DARWIN (CHARLES) Letter signed ("Charles Darwin"), the text in the hand of his wife Emma, to an unnamed correspondent ("Dear Sir"), thanking him for a pamphlet, which he is glad to possess and laying out his views on the Origin of Species, Down, "Oct 11" [?1861-7]
Lot 95
DARWIN (CHARLES)
Letter signed ("Charles Darwin"), the text in the hand of his wife Emma, to an unnamed correspondent ("Dear Sir"), thanking him for a pamphlet, which he is glad to possess, Down, "Oct 11" [?1861-7]; 'MY VIEWS ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES' – DARWIN ON EVOLUTION, THE ORIGIN OF LIFE, THE EXISTENCE OF GOD, AND OUR 'REFUSAL TO ADMIT THAT THE UNIVERSE IS THE RESULT OF CHANCE'. This remarkable letter, laying out (as Darwin himself puts it) his "opinion on the theological bearing of the change of species", appears to be hitherto unknown and unpublished.
Sold for £60,000 (US$ 80,104) inc. premium

Lot Details
DARWIN (CHARLES)
Letter signed ("Charles Darwin"), the text in the hand of his wife Emma, to an unnamed correspondent ("Dear Sir"), thanking him for a pamphlet, which he is glad to possess, although he has already "procured the Transaction"; with respect to the subject of his correspondent's note, Darwin states his opinion that "my views on the Origin of Species do not bear in any way on the question whether some one organic being was originally created by God, or appeared spontaneously through the action of natural laws"; although having said that (and qualifying his remarks by declaring that his knowledge does not entitle him to judge), he speculates that "at some far distant day life will be shewn to be one the [sic -- partly overwritten] several correlated forces, & that it is necessarily bound up with other existing laws", adding that "even if it were ever proved that a living being thus appeared, this belief, as it appears to me, would not interfere with that instinctive feeling which makes us refuse to admit that the Universe is the result of chance", and begging him to honour the confidentiality of the letter ("...It is not at all likely that you wd wish to quote my opinion on the theological bearing of the change of species, but I must request you not to do so, as such opinions in my judgement ought to remain each man's private property..."); ending the letter by thanking him for informing him of the discussion at the Church congress, of which he had heard nothing; and subscribing himself "yours very faithfully"; with one word ("being" on second page) added in Darwin's hand, 4 pages on a single bifolium of laid writing-paper, engraved purple letter heading in Gothic script ('Down | Bromley | Kent. S.E.'), very light dust-staining where folded in blank area of last page, but otherwise in fine, fresh condition, 8vo, Down, "Oct 11" [?1861-7]

Footnotes

  • 'MY VIEWS ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES' – DARWIN ON EVOLUTION, THE ORIGIN OF LIFE, THE EXISTENCE OF GOD, AND OUR 'REFUSAL TO ADMIT THAT THE UNIVERSE IS THE RESULT OF CHANCE'. This remarkable letter, laying out (as Darwin himself puts it) his "opinion on the theological bearing of the change of species", appears to be hitherto unknown and unpublished.

    Many regard Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection as being the defining idea of the modern age; and this letter, containing as it does Darwin's own "views on the Origin of Species", allied to his reflections on "the theological bearing of the change of species", gives us an all-too-rare insight into how Darwin himself perceived this idea, with all its far-reaching and, to many, terrifying implications; implications that he was famously reluctant to discuss in public (not least because he, too, shared in that terror). Thus the admonition with which the letter closes: "It is not at all likely that you wd wish to quote my opinion on the theological bearing of the change of species, but I must request you not to do so, as such opinions in my judgement ought to remain each man's private property".

    It is this that makes this letter and its discovery so special. And it is indeed this reluctance to touch on the subject of religion at all that likewise distinguishes a famous letter that has recently been sold by Bonhams, in which Darwin states with startling directness that 'I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation, & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the Son of God'; although without making reference to what gave rise to that agnosticism and or to the implications that such agnosticism holds for the humankind's view of itself, as our letter does (to Frederick A. McDermott, 24 November 1880; sold New York, 21 September 2015, lot 39, for $197,000; originally published by the present cataloguer in The Faber Book of Letters, 1988, having had it brought to his attention by the late Sir Geoffrey Keynes after his purchase of the letter from a Maggs catalogue). We have tracked down just five other extant letters in which Darwin also wrestles, as he does in ours, with the notion that the universe might have been created by chance, rather than by a creator-god; these being to Asa Gray (22 May [1860]), J. D. Hooker (12 July [1870]), N. D. Doedes (2 April 1873), William Graham (3 July 1881), and T. H. Farrer (28 August 1881); see the Cambridge University Library's online Darwin Correspondence Project.

    In the case of our letter, the identity of the recipient and the year in which it was written both remain to be determined. It was found among a group of letters addressed to the Rev and Mrs Charles Whitaker. Whitaker is therefore an obvious candidate; although we have found no reference to him in Darwin's published correspondence. Charles Whitaker (1845-1914) was son of the Master of the Bluecoats School, Kendal, and trained at the London College of Divinity from 1866. He was ordained deacon and appointed assistant stipendiary curate of South Crosland, in the West Riding, in 1869. He was ordained priest in 1871. From 1872 to 1875 he worked at the St Peter's Mission, Limehouse. In 1875 he was appointed vicar of Natland, in the West Riding, where, drawing upon his Limehouse experience, he founded the St Mark's Home for Orphan Boys. From 1897 until his death he served as vicar of Ulpha, Broughton-in-Furness.

    As so often with Darwin, our letter is undated by year. The date-range can however be narrowed down to between early May 1861 and April 1868 by the type of writing paper used, with its 'Bromley S.E.' heading (see the Darwin Correspondence Project, citing An Annotated Calendar of the Letters of Charles Darwin in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, edited by P. Thomas Carroll, 1976, p.xiii).

    At the end of his letter, Darwin thanks his correspondent for informing him "about the discussion at the Church congress", of which he has heard nothing. The Church of England held such Congresses annually during the first week of October, at which topics such as the bearing of evolution on Christian belief were discussed; the Congress of 1869 for example being addressed by R.H. Hutton on the subject of Darwinism, scepticism, and faith. The first such Congress was held at King's College, Cambridge in early October 1861; and thereafter at Oxford (1862), Manchester (1863), Bristol (1864), Norwich (1865), York (1866), Wolverhampton (1867) and Dublin (1868). If the letter were indeed addressed to Whitaker, one of the later Congresses seem a more likely candidate, bearing in mind that he was born on 16 July 1845 and so would have been only sixteen in October 1861. Two possible candidates are the Norwich Congress of 1865, at which E.B. Pusey addressed the assembly on the relation of science to theology, or the Wolverhampton Congress of 1867, where a session was held on 'The Bible and Science'. Otherwise further searches among Darwin's incoming correspondence may yield results; as might research in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection at the Cambridge University Library, which might establish the identity of the "Transaction" and "pamphlet" (presumably an off-print from the "Transaction"), to which Darwin refers in the opening paragraph.

    Provenance: The letter is being offered for sale by a descendant of the putative recipient, Charles Whitaker.
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