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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. H. Darwin   1 August [1874]1

Bassett S—ton

August 1st. Sat Aug 1

My dear George

I do not think that your article will do, & I cannot possibly ask Murray to insert any thing of the kind. You forget that Murray thinks it a great honour to insert any thing in the Q, & he might truly say that by giving an abstract of yr paper, he aided the circulation of what he considers pernicious doctrines.2 What is equally important, the length of your article renders the denial of the one point of importance weak & confused.

Your communication ought to be in the form of a letter to the Editor, & shd not exceed 1 or 112 printed pages in length. Such a letter wd be far more likely to catch the attention of readers than a longer article, & wd answer the sole purpose which you ought to have in view. I return your article by this post. I telegraphed for the Contemp. yesterday but unfort. it has not come—3

There is another advantage in brevity as it will make it more difficult for the reviewer to repeat his charge by picking out & mutilating your sentences. I will give the sort of letter which I think you should write, & if you can make it more emphatic & clearer it will be all the better. I think it very important not even to allude to the insanity question or oppressive laws.—4

Yours affect | C. Darwin

P.S. Since my letter was written I have got the Contemp. & have read your essay with attention. It is very interesting; I had forgotten how interesting; & I cannot see a shadow of foundation for the false, scurrilous accusation of lying scoundrel.— | C. D.



In the July number of the Quarterly Review, reference is made (p. 70) to an essay by me on “Beneficial Restrictions to Liberty of Marriage”, which appeared in the Contemp. Rev. for Aug. 1873. The reviewer, after making some remarks on this subject proceeds “Elsewhere he (Mr G. Darwin) speaks in an approving strain … complex civilization”5 The charge of my encouraging vice in order to check population & the odious insinuation which follows are of so serious a nature, that I claim as an act of justice the insertion in the Quarterly Rev. of my emphatic denial that I have ever written one word which can honestly be thus interpreted. The reviewer justifies his charge by referring to p. 424–5 of my article, where I have given an historical sketch of the disgusting marriage customs of the early German communistic bodies & of certain savages, but I have never thought or hinted that such practices were in any way excuseable. The whole charge is absolutely false & groundless.6

Sir | your obedient servant

To the Editor of the Quarterly Review


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from G. H. Darwin, 29 July 1874.
George had drafted an article responding to an attack on his paper ‘On beneficial restrictions to liberty of marriage’ (G. H. Darwin 1873a; see also letter from G. H. Darwin, 29 July 1874). The attack was in an anonymous essay review in the Quarterly Review ([Mivart] 1874, p. 70). John Murray was the publisher of the Quarterly Review, and the anonymous reviewer was St George Jackson Mivart (Wellesley index). The article sent to CD by George has not been found.
George’s original paper was published in the Contemporary Review in 1873 (G. H. Darwin 1873a).
In his original paper, George had suggested that insanity of one partner should not be a bar to divorce, and might even in the future become grounds for divorce; later, proof of sanity in both partners and in their forebears might be required before marriage (G. H. Darwin 1873a, pp. 418–19). He anticipated the charge that his suggested regulations upon marriage would be thought too onerous by describing even more oppressive laws that had existed in the past (ibid., pp. 422–6). In his review, Mivart had suggested that George actually recommended these oppressive laws.
With the omitted words added, the text from the Quarterly Review reads: he speaks in an approving strain of the most oppressive laws, and of the encouragement of vice in order to check population. There is no hideous sexual criminality of Pagan days that might not be defended on the principles advocated by the school to which this writer belongs. This repulsive phenomenon affords a fresh demonstration of what France of the Regency and Pagan Rome long ago demonstrated; namely, how easily the most profound moral corruption can co-exist with the most varied appliances of a complex civilisation.
George and CD continued to refine the wording of this letter; it appeared, dated 7 August 1874, in the Quarterly Review 137 (1874): 587–9 (October issue). On the controversy, see Gruber 1960, pp. 98–114, and G. Dawson 2007, pp. 77–81.


Dawson, Gowan. 2007. Darwin, literature and Victorian respectability. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gruber, Jacob W. 1960. A conscience in conflict. The life of St. George Jackson Mivart. New York: Columbia University Press for Temple University Publications.

[Mivart, St George Jackson.] 1874b. Primitive man: Tylor and Lubbock. [Essay review of the works of John Lubbock and Edward Burnett Tylor.] Quarterly Review 137 (1874): 40–77.

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.


GHD’s article will not do. It is too long and the denial seems weak and confused; also, it ought to be in the form of a letter to the editor. Encloses draft of the sort of letter of denial he thinks GHD should write.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Howard Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.1: 27, 29, 32
Physical description
3pp, encl 2pp & draft 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9580,” accessed on 30 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22