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Darwin Correspondence Project

To E. B. Tylor   24 September [1871]

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Sept. 24th

My dear Sir

I hope that you will allow me to have the pleasure of telling you how greatly I have been interested by your Primitive Culture, now that I have finished it.—1 It seems to me a most profound work, which will be certain to have permanent value, & to be referred to for years to come.— It is wonderful how you trace animis from the lower races up to the religious belief of the highest races.—2 It will make me for the future look at religion,—a belief in a soul—&c—from a new point of view.— How curious, also, are the survivals or rudiments of old customs. The Duke of Argyll ought never to hold up his head again.3

You will perhaps be surprised at my writing at so late a period, but I have had the book read aloud to me, & from much ill-health of late could only stand occasionally short reads. The undertaking must have cost you gigantic labour. Nevertheless I earnestly hope that you may be induced to treat Morals in the same enlarged, yet careful manner, as you have animism.— I fancy from the last chapter that you have thought of this.4 No man could do the work so well as you, & the subject assuredly is a most important & interesting one.— You must now possess references which would guide you to a sound estimation of the morals of Savages; & how writers, like Wallace, Lubbock &c &c, do differ on this head.—5

Forgive me for troubling you, & believe me with much respect. | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


In chapters 11–17 of Primitive culture (Tylor 1871), Tylor presented a history of the development of animistic religions.
In his Primeval man (Campbell 1869, pp. 133–6), George Douglas Campbell argued that customs seen as traces of barbarism were in fact later corruptions.
In the final chapter of Tylor 1871 (2: 405–6), Tylor suggested that there ought to be further historical study of the development of morals and law.
CD refers to Alfred Russel Wallace, John Lubbock, Wallace 1870, and Lubbock 1870.


Tylor, Edward Burnett. 1871. Primitive culture: researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art, and custom. 2 vols. London: John Murray.


CD most interested by Primitive culture [1871]. Impressed by EBT’s account of development of religious beliefs and of the survival of old customs. Hopes EBT will treat morals.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Edward Burnett Tylor
Sent from
SP 25 71
Source of text
British Library (Add MS 50254: 41–2)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7966,” accessed on 26 May 2020,

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