skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Farrer   28 August 1881

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

August 28th 1881

My dear Farrer

I have been much interested by your letter, & am glad that you like Mr. Graham’s book.—1 I hear that he is a poor man, & has published this book at his own risk from his savings. Everything which I read now soon goes out of my head, & I had forgotten that he implies that my views explain the universe; but it is a most monstrous exaggeration.2 The more one thinks the more one feels the hopeless immensity of man’s ignorance   Though it does make one proud to see what Science has achieved, during the last half century.

This has been brought vividly before my mind, by having just read most of the proofs of Lubbocks Address for York, in which he will attempt to review the progress of all branches of Science for the last 50 years.3

I entirely agree with what you say about “chance”, except in relation to the variations of organic beings having been designed; & I imagine that Mr Graham must have used “chance” in relation only to purpose in the origination of species.4 This is the only way I have used the word chance, as I have attempted to explain in the 2 last pages of my “Variation under Domestication.”5

On the other hand if we consider the whole Universe, the mind refuses to look at it as the outcome of chance,—that is without design or purpose. The whole question seems to me insoluble; for I cannot put much or any faith in the so-called intuitions of the human mind, which has been developed, as I cannot doubt, from such a mind as animals possess; & what would their convictions or intuitions be worth?— There are a good many points, on which I cannot quite follow Mr. Graham.

With respect to your last discussion, I daresay it contains very much truth; but I cannot see, as far as happiness is concerned, that it can apply to the infinite sufferings of animals, not only those of the body, but those of the mind, as when a mother loses her offspring, or a male his female. If the view does not apply to animals, will it suffice for man? But you may well complain of this long & badly expressed note in my dreadfully bad hand-writing.—

The death of my brother Erasmus is a very heavy loss to all of us in this family.6 He was so kind-hearted & affectionate. Nor have I ever known any one more pleasant. It was always a very great pleasure to talk with him on any subject whatever, & this I shall never do again. The clearness of his mind always seemed to me admirable. He was not, I think, a happy man & for many years did not value life, though never complaining. I am so glad that he escaped very severe suffering during his few last days. I shall never see such a man again.

Forgive me for scribbling this way.

My dear Farrer | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin


More on W. Graham’s book, The creed of science. Chance and design. Happiness.

E. A. Darwin’s death [26 Aug 1881].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st Baron Farrer
Sent from
Source of text
Linnean Society of London (LS Ms 299/33)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13299,” accessed on 23 October 2021,