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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Fiske   9 November 1871

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. [Leith Hill Place, Surrey]

Nov 9. 1871

My dear Sir

I am greatly obliged to you for having sent me through my son, your lectures;1 & for the very honorable manner in which you allude to my works. The lectures seem to me to be written with much force, clearness & originality. You shew also a truly extraordinary amount of knowledge of all that has been published on the subject. The type in many parts is so small, that except to young eyes, it is very difficult to read. Therefore I wish that you wd reflect on their separate publication;2 though so much has been published on the subject that the public may possibly have had enough. I hope that this may be your intention; for I do not think I have ever seen the general argument more forcibly put so as to convert unbelievers: It has surprized & pleased me to see that you & others have detected the falseness of much of Mr Mivart’s reasoning.3 I wish I had read yr lectures a month or two ago, as I have been preparing a new edit. of the “Origin” in which I answer some special points, & I believe I shd have found yr lectures useful; but my M.S is now in the printers hands & I have not strength or time to make any more additions.4

With my thanks & good wishes | I remain my dear Sir | yours sincerely | Charles Darwin

P.S. By an odd coincidence since the above was written I have recd yr very obliging letter of Oct. 23. I did notice the point to which you refer & will hereafter reflect more over it.5 I was indeed on the point of putting in a sentence to somewhat of the same effect in the new ed. of the Origin, in relation to the query why have not apes advanced in intellect as much as man; but I omitted it on account of the asserted prolonged infancy of the Orang.6 I am, also, a little doubtful about the distinction between gregariousness & sociability.—Mem, case of Baboons.7 When I have time & strength, I will reread your discussions—

When you come to England I shall have much pleasure in making your acquaintance; but my health is habitually so weak that I have very small power of conversing with my friends as much as I wish—

Let me again thank you for yr letter. To believe that I have at all influenced the minds of able men is the greatest satisfaction which I am capable of receiving.

Ch. Darwin


Fiske’s lectures were reported in the World (see letter from John Fiske, 23 October 1871 and n. 1).
St George Jackson Mivart had raised a number of objections to CD’s theory of descent in On the genesis of species (Mivart 1871a). Fiske addressed Mivart’s criticisms regarding the inadequacy of natural selection to explain similarities of structure in divergent organisms, such as the resemblance of the eye of the cuttlefish to that of vertebrates (see Fiske 1874, 2: 50–61).
CD finished the manuscript of Origin 6th ed. on 29 October 1871 (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). The printers were William Clowes & Sons. For CD’s response to Mivart see Origin 6th ed., pp. 176–204.
Fiske had suggested that the prolongation of infancy and the formation of family units had played a leading role in the development of humans from ape-like ancestors (see letter from John Fiske, 23 October 1871).
In Descent 1: 13, CD remarked that orang-utans were believed to reach adulthood between 10 and 15 years of age. He cited Thomas Henry Huxley (T. H. Huxley 1863a) as his authority.
CD remarked on baboons’ living ‘associated in a body’ in Descent 2: 362. In his review of Descent, Mivart had criticised CD for conflating gregariousness in animals with moral sociability in humans (see [Mivart] 1871c, p. 87).


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

Fiske, John. 1874. Outlines of cosmic philosophy: based on the doctrine of evolution, with criticisms on the positive philosophy. 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.


Thanks JF for his lectures, the arguments of which he finds very forcible; is glad to see JF has detected the falseness of much of Mivart’s reasoning.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Fiske
Sent from
Source of text
The Huntington Library (HM 8260)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8058,” accessed on 29 September 2021,

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