skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. H. Darwin   29 July 1874

Trin Coll

July. 29. 74

My dear Father,

As I said in my contradictory letter, I have changed my opinion very much in the matter of the Quarterly Review.1 I showed the extract to Jackson2 & he quite agreed as to the scurrility of the attack. Tho’ no lawyer he seemed to think that it cd. hardly be a libel at law. It happens to be circuit time, & I showed it to a barrister friend, who, tho’ he has no practise, has seen a good deal of other people’s. He thought it a very nice point as to whether it is libellous or not. I cd. not allege ‘special damage’ i.e specific injury in trade or profession, but shd. have to go on the fact that it holds me up to reprobation or ridicule. Both he & Jackson seemed to think decidedly that it wd. not be worth going to law about. Jackson thinks (& I agree, unless reconverted by you) that the best course will be for me to write an explicit denial & short account of my essay & to send it for publication (thro’ you) in the next 14ly.— He also thinks that they wd. most likely publish it, & I think considering the pressure that you cd. exert on Murray, & he on the Editor that it wd. almost certainly be accepted.3 He also thinks that Murray might possibly not object to publish an explicit denial, but might to a sketch of the Essay.

I have therefore begun & almost done my proposed draft & have consulted Jackson, which I will send in a few days. I wd. suggest that we shd. go for the insertion of the whole, & only submit to its curtailment if Murray shd. demand it. This wd. be I think quite sufficient to vindicate me. It wd. be infinitely more likely to be accepted than a counsel’s opinion—which we shd. however be of course at liberty to publish. Shd. we be met by a point-blank refusal it will be time to think of more hostile measures. I have ordered the Quarterly & am going to read the whole article & if it shd. seem worth the powder & shot, I shd. like to have a try to answer it, as his disgusting sentence about you & Mill rankles in me a good deal.4 The Pall Mall noticed it scornfully on Tuesday, but made no reference to the obnoxious parts.5 I shall be very glad to hear what you have to say to all this.

The sentences about me are compiled with a skilful venom certainly!

I am very comfortable up here, & there is a holy calm over the whole place which suits me. There are several friends of mine up now, tho’ Jackson goes off to Switzd. tomorrow I am sorry to say. Frank B.6 is up—or rather he went away yest. & comes back on Friday.

I met Michael Foster in the court just now with one of the Huxley girls. I didn’t feel absolutely certain whether it was Maidy7 or not, & so I suppose it was’nt, but she was most marvellously like her. I hear the H’s are giving up Whitby & going to Littlehampton.8 I hope your Abinger visit was successful & that your collapse has not come on.9

I wrote to Clowes on Mond. about sending me proofs.10 I think I shall probably stay here a fortnight, as there is some mathematics I want to read & I must get the books from the library; but goodness knows whether I shall have the go for it. I have been doing a little yesterday & today. The sickness keeps off thanks entirely to ipecac., but I have extreme discomfort when I shd. otherwise be sick, I think however I am a little on the mend, & I have managed to play tennis for 12 an hour both today & yest. I fear I shall go on losing flesh if that state of bowels continues to wh. I referred yest.11

I had a very civil letter from Reginald Darwin (who is with the channel fleet & his son I supp) sending kind messages to you12

Your affec son | George Darwin


The letter has not been found (see also n. 11, below). George refers to an anonymous essay review that appeared in the July issue of the Quarterly Review, in which comments in George’s paper ‘On beneficial restrictions to liberty of marriage’ (G. H. Darwin 1873a) were described as approving of ‘oppressive laws’ and the encouragement of vice ([Mivart] 1874, p. 70). See also letter to G. H. Darwin, [27 July 1874].
Henry Jackson.
A letter sent by George on 7 August 1874 appeared in the October 1874 issue of Quarterly Review (G. H. Darwin 1874b). The editor of the Quarterly Review was William Smith; John Murray was its publisher, and had been CD’s publisher for all his works from Origin onwards.
The sentence in [Mivart] 1874, p. 63, reads: It is one of the calamities of our time and country that unbelievers, instead of, as in France, honestly avowing their sentiments, disguise them by studious reticence—as Mr. Darwin disguised at first his views as to the bestiality of man, and as the late Mr. Mill silently allowed himself to be represented to the public as a believer in God. The reference is to John Stuart Mill.
An anonymous article in the Pall Mall Gazette, Monday, 27 July 1874, p. 10, argued that the reviewer’s purpose was to ‘make prehistoric science tell against Mr. Darwin’ and that the conclusions drawn by the reviewer were not supportable by the evidence.
Francis Maitland Balfour.
Mady was a nickname for Thomas Henry Huxley’s daughter, Marian (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter from T. H. Huxley, 30 July 1871).
Littlehampton was a favourite holiday destination for the Huxleys (see L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 435).
The Darwins were at Abinger, Surrey, from 25 to 30 July 1874; on 30 July, they went to Southampton to visit their son William Erasmus Darwin (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). CD had been ill on 13 July 1874 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
George refers to proof-sheets for the second edition of Descent; he had been assisting CD with it. William Clowes & Sons were printers to John Murray, CD’s publisher.
No letter from George dated 28 July 1874 has been found.
Reginald Darwin’s son, Sacheverel Charles Darwin, was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy.


After taking advice he has decided to write an explicit denial and short account of his essay and send it to the Quarterly Review.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Howard Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Trinity College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 210.2: 37
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9575,” accessed on 22 March 2019,

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