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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Kingsley   6 November [1867]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Nov. 6th.

My dear Mr. Kingsley

The subject to which you refer is quite new to me & very curious. I had no idea that the double function of an excretory passage had ever played a part in the history of religion.2 I agree with what you say on speciality of organs being the best proof of highness in the scale of beings; nevertheless, when man as a standard of comparison is excluded, as with plants, it seems to be nearly impossible to give a good definition of Highness.3 I do not feel sure that a passage performing a double function, if performed well, ought to be considered as a sign of lowness. I suppose that the presence of rudiments must be looked at as an imperfection, but it seems very doubtful whether these records of a former, & in most cases lower, state should be viewed as indices of relative lowness in the scale. Some authors, indeed, have used them as proofs of an opposite position.— It is an extraordinary fact that even Man should still bear about his body the plain evidence, as it seems to me, of the former hermaphrodite condition of the parent-form of all the Vertebrata.—4

From what you formerly wrote, I had hoped to have seen a review by you on the Reign of Law, but I have not been able to hear of its appearance.5

Pray believe me | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Charles Kingsley, 1 November 1867.
See letter from Charles Kingsley, 1 November 1867. In the enclosure to the letter of 1 November 1867, Kingsley claimed that sex had long been held in contempt by different religions owing to the sharing of urinary and sexual functions by the same organ.
On ‘highness’, see the enclosure to the letter from Charles Kingsley, 1 November 1867 and n. 3.
Kingsley regarded the genito-urinary anatomy of humans and the presence of mammae in male humans as ‘imperfections’ (enclosure to letter from Charles Kingsley, 1 November 1867). CD had long speculated on the hermaphroditic origin of animals (see Natural selection, p. 362, Notebooks, Notebook D, 158–9, 161–2, 172, 174, Notebook E, 57, 80). For more on CD’s earlier views in relation to a hermaphrodite progenitor of the human and other vertebrate species, see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Charles Lyell, 10 January [1860], and Correspondence vol. 10, letter to George Maw, 3 July [1862]. Later, CD suggested several possible causes, including former hermaphroditism, to explain rudimentary mammae in male mammals including humans (Descent 1: 207–11). See also letter from W. D. Fox, 1 February [1867], n. 11.
The Reign of law (G. D. Campbell 1867) was critical of CD’s theory; see the letter from Charles Kingsley, 6 June 1867, and the letter to Charles Kingsley, 10 June [1867]. No review of G. D. Campbell 1867 by Kingsley has been found.


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–.

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

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.


He had no idea that the double function of an excretory passage had played a part in the history of religion.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Kingsley
Source of text
Linnean Society of London (Quentin Keynes collection)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5670F,” accessed on 6 December 2021,

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