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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. H. Darwin   21 October [1873]1


Oct 21

My dear George

I have read your essay & I deliberately think it clever, interesting & clear: but remember that I am not a good critic (nor indeed on any subject) as I have not read much on such subjects.2 The preliminary sketch is so far true, that I am sure it applies to myself, but whether new enough or important enough to be worth giving is doubtful.— You expose well the fallacy in what Arnold says about prayer.—3 What you say about the moral sense still seems to me the newest & cleverest part; & that about future rewards & punishments perhaps least so.

But for several reasons I wd. urge you not to publish it for some months, at the soonest, & then consider whether you think it new & important enough to counterbalance the evils; remembering the cart-loads which have been published on the subject.— The evils are giving pain to others, & injuring your own power & usefulness. Last night Dicey & Litchfield were talking about J. Stuart Mill, never expressing his religious convictions, as he was urged never to do by his Father.4 Both agreed strongly that if he had done so, he wd. never have influenced the present age in the manner in which he has done. His books wd. not have been text-books at Oxford.— To take a weaker instance Lyell is most firmly convinced that he has shaken the faith in the Deluge &c far more efficiently by never having said a word against the Bible, than if he had acted otherwise.—5 It is an old doctrine of mine that it is of paramount importance for a young author to publish (if with his name) only what is very good & new; so that the public may have faith in him, & read what he writes.— It is also an old & golden rule to keep every M.S. until such time that you can look at it with fresh eyes.— I am rather alarmed at you getting into the habit of desiring an early harvest or result & frittering away your time on many small subjects or by writing short essays (& therefore temporary) on important subjects; & this, I think, would be beneath your powers.—6 I wish that you were tied to some study on which you could not hope to publish anything for some years.

I have marked one or two passages in which you give your own conviction: remember that an enemy might ask who is this man, & what is his age & what have been his special studies, that he shd. give to the world his opinions on the deepest subjects?— This sneer might easily be avoided, & yet you could say your say. But my advice is to pause, pause, pause.—

Your affectionate Father | Ch Darwin

P.S. Oct 22d. Hen. has taken your M.S. to London, & will write.—7 I have lately read Morley’s Life of Voltaire & he insists strongly that direct attacks on Christianity (even when written with the wonderful force & vigour of Voltaire) produce little permanent effect: real good seems only to follow from slow & silent side attacks.—8 I have been talking on this head with Litchfield, & he strongly concurs, & insists how easily a man may for ever destroy his own influence.

I repeat that your essay seems to me clever & interesting, but I urge you to pause long, & if you do, I do not think that you will publish it.

Remember that every author worth a fig writes far more than he ever publishes. On the whole after deliberating to the best of my power I advise you not to publish; but in such cases every man must judge for himself. | C.D.


CD gives his criticisms of GHD’s essay on religion and the moral sense. Urges him to delay publishing for some months and then to consider whether it is new and important enough to counterbalance the effects of its publication. J. S. Mill would never have influenced the age as he has done had he not refrained from expressing his religious convictions. Cites John Morley’s Life of Voltaire [1872]: direct attacks produce little effect; real good comes from slow and silent side attacks. "My advice is to pause, pause, pause."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Howard Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.1:14
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9105,” accessed on 18 October 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21