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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Fiske   8 December [1874]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Dec. 8th

My dear Sir

You must allow me to thank you for the very great interest with which I have at last slowly read the whole of your work.—2 I have long wished to know something about the views of the many great men whose doctrines you give. With the exception of special points, I did not ever understand H. Spencers general doctrine; for his style is too hard work for me.— I never in my life read so lucid an expositor (& therefore thinker) as you are; & I think that I understand nearly the whole,—perhaps less clearly about Cosmic Theism & Causation, than other parts.—3 It is hopeless to attempt out of so much to specify what has interested me most, & probably you would not care to hear.— I wish some chemist would attempt to ascertain the result of the cooling of heated gases of the proper kinds, in relation to your hypothesis of the origin of living matter.4 It pleased me to find that here & there I had arrived from my own crude thoughts at some of the same conclusions with you; though I could seldom or never have given my reasons for such conclusions.— I find that my mind is so fixed by the inductive method, that I cannot appreciate deductive reasoning: I must begin with a good body of facts & not from a principle, (in which I always suspect some fallacy) & then as much deduction as you please. This may be very narrow-minded; but the result is that such parts of H. Spencer, as I have read with care impress my mind with the idea of his inexhaustible wealth of suggestion, but never convince me; & so I find it is with some others. I believe the cause to lie in the frequency with which I have found first-formed theories, are erroneous.

I thank you for the honourable mention which you make of my works. Parts of the Descent of Man must have appeared largely weak to you: nevertheless I have sent you a new Edit. just published.5

Thanking you for the profound interest & profit with which I have read your work, I remain | My dear Sir   Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to John Fiske, 3 November 1874.
Fiske had sent CD a copy of his Outlines of cosmic philosophy based on the doctrine of evolution (Fiske 1874; see letter to John Fiske, 3 November 1874).
In his book, Fiske aimed to show that there was no conflict between religion and science. He contrasted ‘cosmism’ (which he associated with Herbert Spencer) with anthropomorphism, and cosmic with anthropomorphic theism (Fiske 1874, 1: xi, 162–87, 2: 381–431; for causation, see 1: 146–61). Fiske wrote (Fiske 1874, 1: 184): Cosmism … assigns to religion the same place which it has always occupied, and affirms that the religious sentiment must find satisfaction in the future, as in the past, in the recognition of a Power which is beyond Humanity, and upon which Humanity depends. The existence of God—denied by Atheism and ignored by Positivism—is the fundamental postulate upon which Cosmism bases its synthesis of scientific truths.... Thus in the progress from Anthropomorphism to Cosmism the religious attitude remains unchanged from the beginning to the end.
See ‘The beginnings of life’, Fiske 1874, 1: 418–37. Fiske wrote, ‘the mere consolidation and cooling of this originally gaseous planet must have given rise to the endless variety of structures, organic as well as inorganic, which the earth’s surface now presents’ (ibid., p. 431).


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

Fiske, John. 1874. Outlines of cosmic philosophy: based on the doctrine of evolution, with criticisms on the positive philosophy. 2 vols. London: Macmillan and Co.


Praises JF’s book [Cosmic philosophy (1874)].

Has long wished to understand H. Spencer but is not convinced by him and some others. CD cannot trust deduction from a starting principle, as his mind is so fixed by the inductive method.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Fiske
Sent from
London, Bryanston St, 2 Down letterhead
Source of text
The Huntington Library (FK 1110–1112)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9749,” accessed on 29 November 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22