skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Cupples   1 May 1873

The Cottage, | Guard Bridge, Fifeshire N. B.

May 1/73.

My Dear Mr Darwin,

I need not say that I am glad to see your handwriting,1 and of an opportunity to write to you.

I had not the slightest idea that anything of a life-like kind was being done by the Edinburgh Review, which nowadays is spoken of as rather far-gone in the moribund direction (though of course an occasional flicker-up is by no means inconsistent with that character.) The list of its contents must somewhere have passed under my eye—but without drawing attention to any announcement of onslaught. It must be thoroughly of the old school, from what you say of it—at least a generation behind in method and tone of criticism; as Scotland is and indeed generally has been, even in the palmy days of the Edinburgh Review and Blackwood. I now intend to read the article as soon as it can be got hold of—after which I should like to tell you how it strikes me.2

It would not have spontaneously occurred to me that Dr Stirling might be the author—but the mention of his name suggests to me the strong likelihood that it is so. A few sentences will serve to show me whether that is the case or not. We are to be in Edinburgh for a week or two at the end of this month—when there is no doubt but that I shall know for certain. Dr Stirling and I correspond regularly together in general—but it so happens that a considerable interval has taken place without our doing so—otherwise he would have been sure to tell me that Evolution and Development and Modern Science at large were in for an attack from the Hegelian point of view, in “The interest of Reason and The Notion.”3 Setting aside the intrinsic absurdity of this (which seems to me utterly wrong-headed,) it is not difficult to conceive beforehand in how pragmatical a spirit and in how savage a manner (savage in the most self-derogatory sense) you and Huxley and Tyndall, and perhaps Spencer,4 would be assaulted in such a case. He is a very able thinker in his own sphere, but in that sphere incapable of fairly treating an antagonist—and out of it the last man from whom judicial criticism or truly forensic argument can be expected. The pamphlet against Profr. Huxley was an exception, I think—and seems to me good—but it was originally spoken before a Society, which was a check.5 All Dr Stirling’s friends had reason to deplore his style of writing about Sir William Hamilton, and his style of thinking of him is in reality worst.6 That kind of thing only hurts the author of it.

On the other hand, nothing is more characteristic of the great leading scientific men in England, who are in question—than their gentlemanliness, their candour, their large and liberal way of treating opposite doctrine or argument. So it strikes me—and so it strikes the reading world. I was reading Sir John Lubbock last night—a writer whom I was prejudiced against—and it struck me, so far as I have read him, how quietly, pleasantly, and with full allowance for difference of opinion or modification of his own by new facts, he goes on with his points about the Origin of Civilization &c.7

Foreign scientists, I daresay, are not always so well-bred—and among the camp-followers (Positivists, Secularists, Bohemian editors, wild young poets, and rabid anti-religionists) there is a great deal of modest assurance of the Irish kind.8 But metaphysicians and theologians have followers quite as bad, and may well themselves “take a leaf out of the book of” “Empirical Science.

Meanwhile I remain, | My Dear Mr Darwin, | ever very truly yours | George Cupples

Charles Darwin, Esqr. | Down, | Beckenham.

P.S. Mrs Cupples sends her kindest regards to Mrs Darwin and yourself. She is pretty well, busy also with new literary attempts.9 I have been trying to get my Monograph on Deerhounds finished—but so troublesome a lot of material I never had before. I hope to complete a couple of volumes of Poetry soon, to send you.10 I am tolerably well, considering.

I do sincerely trust you are well and bent on recreation and summer enjoyment, rather than constant production of new work. The quantity you turn out is wonderful, considering its quality and style. The Edinburgh Reviewers may represent “a whale,” but the Essay on Expression is certainly not the “tub” for them.11


A harsh anonymous review of Expression had been published in the April issue of the Edinburgh Review (137 (1873): 492–528). The reviewer was Thomas Spencer Baynes (Wellesley index). The Whig Edinburgh Review, founded in 1802, had been important in bringing about political reform in the early nineteenth century; Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine had been founded in 1817 as a Tory rival to it (Wellesley index 1: 7–9, 416–21). Cupples was a contributor to Blackwood’s.
Cupples refers to Immanuel Kant’s Critique of pure reason (Kant 1781); ‘notion’ was a central principle of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s thought. James Hutchison Stirling considered Kant and Hegel to be the two principals of German philosophy (see Stirling 1865a, p. 20). For a definition of the ‘notion’, see Inwood 1992.
Thomas Henry Huxley, John Tyndall, and Herbert Spencer.
As regards protoplasm, in relation to Professor Huxley’s essay, On the physical basis of life (Stirling 1869) was first read at a Conversazione of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (ibid., p. iii). A second edition, with further responses to Huxley, was published in 1872 (Stirling 1872).
Stirling had stated in his essay Sir William Hamilton: being the philosophy of perception that Hamilton had probably retarded British philosophy by about a generation (Stirling 1865b, p. vii). Stirling was critical of Hamilton’s attempt to reconcile German idealism with Scottish common sense realism, and referred to him as ‘sharp and querulous’ (ibid., p. 35).
Cupples refers to Lubbock 1870.
Cupples alludes to Jonathan Swift’s satirical ‘A modest proposal’ (Swift 1729), in which outrageous methods of decreasing one’s enemies were suggested. Swift proposed that poverty in Ireland would be remedied if the poor sold their children as food for the wealthy; since the poor were Catholic and the rich Protestant, this method would also serve to decrease the number of Catholics.
Anne Jane Cupples wrote books for children, several of which appeared in 1874. However, the ‘new literary attempts’ may refer to her account of the Aberfoyle Orphanage, which was published in Glen 1874.
Cupples’s monograph, Scotch deer-hounds and their masters, was published posthumously in 1894 (G. Cupples 1894). The volumes of poetry have not been identified, but in Stirling’s opinion, although Cupples aspired to be a poet, his verse was unmusical and strained (G. Cupples 1894, p. 318).
Swift’s parody A tale of a tub (Swift 1704) made allegorical use of the custom of sailors to throw an empty tub at whales to distract them from attacking a ship. His book itself was the tub that aimed to divert the whale (specifically the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes) from threatening the ship of state (ibid., pp. 14–15). For the critical review of Expression in the Edinburgh Review, see n. 2, above.


Cupples, George. 1894. Scotch deer-hounds and their masters. With a biographical sketch of the author by James Hutchison Stirling. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons.

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

Glen, William. 1874. The poetical remains of William Glen, with a memoir by the Rev. Charles Rogers, LL.D. And an account of the Aberfoyle orphanage conducted by the poet’s widow and daughter. By Mrs. George Cupples. Edinburgh: n.p.

Inwood, Michael J. 1992. A Hegel dictionary. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Kant, Immanuel. 1781. Critik der reinen Vernunft. Riga: J. F. Hartknoch.

Stirling, James Hutchison. 1869. As regards protoplasm, in relation to Professor Huxley’s essay, On the physical basis of life. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and sons.

Stirling, James Hutchison. 1872. As regards protoplasm. Revised edition. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Swift, Jonathan, 1704. A tale of a tub: written for the universal improvement of mankind; to which is added, an account of a battel between the antient and modern books in St. James’s Library. London: John Nutt.

Swift, Jonathan. 1729. A modest proposal for preventing the children of our poor people from being a burthen to their parents: or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick. Dublin: S. Harding.

Wellesley index: The Wellesley index to Victorian periodicals 1824–1900. Edited by Walter E. Houghton et al. 5 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1966–89.


Missed hostile review of Expression in Edinburgh Review. Agrees it might be by J. H. Stirling [see 8935], who has written in a deplorably polemical style on Huxley and Sir William Hamilton.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Cupples
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Guard Bridge
Source of text
DAR 161: 298
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8891,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

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