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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.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to G. H. Darwin, 24 [October 1873].
George’s essay on religion and the moral sense was not published nor has any manuscript copy been found.
CD probably refers to Matthew Arnold, who had sent CD Literature & dogma (Arnold 1873); see letter to Matthew Arnold, 9 February [1873]. In Arnold 1873, p. 43 n. 1, Arnold wrote: ‘All good and fruitful prayer is in truth, however men may describe it, at bottom nothing else than an energy of aspiration towards the Eternal, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness,—of aspiration towards it, and of co-operation with it. Nothing, therefore, can be more efficacious, more right, and more real.’
John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography (J. S. Mill 1873) was published in the second half of October 1873 (Publishers’ Circular 1873, p. 774); it was reviewed in the Daily News, 18 October 1873, p. 2. Albert Venn Dicey and Richard Buckley Litchfield were probably referring to the following passage: ‘I am thus one of the very few examples, in this country, of one who has, not thrown off religious belief, but never had it.... In giving me an opinion contrary to that of the world, my father thought it necessary to give it as one which could not prudently be avowed to the world’ (pp. 43–44). J. S. Mill’s father was James Mill.
On Charles Lyell’s hope of ‘freeing the science [geology] from Moses’, see his letter to George Poulett Scrope in K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 1: 268–71.
George had published in Macmillan’s Magazine, Nature, and the Contemporary Review (G. H. Darwin 1872, 1873a, 1873b, 1873c).
CD’s daughter Henrietta Emma Litchfield and her husband Richard stayed at Down from 25 September to 22 October 1873 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
CD refers to John Morley and Morley 1872.


Arnold, Matthew. 1873. Literature & dogma: an essay towards a better apprehension of the Bible. London: Smith, Elder.

Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

Darwin, George Howard. 1872. Development in dress. Macmillan’s Magazine 26: 410–16.

Mill, John Stuart. 1873. Autobiography. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer.

Morley, John. 1872. Voltaire. London: Chapman and Hall.


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
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9105,” accessed on 1 March 2024,

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