself publicly on religion.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7924,” accessed on 24 June 2021,

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