skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   10 January 1871

11 Saint Mary Abbot’s Terrace, | Kensington. W.

Jan. 10. ’71.

My dear Sir

I think it scarcely possible that you have not noticed the selection of Lycurgus as applied to the breeding of men— However I send a passage from Mitford i. 282.

“All children presented after birth were examined by public officers appointed for the purpose: the well-formed & vigorous only were preserved; those in whom any defect either of shape or constitution appeared were exposed without mercy to perish in the wilds of Mount Taygetus”—1 The baby of the African exposed to all weathers, vertical sun, and night wind is likely enough to be rejected & slain by Nature if it has any defect in shape or constitution—2

Yours very truly | Winwood Reade

Comte Traité de Legislation liv iii, ch IV. has collected many instances of ideas of beauty as existing among various peoples. Referred to in Lecky’s Morals i. 82 Lecky takes your view3


CD cited Mitford 1829, 1: 282, in Descent 2d ed., p. 29 and n. 13. Mitford wrote ‘presently’, not ‘presented’. Lycurgus was the traditional founder of the customs of classical Sparta (Oxford classical dictionary).
See also Correspondence vol. 18, letters from W. W. Reade, 4 June 1870 and 9 November 1870.
Reade refers to Charles Comte, Comte 1837 (book 3, chapter 4), William Edward Hartpole Lecky, and Lecky 1869. In Lecky 1869, 1: 82, Lecky commented, ‘the conceptions of beauty formed by a nation of negroes will be different from those formed by a nation of whites’, and cited Comte for a collection of such instances.


Comte, Charles. 1837. Traité de législation ou exposition des lois générales, suivant lesquelles les peuples prospèrent, dépérissent, ou restent stationnaires. 3d edition. Brussels: Société Belge de Librarie, Imprimerie et Papeterie; Haumann, Cattoir et Compe.

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

Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Lecky, William Edward Hartpole. 1869. History of European morals: from Augustus to Charlemagne. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Mitford, William. 1829. The history of Greece. New edition. 8 vols. London: T. Cadell.

Oxford classical dictionary. 4th edition, revised. Edited by Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012.


Sends quotation about Lycurgus and Spartan exposure of infants who were deemed defective.

Bibliographic references on sense of beauty and morals.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, St Mary Abbot’s Terrace, 11
Source of text
DAR 87: 140
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7435,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19