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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Herbert Spencer   25 November [1858]1

Down Bromley Kent

Nov. 25

Dear Sir

I beg permission to thank you sincerely for your very kind present of your Essays.—2 I have already read several of them with much interest. Your remarks on the general argument of the so-called Development Theory seem to me admirable.3 I am at present preparing an abstract of a larger work on the changes of species; but I treat the subject simply as a naturalist & not from a general point of view; otherwise, in my opinion, your argument could not have been improved on & might have been quoted by me with great advantage.

Your article on Music has also interested me much, for I had often thought on the subject & had come to nearly the same conclusion with you, though unable to support the notion in any detail.4 Furthermore by a curious coincidence Expression has been for years a favourite subject with me for loose speculation, & I most entirely agree with you that all expression has some biological meaning.—5

I hope to profit by your criticisms on style,6 & with my best thanks, I beg leave to remain | Dear Sir | Yours truly obliged | C. Darwin


Dated by the reference to Spencer 1858–63.
The first volume of Spencer 1858–63, a collection of previously published essays on various topics. Only the second volume (1863) is in the Darwin Library–Down.
A reference to Spencer’s essay entitled ‘The development hypothesis’ (1852), first published in the Leader and reprinted in Spencer 1858–63, 1: 389–95.
Spencer believed that music was originally vocal and was the idealised expression of sounds produced by muscular action excited by pleasurable or painful feelings (Spencer 1858–63, 1: 359–84). CD’s views on music are given in Expression and in Descent. His notes on the subject are in DAR 85.
CD’s M and N notebooks (Notebooks) contain many entries on the topic of animal and human expressions. In 1839 he began recording the expressions and behaviour of his own children (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix III). These observations culminated in his book Expression, published in 1872. For a summary of CD’s views on the biological meaning of expression, see Browne 1985.
Spencer’s article on ‘The philosophy of style’ (1852), from the Westminster Review, was reprinted in Spencer 1858–63, 1: 228–61.


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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Notebooks: Charles Darwin’s notebooks, 1836–1844. Geology, transmutation of species, metaphysical enquiries. Transcribed and edited by Paul H. Barrett et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the British Museum (Natural History). 1987.


Thanks for HS’s Essays: [scientific, political, and speculative, vol. 1 (1858)]. Admires his general argument for the development theory.

CD is preparing an abstract on change of species. He treats subject as a naturalist, not from a general point of view. Otherwise he might have quoted HS’s argument to great advantage.

CD particularly liked articles on music and style. Expression is a favourite topic with CD. Agrees all expression is biological.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Herbert Spencer
Sent from
Source of text
University of London, Senate House Library (MS.791/41)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2373,” accessed on 20 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7