RECORD: Darwin, Francis. 1904. Darwin and Greek. The Times (29 December), p. 9.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe. 10.2019. RN1

NOTE: The reply to Francis Darwin's letter was published on 5 January 1905, reproduced below.

[page] 9



Sir,— In an article on "Greek at Oxford," from a Correspondent, in The Times of to-day occurs the remark "It will be remembered also that Darwin regretted not having learnt Greek."

I am at a loss to know on what authority this statement rests. If Darwin had any regrets on the subject of Greek it was when he found that in the two years intervening between leaving school and going up to Cambridge he had almost forgotten his classics, and had to begin again an uncongenial task In order to get a degree.

Darwin says of his education at Shrewsbury School:—"Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than Dr. Butler's school, as it was strictly classical, nothing else being taught, except a little ancient geography and history" ("Life and Letters," I, 31). He was, in fact, a victim of that "premature specialization" which is generally referred to in a somewhat one-sided spirit, and from which the public schoolboy is not yet freed.

If the name of Charles Darwin is to be brought into this controversy it must not be used for compulsory Greek, but against it. In 1867 he wrote to Farrar, "I am one of the root and branch men, and would leave classics to be learnt by those alone who have sufficient zeal and the high taste requisite for their appreciation" ("More Letters," II., 441).


30, Kensington-square, W., Dec. 27.


[Reply to Franics Darwin. The Times, 5 January, 1905, p. 6:



Sir,—I read in The Times of this morning that Mr. Matheson takes exception to my statement in your columns respecting the Greek controversy of 1902 at Oxford—"Passmen, it was argued, find Greek too difficult." He says this argument was not used in the debate in Congregation. I never asserted that it was; as will be seen from my communication, I was not describing the debate, but the state of academic opinion, as to which I can claim to have been fairly well informed. And I can assure Mr. Matheson that, though the argument in, question may not have been present to his own mind, it was certainly used by many of his supporters.

I must, of course, apologize to Mr. Francis Darwin for having apparently misrepresented his father's attitude to Greek. I can only say that my misstatement was made on the faith of an assurance given to me by an authority whom I am accustomed to respect; and I am afraid that I did not verify the reference. It will, of course, be observed that Mr. Darwin's correction does not in any way invalidate the case of the Oxford supporters of Greek, who, as I endeavoured to show in my article, have relied largely on contemporary opinion. My remark about Charles Darwin was purely parenthetical.

I remain &c.,


January 4.]


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