DARWIN, CHARLES. 1809-1882. Autograph Letter Signed ("Ch. Darwin"),

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Lot 39

DARWIN, CHARLES. 1809-1882.
Autograph Letter Signed ("Ch. Darwin"),

Sold for US$ 197,000 inc. premium

DARWIN, CHARLES. 1809-1882.
Autograph Letter Signed ("Ch. Darwin"), 1 p, 8vo (integral blank), Down, Beckenham, Kent, November 24, 1880, on personal stationery watermarked Joynson Superfine, [to Frederick A. McDermott], light soiling to blank, small spot to lower right corner, fine condition.

"Private
Nov. 24 1880
Dear Sir,
I am sorry to have to
inform you that I do
not believe in the Bible
as a divine revelation
& therefore not in Jesus
Christ as the son of God.
Yours faithfully
Ch. Darwin
"

An extraordinarily pointed letter from Charles Darwin to a curious potential reader. The recipient, Frederick McDermott, was a young barrister who wrote Darwin on November 23rd, 1880 with a very unusual request: " ...if I am to have pleasure in reading your books I must feel that at the end I shall not have lost my faith in the New Testament. My reason in writing to you therefore is to ask you to give me a Yes or No to the question Do you believe in the New Testament. If you could answer me Yes I should most gladly enter upon the study of your wonderful books but without that assurance I fear my brain is not fine enough to argue out doubts which might be suggested by your works but if I can say that the author of these doctrines believes as I do that Christ was the Son of God, I can say it is only in matters of detail that Mr Darwin differs from Charles Kingsley and I may read with full pleasure of all the wonders of nature which he has collected...." McDermott continues by promising not to publicize Darwin's reply in the "theological papers." McDermott was true to his word, and the contents of this letter were not made public until more than a century after they were penned. (See Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-12845 for a full transcription of McDermott's letter.)

Darwin's reply was both swift and frank. Under the heading "Private" he states his lack of faith in the New Testament. This exchange apparently comprises the entirety of the correspondence. Darwin's writing on religion is typically much more circumspect, perhaps because his correspondents were usually more public figures: Asa Gray, Charles Kingsley, William Reade, John Fordyce, et al. Darwin's attitude towards religion has been the subject of debate since the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859. In 1880 the topic was again making headlines as the atheist Charles Bradlaugh was elected as an MP but prevented from taking his seat. The secularist Edward Aveling asked Darwin for his endorsement in October, 1880 but failed to secure it. Darwin replied that, "It has ... been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biassed by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion." Just a month after Darwin declined to publicly support secularism he pens this private letter. See Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-12851.

Footnotes

  • "YOURS FAITHFULLY": CHARLES DARWIN ON THE BIBLE.
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