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“I believe the high value of well-bred males is due to their transmitting their good qualities to a far greater number of offspring than can the female.”

DARWIN, CHARLES. (English) Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait

Down, 17 January [1877]

One page, with original stamped and postmarked envelope. Original folds, envelope soiled.

CHARLES DARWIN ON SEXUALITY AND THE TRANSMISSION OF HEREDITARY CHARACTERISTICS. The recipient of this letter, pioneering pelvic and abdominal surgeon Lawson Tait (1845-1899), is one of the fathers of gynecology. He corresponded extensively with Darwin from 1870 until the naturalist’s death in 1882. Tait actively promoted Darwinism in the medical community, and Darwin in turn quoted Tait’s 1869 paper “Law of Natural Selection” in The Descent of Man (1871).

In January 1877 Tait sent Darwin an extract from his forthcoming Diseases of Women. In that work Tait observed that “one of the greatest practical results of the discovery by Mr. Darwin of the descent of man from the animals” is that sexual instincts (or “passions”) are among the “most necessary as well as the most prevalent” of all instincts in humans.

In this fascinating letter Darwin reacts to Tait’s writing, stating, “I sh[oul]d be glad to give any criticisms, but I have none to make & agree with what you say — There is, however, one trifling point on which I differ; viz. that I believe the high value of well-bred males is due to their transmitting their good qualities to a far greater number of offspring than can the female.”

This letter, written a few years after The Descent of Man, provides a fascinating glimpse of Darwin’s views on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics.

Provenance: Sotheby’s 24 July 1978, lot 225 (“Property of a Lady”).

$22,500