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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Herbert Spencer   13 November 1875

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

Nov. 13th— 75

Dear Spencer

I have not yet read Bridge’s article, but have looked at the final passages. I see your drift, & if you can make out a fairly good case for men of science it is a most just defence which you intend making.1 I cannot remember whether I was nominally on the Committee of the Jamaica affair.— I generally refuse out of principle to be a member of a committee, on which from ill-health I cannot attend, but I sometimes break my rule.— I see by my accounts that I subscribed 10£.—2 Lyell was a very likely man to have been on the Committee & certain to have subscribed.3

If you will apply to W. Shaen 15 Upper Phillimore Garden solicitor for the prosecution (& whom you probably know better than I do) he would almost certainly be able to lend you a list of the Committee & subscribers. Considering how few men of science there are, I expect & hope that you may make out a good case.—4

How curious & amusing it is to see to what an extent the Positivists hate all men of science: I fancy they are dimly conscious what laugable & gigantic blunders their prophet made in predicting the course of science.5

Good fortune to you— | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


In an article published in the November 1875 issue of Fortnightly Review, John Henry Bridges criticised British mercantile policy in China for promoting the trade in and illegal trafficking of opium and risking war. In the conclusion, he suggested that scientific authorities had failed to speak against this policy because it was consistent with ‘the cherished theory of Evolution by Survival of the Fittest’: ‘Can it be that the Science prevalent in our time ... ignores the truth that ... Human Progress consists essentially in the upward struggle against the brute barbaric competitions of pre-human life?’ (Bridges 1875, p. 663). Spencer had coined the expression ‘survival of the fittest’; CD had used it many times in Origin 5th ed. (see Spencer 1864–7, 1: 444–5, and Correspondence vol. 14, letter from A. R. Wallace, 2 July 1866).
CD had subscribed to the Jamaica Committee fund to support the prosecution of Edward John Eyre, the former governor of Jamaica, for his role in the suppression of an uprising of the ex-slave population (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter from Herbert Spencer, 2 November 1866, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 20 November [1866]). CD recorded a payment of £10 under the heading ‘Jamaica’ for 19 November 1866 in his Account books–cash account (Down House MS).
Charles Lyell had served on the Jamaica committee (ODNB s.v. Jamaica Committee).
CD, Lyell, and Thomas Henry Huxley had joined the Jamaica committee; however, a number of men of science, including Joseph Dalton Hooker and John Tyndall, had opposed the prosecution of Eyre (see ODNB s.v. Jamaica Committee, and Correspondence vol. 14, letter from J. D. Hooker, [22 November 1866]).
Bridges was a leader of British positivism, a movement of philosophical, political, and religious reform based on the work of the French philosopher Auguste Comte. Comte had outlined a scheme of historical progression for the sciences that culminated in sociology. Though indebted to Comte, Spencer had distanced himself from aspects of his work (see Eisen 2000). Huxley had criticised Comte’s views on science (see T. H. Huxley 1869 and Correspondence vol. 17, letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 July [1869]). On British positivism and the reception of Comte, see Kent 1978 and T. R. Wright 1986.


Bridges, John Henry. 1875. Is our cause in China just? Fortnightly Review 18: 642–63.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Eisen, Sydney. 2000. Herbert Spencer and the spectre of Comte. In Herbert Spencer: critical assessments, edited by John Offer. London: Routledge.

Kent, Christopher. 1978. Brains and numbers: elitism, Comtism, and democracy in mid-Victorian England. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Origin 5th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 5th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1869.

Spencer, Herbert. 1864–7. The principles of biology. 2 vols. London: Williams & Norgate.

Wright, Terence R. 1986. The religion of humanity: the impact of Comtean positivism on Victorian Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


CD cannot remember whether he was on the committee of the Jamaica affair [for prosecution of Governor Eyre in 1866] but he subscribed £10.

It is curious and amusing how positivists hate all men of science, possibly because their prophet [Comte] made laughable and gigantic blunders in predicting the course of science.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Herbert Spencer
Sent from
Source of text
University of London, Senate House Library (MS.791/111)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10258,” accessed on 26 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23