skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   20 September 1871

11 St. Mary Abbot’s Terrace | Kensington

Sept. 20.—71

My dear Sir

I am very sorry Mivart wrote the review in the Quarterly.1 Judging from the courteous tone of his book, and from what I know of the man’s own modesty & kindliness I am surprised.2 No doubt he is sincere: no doubt he does believe you are all wrong, and that you have libelled human nature; & the reason I suppose to be this. He has never seen a savage as you have: & he does not seem even to have read books about them. I claim to be one of the first to recognise that you have really opened a new way in metaphysics: & by that way alone I consent to travel through that paradise of quacks & terminologists & purgatory of sensible men. You have shown that we must go & search for the origin of intellectual & moral faculties in the same place where we search for the origin of the lungs, os coccyx &c.

I must not let you suppose I have been converted by Mivart’s book. My ideas such as they are were jotted down & discussed with Bates before I read his work.3 Murphy’s work I must get. I never heard of it till I saw it quoted in Mivart.4 No I am a heretic: for my perverted notions sprang up after a careful reading of the Origin of Species since seeing you. (of course not my first reading: I had it in Africa as my companion).5 However they are crude conjectures; & my knowledge of natural history is insufficient to enable me to form a correct judgment of them for myself. I hope however to do something for the cause in explaining the moral history of early man.

There is a passage in Baker’s Nile Tributaries alluding to the difficulty of stalking the giraffe on account of its long neck.6 If that will be of any use to you I will look it out & send it to you, if you will drop me a line to that effect— But otherwise do not trouble to write. I may ask you for an opinion once more before I publish: but not till I have everything finished— I hope to be out before Christmas; the Personal Narrative will be published about this time next year—7 I am glad to hear you see your way to answering Mivart who is certainly your only strong opponent—and I have no doubt your answers will be effective, as no one can accuse you of underestimating serious objections, or of refusing to reconsider your own opinions. Whatever you write will be sure to add to our knowledge.8

I am very much obliged to you for the information about sexual relations, and about variation. I shall be very careful how I differ from you when it comes to printing.

I remain | Yours very truly | Winwood Reade

CD annotations

1.1 I am … his book, 1.2] double scored pencil


St George Jackson Mivart published an anonymous review of Descent in the Quarterly Review of July 1871 ([Mivart] 1871c). CD’s letter to Reade has not been found, but see the letter from W. W. Reade, 18 September 1871 and n. 2.
Reade refers to Mivart’s Genesis of species (Mivart 1871a).
See letter from W. W. Reade, 18 September 1871). Reade refers to Henry Walter Bates.
Joseph John Murphy’s Habit and intelligence in their connexion with the laws of matter and force (Murphy 1869) is frequently quoted in Mivart 1871a.
Reade visited Down from 28 to 30 January 1871 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). Reade travelled in West Africa between 1868 and 1870 (Correspondence vol. 18, letter from W. W. Reade, 3 September 1870; ODNB.)
Reade refers to Samuel White Baker and Nile tributaries of Abyssinia (S. W. Baker 1867, p. 189). CD cited Baker for this information in Origin 6th ed., p. 178.
Reade’s Martyrdom of man (Reade 1872) was published in May 1872 (Athenæum, 11 May 1872, p. 589); his African sketch-book (Reade 1873) was not published until 1873.
CD replied to several of Mivart’s objections in Origin 6th ed.; see letter to George Busk, 2 September [1871] and n. 6.


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

Baker, Samuel White. 1867. The Nile tributaries of Abyssinia, and the sword hunters of the Hamran arabs. London: Macmillan.

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.

Murphy, Joseph John. 1869. Habit and intelligence in their connexion with the laws of matter and force: a series of scientific essays. 2 vols. London: Macmillan and Co.

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

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

Reade, William Winwood. 1873. The African sketch-book. 2 vols. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.


Surprised at Mivart’s harsh review [Q. Rev. 131 (1871): 47–90], considering courteous tone of his book. Assures CD he has not been converted by Mivart.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 50
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7955,” accessed on 20 October 2021,

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