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Letter 7458

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

26 Jan 1871


Is glad CD does not believe he is biased by an odium theologicum. Comments on the first volume of Descent. Is convinced of the truth of evolution, but believes natural selection plays only a secondary role and that man is fundamentally different from the rest of creation.


7, North Bank, | N.W.

Janry. 26th 1871.

My dear Sir

I am exceedingly concerned to hear you have been confined to yourbed-room & that you are still more or less unwell—f1 I regret youshould have taken the trouble to reply to me so quickly and I beg thatin future you will never hurry to do so as I shall always attributeyour silence to some accidental hindrance.

I am very glad you do not now think that I was biassed byan odium theologicumf2   you will be still more convinced that I was not,when we have had a chat. It was by no means unnatural that you should havethought I was.

I do not think that my facts as to geographical distribution tellagainst evolution— It is quite conceivable to me that pleurodont lizardsmight have been evolved independently in two places & that Solenodon& Centetes might have had only a remote common ancestry.f3

It is fortunate for science, my dear Sir, that you did take whatyou will forgive me for calling an exaggerated view of the action of“Natural Selection” since but for that, you would not have broughtthe world to see the truth of the doctrine of Evolution henceforthindisputably associated with your name & labours.

I cannot agree with you in thinking I should have done better tohave “given up natural selection altogether”. at p. 240 I have saidwhat I believe Nat. Selection does do & which seems to me notrifling or unimportant work subordinate as it may be.f4

I have referred to my notes as to the the phrase you speak of—Unfortunately I have no copy of your work on “An. & plants u.domestcn.” but my note is as enclosedAfter mentioning the frequent sudden appearances of domestic varietiesMr Darwin speaks of “the false belief as to the similarity ofnatural species in this respect” An. & Plants under Domestication.Vol II. p. 414.f5

I have now read the first part of Vol. I. you have kindly sent meand excepting my strong divergence as to the “Moral sense” &c I havebeen delighted with it.f6 Your remark as to an objector revealing hisdescent by the very act of sneering is capital.f7 As to man’srelationship (as regards his animality) to other animals I am quitedisposed to agree with you and to think that his bodily distinctnessis rather under than over that of a family.f8 In my fragments onthe back & limb-bones of the Primates I showed my conviction that asregards those parts he was far more like the higher Apes than thehigher Apes were like the lower onesf9 & although I could not speakof the whole, of his organization, because I had not worked at it, Iwas inclined to suspect that all it’s details would tell the samestory. This does not of course prevent my regarding him in the lightof his spiritual nature & something different from the whole visiblecreation and being really therefore (as I think I once before saidto you) more different from a Gorilla than is a Gorilla from a lump ofgranite.

My little book, in spite of it’s opposition to some of your views,will tend I think to make what you say as to man’s descent lessunpalatable to many, & will therefore hinder some from withholding thatappreciation which is your due.f10 I mean that if through what I have saidsome see that they can hold all you say as regards man’s animalitywithout giving up a fraction of truths of another order they willthereby be less indisposed to do you justice.

I look forward with interest to see what you will say as to sexualselection in Apes and whether you think the coyness of the Simian maidenhas caused the blush to mantle not on her own cheek but to permanentlytinge the livery of her admirer—

With very kind regards & the hope you may soon be in your usualhealth at last & thanking you for your promise of a visit whenyou can manage it I remain | My dear Sir | Your’s very truly | St Geo Mivart.

Your notion as to the explanation of lunar periodicity is veryingenious though I know you only throw it out as a suggestionf11

DAR 171: 192



See letter to St G. J. Mivart, 26 January [1871].
Odium theologicum: ‘hatred of the kind which proverbiallycharacterizes theological disputes’ (OED).
The existence ofpleurodont lizards in South America and Madagascar, and of Centetes(now Hemicentetes, the tenrec) and Solenodon (members of the sameinfraclass, Eutheria) in Madagascar and the West Indies respectivelywas discussed in Mivart 1871a, pp. 147–8.
In Mivart 1871a, pp. 240–1, Mivart puts forward a view of aninnate force by which new species, which are not monstrosities but‘harmonious wholes’, are from time to time manifested by ordinary generation; these new species being markedlydistinct from the old ones, and the change being stimulated byexternal conditions. He listed his beliefs on natural selection:‘That “Natural Selection” rigorously destroys monstrosities, andabortive and feeble attempts at the performance of the evolutionaryprocess. | That “Natural Selection” removes the antecedent speciesrapidly when the new one evolved is more in harmony with surroundingconditions. | That “Natural Selection” favours and develops usefulvariations, though it is impotent to originate them or to erect thephysiological barrier which seems to exist between species.’
See letter to Francis Darwin, [after 21 January 1871], n. 2.
CD discussed morality in chapter 5 of Descent (On the developmentof the intellectual and moral faculties during primeval and civilisedtimes).
In Descent 1: 127, CD wrote: ‘He who rejects with scorn thebelief that the shape of his own canines, and their occasional greatdevelopment in other men, are due to our early progenitors having beenprovided with these formidable weapons, will probably reveal bysneering the line of his descent. For though he no longer intends, norhas the power, to use these teeth as weapons, he will unconsciouslyretract his “snarling muscles” … so as toexpose them ready for action, like a dog prepared to fight.’
In Descent 1: 194–5, CD wrote: ‘Although, as we have now seen,man has no just right to form a separate Order for his own reception,he may perhaps claim a distinct Sub-order or Family.’ He remarked thatThomas Henry Huxley classified humans in their own suborder of thePrimates, but added, ‘under a genealogical point of view it appearsthat this rank is too high, and that man ought to form merely aFamily, or possibly even a Sub-family.’
Mivart’s papers on the appendicular and axial skeleton of theprimates are Mivart 1865, 1866, and 1867.
Mivart refers to his On the genesis of species (Mivart 1871a).
In Descent 1: 212 n. 27, CD suggested that if vertebratesdescended from tidal animals, this would explain why so many vitalprocesses ran their course according to lunar periods.
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