skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Henry Kinnaird Gibbons   7 February 1867

My dear Sir

Should your memory not have been impaired by your eminent literary successes my name will not (I think) be unfamiliar to you—!1

I should indeed be ungrateful if I could forget yours as I believe that I am mainly indebted to your late fathers great medical skill for the prolongation to a very advanced age of the lives of my late revered parents with whom I resided at Harley when in the country) until their deaths.2 I purchased some years ago a landed property of 500 acres here upon which I am occasionally resident but I have now also a House in London

I have sometimes thought of a drive to Down to see you and should probably have accomplished this but that I did not know whether you were generally resident there or what might be your engagements. I should be glad however of an opportunity of conversing with you upon the very interesting and profound subject upon which your mind has been engaged and in reference to which your researches have conferred such benefits upon man.

It has occurred to me that as you have thought so deeply upon the “origin of species” you must have given your attention also to the great question of mans future destiny after the separation of the thinking principle (or mind) from the body! and that consequently you may have investigated the phenomena of Spiritualism?

Having myself paid a good deal of attention to this subject I feel a very deep interest in it and from an extensive experience of the several phases of the Spiritual evidences I have arrived at the conclusion that what I have witnessed is not explicable upon any other assumption than that the minds of the departed are somehow exercising an active agency by which we are influenced!

The rapidity with which these opinions are spreading throughout Society must (I think) soon lead to some more careful enquiry into the subject than it has yet received3

The interesting work of Professor Gregory on animal magnetism   The preface of De Morgans Volume, “From matter to Spirit” and some other publications upon Spiritualism seem to leave us without much definite information upon this profound question and should you have formed any opinions upon it I shall feel greatly indebted to you for it.4

I have just finished reading the Duke of Argylls new work “The Reign of law” (in which he takes some liberties with your name) and I perceive that in his last Chapter he attaches great importance to the spiritual phenomena “which are so much ignored by the men of science”!5

If you have not read the work you will find it worth your attention.

Hoping that you are in the enjoyment of that greatest blessing—good health | I am | My dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | W H K Gibbons

The Old Lodge | East Grinstead | Sussex | Feb 7th 1867


Gibbons had lived until the late 1850s in Harley, Shropshire, a village ten miles south-east of Shrewsbury; his father had been rector of Harley (Post Office directory of Gloucestershire, with Bath, Bristol, Herefordshire, and Shropshire 1856). CD and his family were also social acquaintances of Gibbons and his family (Shrewsbury Chronicle, 20 September 1825 and 22 September 1826); W. H. K. Gibbons is probably the Mr Gibbon mentioned in the letter from Caroline and Susan Darwin, 2 [January 1826] (Correspondence vol. 1). See also n. 2, below.
Gibbons refers to Robert Waring Darwin, John Gibbons, who died in 1858 aged nearly 90, and Helen Gordon Gibbons, who died in 1855 in her early 80s.
For CD’s recent and positive reaction to an article critical of spiritualism ([Tyndall] 1864c), see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. D. Hooker, 7 January [1865] and n. 14. The efforts of John Tyndall and others to denounce spiritualism are discussed in Oppenheim 1985, pp. 327–30. For studies of Victorian spiritualism, see L. Barrow 1986, A. Owen 1989, and Fichman 2004, pp. 139–210.
Gibbons refers to William Gregory’s Letters to a candid enquirer on animal magnetism (W. Gregory 1851). Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan wrote From matter to spirit. The result of ten years’ experience in spirit manifestations ([De Morgan] 1863); her husband, Augustus De Morgan, a logician and mathematician and not a confirmed spiritualist, wrote the preface (see Oppenheim 1985, pp. 335–6, and Fichman 2004, pp. 178–80).
CD had not yet read G. D. Campbell 1867, but had read some of the earlier writings of George Douglas Campbell, the duke of Argyll (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 8 February [1867]). Thomas Henry Huxley had recently mentioned that he had heard that Campbell criticised both him and CD in G. D. Campbell 1867 (see letter from T. H. Huxley, [before 7 January 1867] and n. 16). In G. D. Campbell 1867, p. 428, Campbell wrote: ‘if the methods and conditions of Physical inquiry were applied in a really philosophical spirit to Spiritual Phenomena, the influence of Science would be more powerful than it is’; the words Gibbons quotes are not in G. D. Campbell 1867.


Barrow, Logie. 1986. Independent spirits: spiritualism and English plebeians 1850–1910. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Campbell, George Douglas. 1867. The reign of law. London: Alexander Strahan.

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

[De Morgan, Sophia Elizabeth.] 1863. From matter to spirit. The result of ten years’ experience in spirit manifestations. By C.D. with a preface by A.B. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green.

Fichman, Martin. 2004. An elusive Victorian: the evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gregory, William. 1851. Letters to a candid inquirer on animal magnetism. London: Taylor, Walton, & Maberly.

Oppenheim, Janet. 1985. The other world: spiritualism and psychic research in England, 1850–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Owen, Alex. 1989. The darkened room: women, power and spiritualism in late Victorian England. London: Virago Press.

Post Office directory of Gloucestershire, with Bath, Bristol, Herefordshire, and Shropshire: Post Office directory of Gloucestershire, with Bath, Bristol, Herefordshire, and Shropshire. Post Office directory of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, and the City of Bristol. Post Office directory of Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire, with the City of Bristol. London: Kelly & Co. 1856–79.


Asks CD whether he has given any thought to the phenomena of spiritualism.

Letter details

Letter no.
W. H. S Gibbons
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
East Grinstead
Source of text
DAR 165: 36
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5394,” accessed on 19 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15