RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1940. [Letters to John Fiske, 1874-80]. In Ethel F. Fiske ed., The letters of John Fiske. New York: The Macmillan Company.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe. 7.2021. RN1

NOTE: "Fiske, John, 1842-1901. Born as Edmund Fiske Green. American philosopher, historian and theoretical biologist. 1871 CD to F, with invitation to visit Down House when he came to England. 1874 F sent CD Outlines of cosmic philosophy, 2 vols. 1879 Darwinism and other essays, London and New York. 1883 Excursions of an evolutionist, Boston. 1884 The destiny of man viewed in the light of his origin, Boston. 1885 The idea of God as affected by modern knowledge. In 1880 May 21, ED recorded a visit by Mr and Mrs Fiske. F and CD would exchange many letters between 1871-80. Recollections of and letters from CD in Darwin Online (F2108)." van Helvert & van Wyhe, Darwin: A Companion, 2021, p. 255.

See also:

Fiske, John. [1871-1880]. [Recollections and letters of Darwin]. In Spencer Clark, John ed. 1917. The life and letters of John Fiske. 2 vols. New York: Houghton Mifflin, vol. 1, pp. 477, 481-82, vol. 2, pp. 133-34. and

Fiske, John. 1882.07.27. [Recollection of Darwin in a letter to Francis Darwin]. CUL-DAR198.71.

[page] 336

Harvard University, December 26, 1874.

Dear Mother: I have had a grand letter from Darwin of which I enclose a copy the writing is so hard to make out.

Down, December 8, 1874.

My dear Sir:

You must allow me to thank you for the very great interest with which I have at last slowly read the whole of your work "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy". I have long wished to know something about the views of the many great men whose doctrines you give. With the exception of special points, I did not ever understand H. Spencer's general doctrine; for his style is too hard work for me. I never in my life read so lucid an expositor (and therefore thinker) as you are; and I think that I understand nearly the whole —perhaps less clearly about Cosmic Theism & Causation, than other parts. It is hopeless to attempt out of so much to specify what has interested me most, and probably you would not care to hear. I wish some chemist would attempt to ascertain the result of the cooling of heated gases of the proper kinds in relation to your hypothesis of the origin of living matter. It pleased me to find that here and there I had arrived from my own crude thoughts at some of the same conclusions with you; though I could seldom or never have given my reasons for such conclusions. I find that my mind is so fixed by the inductive method, that I cannot appreciate deductive reasoning: I must begin with a good body of facts and not from a principle (in which I always suspect some fallacy) and then as much deduction as you please.

This may be very narrow-minded; but the result is that such parts of H. Spencer as I have read with care impress my mind with the idea of his inexhaustible wealth of suggestion, but never convince me; and so I find it is with some others. I believe the cause to lie in the frequency with which I have found first-formed theories, are erroneous.

[page] 337

I thank you for the honourable mention which you make of my works. Parts of my "Descent of Man" must have appeared laughably weak to you; nevertheless, I have sent you a new edition just published.

Thanking you for the profound interest, and profit, with which I have read your work,

I remain, my dear sir,

Yours very faithfully,

Ch. Darwin.

John Fiske, Esqr.,

Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.

I am writing Huxley today.

[page] 341


Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.,

March 15, 1875.

My dear Mr. Darwin:

Pray excuse my long delay in answering your very kind letter and in thanking you for the welcome present of your "Descent of Man", which I received sometime ago. As I was too busy at the time to read the new edition I, let Mr. Chauncey Wright take it home with him, and he has kept it until now; but I am promising myself the pleasure of reading it carefully in my coming summer vacation when I can give my whole mind to it. It gives me great pleasure to receive such commendation of my work from one whose opinion I rate so highly as yours. Indeed, I consider the mere fact that you have found it worth while, amid your many occupations, to read my big book through, to be the very highest praise the book has received from any quarter-praise that is worth more than reams of eulogy from the most critical of reviews.

I often think with great pleasure of our lunch at your daughter's in London, and our brief chat afterwards. I wish I could have seen you more, and had some such good talks as I afterwards had quite fre-

[page] 342

quently with Mr. Huxley. But I don 't think you were again in town while I was there. When I last saw Dr Gray, some little time ago, he said that you were much interested in "carnivorous" plants. I wonder if you are going to publish anything on the subject. It seems to me that the question of "sensitiveness" in certain plants is highly interesting and important, i.e. how far the "sensitiveness" in these cases is like the "sensitiveness" of an animal without any specialized nervous matter; for there we seem to get near to the crudest beginnings of psychical life.

Thanking you again, my dear sir for your kind words, I remain, with regards to your family

Ever truly yours,

[page] 436


Cambridge, Mass., April 20, 1880.

My dear Mr. Darwin:

I hope you are still well and prospering in your great work. I am unable to follow you in detail quite so closely as I used to for year by year I find myself studying more and more nothing but history. But Huxley told me last year that he thought I could do more for the "Doctrine of Evolution" in history than in any other line. To say that all my studies today owe their life to you would be to utter a superfluous compliment; for now it goes without saying that the discovery of "Natural Selection" has put the whole future thought of mankind on a new basis.

I am going to bring my wife to London with me this time, for after 15 years with the children I think she ought to have a vacation. While we are there I hope to get a chance to look at you again for a moment and shake hands.

Ever, my dear Mr. Darwin,

Most sincerely yours,

[Emma Darwin recorded in her diary, 21 May 1880, "Mr & Mrs Fiske".]

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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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