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Letter 7454

Mivart, St G. J. to Darwin, C. R.

24 Jan 1871


Is sorry CD found Genesis of species unfairly critical. Assures CD of his just intentions and offers to alter certain words and phrases in a new edition. Emphasises his high regard for CD but fears his views are leading to religious decay.


7, North Bank, | N.W.

Janry. 24th 1871.

My dear Sir,

I thank you for your two letters dated Janry 23d—especiallyfor No. 2.f1

I was sorry to find that you thought I had not criticised you fairlybut I am sure you will do me the justice to believe that I wishedto be fair

Over and above my being “bound over”, as it were, to be justby your past kindness to mef2—I beg you to believe that I amconfident the cause of “right” could never gain by any, howeverunintentional, acts of injustice or unkindness.

I am much obliged to you for calling my attention to certain pointsand if my little book should ever reach a second edition it will of coursebe my duty (and considering the sentiments I entertain for you alsomy pleasure) to make modifications accordingly.

I shall certainly withdraw the expression “change of front”—replace“mimic” by “mock” (a quite accidental error) and also—ifyou like—remove the word “dogmatic” or introduce an explanatory,modifying sentence.f3

I have also, in all probability, unconsciously represented you as moreattached to the predominance of action of natural selection than is really thecase since you say it is “infinitely more important” that I should “holdfast to the general principle of Evolution” than to it.f4 I will, withpleasure, add a note to say so but my book will not, I conceive, be lessusefully directed against that view as I know others do hold it—being inthis respect “plus royalist que le Roi”—f5 As to the fibres of Corti, Ido not care a straw—as some structure must minister to that refinedaudition & if not yet discovered will probably be so later.f6

I must now beg you to believe that what I said in my last letter was notdictated by mere politeness but very seriously meantf7 My distinctionbetween “material” & “formal” will explain how while execratingcertain views & acts I may yet very properly entertain the tenderestfeelings towards persons holding the one or performing the other—If my medical man with the greatest pains, sympathy & trouble treatsme wrongly & permanently injures me, am I not to be sensible of hispains & kindness because through some circumstance of education orwhat not—the result of his well meant labour is unfortunate?

I wish much that I had the priviledge of more frequent conversations withyou and I repeat I hope you will give me the opportunity when you can.

Unhappily the acceptance of your views means with many the abandonmentof belief in God and in the immortality of the soul together withfuture rewards & punishments. No words of mine could represent anappreciable fraction of what I think as to the importance of such anabandonment—yet I am far from blaming you personally for (knowingyou as I do) I am persuaded you only seek the promotion of truth thoughI regret you do not more protect against these unnecessary irreligiousdeductions.

Apart, however, from considerations as to eternity, I think that thedestruction of such beliefs is most important—viewed from thecomparatively trivial stand-point of the temporal happiness of mankind.I have just finished reading Von Sybel’s history of the french revolution.God grant we in England may not be approaching a religious decay at allsimilar to that of the middle of the 18th century in France whichFrenchmen are now paying for in blood & tears!f8

With kindest regards believe me | My dear Sir | Always your’s verysincerely | St Geo. Mivart.

Ch. Darwin Esq F.R.S.

DAR 171: 191



Mivart refers to the letter to him of 23 January [1871]; thefirst letter has not been found but for a draft, see theletter to St G. J. Mivart, [23 January 1871].
CD and Mivart had been corresponding since 1867 (seeCorrespondence vols. 15–18).
On ‘change of front’, see the letter to Francis Darwin, [after 21 January 1871] and n. 9. In the second edition of On the genesis ofspecies, Mivart changed, ‘This admission seems almost to amount to achange of front in the face of the enemy!’ (Mivart 1871a, p. 60) to‘This admission appears to the author to be of compromisingsignificance’ (Mivart 1871b, p. 67); ‘mimic’ (Mivart 1871a, p. 35) to‘mock’ (Mivart 1871b, p. 39); and ‘dogmatic’ (Mivart 1871a, p. 102) to‘positive’ (Mivart 1871b, p. 116).
This statement must have been in the missing letter to Mivart of 23 January 1871; see the draft letter to Mivart of [23 January 1871].
Plus royaliste que le Roi: more royalist than the king (French).
See letter to St G. J. Mivart, [23 January 1871], n. 5.
See letter from St G. J. Mivart, 22 January 1871.
Mivart refers to Heinrich von Sybel and Sybel 1867–9. He added alengthy note drawn from Sybel’s French Revolution to Mivart 1871b,pp. 233–4. He also refers to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and 1871.
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