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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   15 September 1871

11 St. Mary Abbot’s Terrace | Kensington

Sept. 15, 71

My dear Sir

I regret exceedingly to hear you have been ill.1 Pray do not trouble to answer this letter; but before I publish I may perhaps venture to ask your opinion upon the views which I express on Evolution.2 I thank you for your kind wishes; & I assure you there is no one whose sympathy I prize so much as I do yours; & no one whose approval I am so desirous to obtain. The intellect has its gratitude as well as the heart: and there is a filial affection which grows up in the mind towards those minds from which it has been fed. I will avail myself of your hint about extermination, & express myself in vague & general terms.3 After all I find on reference to the Descent that I have committed unconscious plagiarism & that I really sent you your own ideas put in different language & perhaps carried a stage farther on. It is a good sign when an idea is assimilated in that fashion. It looks as if it was true.

If I ever gain distinction as a Darwinian I shall no doubt have my enemies: but also I hope my friends; and after all the thing to be considered is the truth. I am sure you will agree with me that it is the business of the writer (I am a literary not a scientific man) to follow his intellect wherever it may lead him: & not to calculate like a tradesman what is the article most in fashion. However any speculations I may offer on the origin of men will excite little attention from the theologians in comparison with my assaults on Christian history. In the forthcoming work I sketch the history of man & I write the history of Christianity in the same spirit as I do that of Islam.4

I am afraid you will not find me a good Darwinian: for I am inclined to believe in Natural Selection being a secondary law. I shall probably discuss N. Selection in an appendix.5 I recognise it as a law of nature as much so as Gravitation. However I will not write on it now— My ideas are still cloudy & unformed. You have established the cause of Evolution at all events. Mivart’s book proves that.6 I really doubt whether thirty years hence there will be an existing naturalist in Europe who will venture to deny it. That is all your work. For how did that theory stand before your Origin was published? At a very low ebb, I imagine. What you say about facts without theory being unpalatable is true enough: an excellent instance is Tylor’s first work—which is cleverly written (the second is heavy) & full of good matter.7 Yet it is unknown to the great public.

Hoping your health will soon be quite restored | I remain | Yours very truly | Winwood Reade

CD annotations

2.3 (I am … fashion. 2.5] scored blue crayon


No reply to Reade’s letter of 12 September 1871 has been found.
Reade refers to his Martyrdom of man (Reade 1872); see letter from W. W. Reade, 12 September 1871 and n. 6.
CD had evidently commented on the theory of human development that Reade outlined in his letter of 12 September 1871.
Reade 1872 contains a section outlining Reade’s theories of the development of religion; Reade discusses Judaism (pp. 182–221), Christianity (pp. 221–49), and Islam (pp. 250–96).
In Origin 5th ed., p. 6, CD described natural selection as ‘the most important but not the exclusive means of modification’ of species. There is no appendix on natural selection in Reade 1872.
St George Jackson Mivart in his On the genesis of species (Mivart 1871a) accepted evolution but gave natural selection only a restricted role.
Reade refers to Edward Burnett Tylor and his books Researches into the early history of mankind and the development of civilization (Tylor 1865) and Primitive culture: researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art, and custom (Tylor 1871).


Origin 5th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 5th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1869.

Reade, William Winwood. 1872. The martyrdom of man. London: Trübner & Co.

Tylor, Edward Burnett. 1865. Researches into the early history of mankind and the development of civilization. London: John Murray.

Tylor, Edward Burnett. 1871. Primitive culture: researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art, and custom. 2 vols. London: John Murray.


Believes CD will not consider him a good Darwinian since he accepts natural selection only as a secondary law.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 48
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7947,” accessed on 19 September 2021,

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