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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. F. Collier   7 March 1873

Woodtown Horrabridge

7 March 1873

Dear Sir

I am very glad indeed to find that my pamphlet is so much in accordance with your views on punishments. It was written with the object of condemning all corporal punishments whatever in the case of children, and I read it at the Social Science Congress 1872 in the hope of producing some practical effect. I must say I was surprized to find so many opposed to my principles, though I found some warm advocates.1 I had no idea, before, that the principles that I advocate required so much pleading, and I published the pamphlet in the hope of drawing more general attention to the subject, I fear with no great success. Some of the best of my opponents tell me that my arguments, if carried to their legitimate conclusions, would strike at the root of the principle of punishments in general, and also of rewards too. I grant that they would, but I say “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”, and if I can prevent the punishment of children in any degree it will be unspeakably gratifying to me. I do not believe that the principle of punishments and rewards is a sound moral one, and have held that opinion for many years. But I did not write on the question until I had submitted my theory to the test of experience by bringing up my own children, 4 in number, (I am in mourning for the 5th) absolutely without any sort of punishment, reward, threat, or fear of any consequences. I agreed with my wife that it should be so, and I have been most ably and earnestly assisted by her in the experiment.2 It has proved most satisfactory, and I am more than ever confirmed, by my experience (it cannot be so exhaustive as an experiment in science would be), in the doctrines that I have attempted to advocate, and which I have a strong desire to propagate.

I suppose when you say that a Man cannot by his volition check the tendency to blush,3 the inference must be that if adults do not blush as young persons do it is because they do not experience the emotion that is indicated by the blush. But Adults study to conceal their emotions, and of course the expression of the emotions; and I think, since reading your book, I have seen Girls, who I do not admire for their sincerity, with a complication of expression, indicating an attempt to express one emotion and to conceal another. Are not we, the public, often deceived in our diagnosis of character by false or spurious expressions so produced?

You of course know where to get information as to the speed of Race horses. Admiral Rouse, I should think, would be a very good authority.4

Dear Sir very truly yours, W. F. Collier


Collier had enclosed a copy of his pamphlet Punishment in education (Collier 1872) with his letter of 22 February 1873. CD’s letter to Collier has not been found. An abstract of the paper read at the Plymouth and Devonport meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science in 1872 appeared in the association’s Transactions (pp. 304–7); there is no record of any discussion. CD’s copy of Collier’s pamphlet has not been found.
Collier’s surviving children were Charles, aged 16, Bertha, aged 15, Frederick, aged 13, and George, aged 12. Henry William Collier had died at the age of 10 between October and December 1872 (BMD (Death index)). Collier’s wife was Cycill Collier. (Census returns of England and Wales 1871 (The National Archives: Public Record Office RG10/2144/6/5).) Collier’s letter is written on stationery with a mourning border.
See Expression, pp. 310–11.
In his letter of 22 February 1873, Collier had suggested that the speed of the fastest racehorses had increased up to the present day. Henry John Rous was a steward of the Jockey Club and responsible for the system of handicapping of racehorses; in 1873, he gave evidence to the House of Lords committee on horse-breeding (ODNB).


BMD: General Register Office, England and Wales civil registration indexes. England & Wales birth index, 1837–1983. England and Wales marriage index, 1837–1983. England and Wales death index, 1837–1983. Online database. Provo, Utah: The Generations Network. 2006.

Collier, William Frederick. 1872. Punishments in education. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.


Opposes all corporal punishment. Pleased CD agrees with his pamphlet.

Letter details

Letter no.
Collier, W. F.
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 161: 211
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8801,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21