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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Lawson Tait   8 August 1876


Aug 8/76

My Dear Sir,

Thanks for your prompt & kind compliance with my wish.1

I trust you will forgive me saying that your objection seems to me to arise from mixing up the idea of moral evil with physical evil or suffering   Strange though it may seem the moral question seems to me the simpler of the two.2

I will not at present take up your time with my notions on the origin of diseases, but I am gradually forming a theory by which it will be brought under the great rule of evolution. But the question is so complicated that it wants the most cautious handling & the better plan would be follow the example of Fritz Muller and take one disease and work out the proof of your theory there as he did in the Crustaceans3  But unfortunately we do not know exactly the natural history of any one disease! An awful want, hindering the progress of Medical Science in every direction.

I purpose to take syphilis as my example because we know more about it than about any other disease & it is the only one to which we have anything on history attached   But, then, it is a subject we cannot make acceptable to the public. Yet the sexual question is the most important field for our studies & the process of evolution

Yours faithfully | Lawson Tait

I send you a review on my article by Mr. George Dawson4


In his letter to Tait of 6 August 1876, CD agreed to become an honorary member of the Birmingham Natural History Society.
See letter to Lawson Tait, 6 August 1876 and n. 2. CD had differed from Tait concerning the origin of evil.
Fritz Müller’s Für Darwin (Fritz Müller 1864; translated as Facts and arguments for Darwin, Dallas trans. 1869) had focused on aspects of morphology and development in the Crustacea; Müller presented it as a validation of CD’s theory of transmutation.
An unsigned favourable notice of Tait’s article on the evolution of moral life (L. Tait 1876c) appeared in the Birmingham Daily Post, 4 August 1876, p. 4; Dawson was probably the author. The notice has not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL.


Proposes to work on the origin of diseases; is going to study syphilis.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Lawson (Lawson) Tait
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 35
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10574,” accessed on 25 September 2021,

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