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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Arthur Nicols   24 February 1876

11. Church Row | Hampstead | NW.

Feby. 24. 76.

My dear Sir

I did not think to trouble you again with my small affairs; but as I know no one abler, and have experienced something of your willingness to give a word of advice I venture to ask it in the present instance. Would you do me the favour when at leisure to run through the inclosed introductory chapter to a small book I am putting together for intelligent children, as I do not think there is anything of the kind extant.1 It originated in some chats with the children of Mr George du Maurier (of “Punch”) and I wrote out this and some little more with which they were pleased and interested.2

I am thinking of going on with it in the same vein, and have already got well ahead with the “geological” “human” & “vegetable” parts. An able young artist friend of mine will draw some of the most typical fossil plants & Animals from the specimens in the Brit: Museum.3

I want to give simply a framework of ideas for the young to build upon and carry with them in all reflections upon the nature & history of life, that they may get into the habit of asking themselves questions about every object they encounter—what it is and why it is—as this is, I conceive, the only means of laying the foundation for a faculty or habit of observation and reasoning.

I shall not attempt to contend against the fallacies of tradional and imperfect or poetical records of the history of cosmical phenomena on the age of man, at least in so many words—but let the ascertained facts tell their story in their own incontestable way—leaving all inferences to the reader—for I am aware that a fatal prejudice would at once arise against any didactic efforts to put the story in antagonism with tradition or its pseudo-historical outcome. On the other hand I will not pandar to that which I believe (however rightly or wrongly) to be an unsound view of the case.

Do you think looking at the inclosed that I shall be able to get on thus? (I have had it set up that you should be the more easily able to form an opinion).

Further, any suggestions you might favour me with or any criticism would be most acceptable.

I am not experienced in the law or practice of publishing and should be much obliged if you could suggest a likely publisher for this.

It will be no little cost to me to get the illustrations ready so that I cannot incur this without some reasonable prospects that at least it would be covered.

In fact I must either sell the MS right out or put it in the fire.

With many apologies for thus troubling you and trusting that you are in at least fair health I remain | My dear Sir. | Yours faithfully | Arthur Nicols.

To | Chas: Darwin Esq.— FRS etc


The manuscript of the chapter entitled ‘The framework of the puzzle’ has not been found, but was evidently returned with comments by CD (see letter to Arthur Nicols, [after 24 February 1876]). The puzzle of life was published in 1877 (Nicols 1877).
George Du Maurier had been a staff cartoonist for the satirical magazine Punch since 1864; he had five children (ODNB).
The illustrator of Nicols 1877 was Frederick Waddy.


Nicols, Arthur. 1877. The puzzle of life and how it has been put together: a short history of vegetable and animal life upon the earth from the earliest times: including an account of pre-historic man, his weapons, tools, and works. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

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.


Is putting together a natural history book for intelligent children [The puzzle of life (1877)]; would like CD’s opinion on the project in general and on the completed first chapter in particular.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Arthur (Arthur) Nicols
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 172: 65
Physical description
7pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10408,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24