A ‘scurrilous libel’

St. George Jackson Mivart, Wellcome Library, London (CC BY 4.0)

St. George Jackson Mivart, Wellcome Library, London (CC BY 4.0)

Letters revealing a unprecedented episode of incandescent anger on Darwin’s part will be published for the first time in the next volume of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin, out next month. The volume contains more than 600 letters from 1874. The target of Darwin’s fury was the Catholic zoologist St George Jackson Mivart who had accused Darwin’s son, George, of supporting prostitution as a legitimate means of population control, and by implication had branded Darwin’s own theories as immoral. Darwin had previously tried to break off communication with Mivart, who had written a series of hostile reviews of Descent of Man while privately professing friendship. Increasingly acrimonious letters exchanged by the two men in 1871 and 1872, are being made available for the first time online by the Darwin Correspondence Project and Cambridge University Press ahead of schedule (see the links below). They are also published in volumes 19 and 20 of the Correspondence.

 

During the row over George’s views, and following advice from friends, Darwin did not write directly to Mivart, who he described as a ‘lying scoundrel’, but in January 1875 he drafted a letter condemning Mivart’s actions and icily cutting all further communication. He could not, he told Joseph Hooker, forgive a man for malicious lying ‘merely because he says he is sorry’. Assuming this was sent, it is the last known contact between them. The draft letter, which will be published in volume 23 of the Correspondence, due out next year, is reproduced in full below.

 

If you want to know more, check back. As soon as volume 22 is published, we’ll make a full account of the row and its causes available here when we put up the introduction and the Darwin–Mivart appendix.  In the meantime, you can read about their earlier row in the introductions to volumes 19 and 20.

 

Mivart continued to profess friendship for Darwin and to excuse his actions but a number of Darwin’s supporters shunned him. Although critical of the theory of natural selection, especially as applied to humans, Mivart did support broadly evolutionary views and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church shortly before his death in 1900.

 

To St G. J. Mivart  12 January 1875

Jan 12th 1875

Sir
Your article in the Q. R. for July 1874 contains a wholly false & malicious accusation against my son, Mr G. Darwin. You had a fair opportunity in the following number of retracting your infamous & explicit accusation, & you did not make even this small reparation.— Your article also includes deliberate misrepresentations of what I have published.
Therefore I refuse to hold for the future any communication with
Sir | Your obedt. servt. | Ch. Darwin
To | St. G. Mivart Esq

 

Cambridge University Library (DAR 97: C36).
Published by permission of the Darwin family and the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

 

You can now read the letters between Darwin and Mivart from 1871 and 1872 online here, made available ahead of schedule with the permission of our colleagues at Cambridge University Press:

 

7447: Mivart to Darwin, 19 Jan 1871
7450A: Darwin to Mivart, 21 Jan [1871]
7451: Mivart to Darwin, 22 Jan 1871
7453: Darwin to Mivart, [23 Jan 1871]
7453A: Darwin to Mivart, 23 Jan [1871]
7454: Mivart to Darwin, 24 Jan 1871
7458: Mivart to Darwin, 26 Jan 1871
7459A: Darwin to Mivart, 26 Jan [1871]
7462A: Darwin to Mivart, 28 Jan [1871]
7467: Mivart to Darwin, 31 Jan 1871
5926: Mivart to Darwin, 24 Feb [1871]
7703A: Darwin to Mivart, 21 Apr [1871]
7710: Mivart to Darwin, 23 Apr 1871
7971: Mivart to Darwin, 26 Sept 1871
7972: Darwin to Mivart, 27 Sept [1871]
7986: Mivart to Darwin, 4 Oct 1971
8143: Mivart to Darwin, 4 Jan 1872
8145: Darwin to Mivart, 5 Jan 1872
8148: Mivart to Darwin, 6 Jan 1872
8149: Darwin to Mivart, 8 Jan [1872]
8154: Mivart to Darwin, 10 Jan 1872
8156A: Darwin to Mivart, 11 Jan [1872]

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