|Jim (W. J) Dempster|
Each letter, published in chronological order, is from Jim Dempster to Ian Hardie. The letters were written during the period when Hardie co-managed the Patrick Matthew Trust.
Please Note: Some details concerning living people have been omitted in order to protect certain minor issues of possible personal privacy and sensibility. Wherever this occurs the point of redaction is indicated by three full stops in a row "..."
Much of the correspondence concerns Dempster's second book. Dempster, W. J (1996) Evolutionary Concepts in the Nineteenth Century. Edinburgh. The Pentland Press.
PLEASE NOTE All of these letters, published on the Patrick Matthew Blog are the copyright of the Dempster Family Private Archive - (C) All International Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without written permission.
Letter 1 (Jim Dempster to Ian Hardie)
Many thanks for your letter and enclosures. The article for country life I find rather lifeless but let it go. I have written to Fiona about a minor change. When you return the photograph can you enquire whether they can improve the quality. There are sorts of tricks these days. That photo, I think I told you was turned down by American publishers as being of poor quality. If they can send us some better quality prints it would be helpful.
I saw Gribbin’s article in the Sunday Times. I wrote him and complimented him on being hooked on only one reading. Hooker found it the most difficult book he ever read; Huxley has to re-read several times before he was able to point out several mistakes especially Darwin’s opinion that natural selection was always a slow process. It so happens that several months ago I was so appalled at the number of mistakes in the Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins that I wrote him a small essay. It was mainly the usual English diatribe against Lamarck without mentioning that by the 6th edition of the Origin Darwin was won over to Lamarckian ideas. The inheritance of acquired characteristics came from Buffon and not Lamarck. It was Huxley who wrote Darwin to point out that his Pangenesis was what Buffon had written almost a hundred years ago. So – the Darwin Industry (coined by Adrian Desmond) are determined to shield Darwin from Pangenesis and all the other untruths Darwin uttered about his predecessors. I asked Richard Dawkins why he had listed in his bibliography the 1st edition and not the 6th edition. Here is his disingenuous reply.
“I don’t understand why you are ‘surprised’ that I refer to the 1st edition of the Origin. Apart from the fact that the last edition contains the well-known acknowledgement to Matthew, I greatly prefer the first edition. It lacks errors that Darwin introduced, (like Pangenesis) in response to criticisms that we can now see to have been erroneous.”
Can you spot the similarity?
The piece about Matthew in the 6th edition is in the so-called ‘Historical Sketch’. It makes Matthew out to be an idiot but turns out now to be very modern. I am dealing with this in my current study. I refer in my book to the Huxley – Darwin correspondence about Pangenesis.
Richard Dawkins knew nothing about PM and states that he was taught that PM was ‘an enigma’!
I thank you for pursuing a possible publisher. My big problem is the typing of the manuscript. I had a secretary when I wrote the book but not now. My standard of typing would not be acceptable by publishers. It will be very costly to hire a typist. That is my main problem these days.
I came across in the transactions of the Royal Society another letter from Matthew to Darwin. Matthew had clearly written a review (9.3.71) of the ‘Descent of Man’ (1871) for the Scotsman Newspaper; a copy of the review was enclosed. Darwin wrote back curtly a few words, mainly about his ill-health, as usual, but made no reference to the review and signed off curtly with a ‘yours faithfully’. Even so Darwin did not let up on his rubbishing of Matthew for by February 1872 the 6th edition was published with the Historical Sketch.
So – I wrote to the National Library on George IV Bridge and asked them to track down the review. I have just received a copy. It is a long but very favourable review but Darwin took care not to mention it in his letters.
I have been immersed in a marvellous book – The politics of Evolution by Adrian Desmond. He lives quite near here. He deals with another Edinburgh graduate – Robert Grant – who befriended Darwin when he was at Edinburgh. Told him all about Lamarck, the fauna of the Firth of Forth and encouraged him to present short papers at the Pliny Society. When Darwin returned from the voyage he lived in Gower Street a stone’s throw form the University College where Grant was now the professor of Zoology and preaching or rather lecturing on Lamarckism. Darwin avoided him for the rest of his life and spread untruths about him. Desmond asks why? I think Darwin from the beginning was making sure that his predecessors would be blanked out so that he could claim ‘I owe nothing to my predecessors’. What arrogance! So his predecessors were Herbert Spencer, Lamarck, Robert Grant, Patrick Matthew, Edward Blyth. All these people were subject to Darwin’s malicious untruths which everyone believes. His treatment of Edward Blyth I deal with in my book.
Arthur Keith in his book ‘Darwin re-valued’ asks “why was Darwin so abrupt with Herbert Spencer?”
I have a great deal of typing to do which I find rather boring. I think I now have all the data I need. The local library have been most helpful.
Notes by Mike Sutton
In fact, Darwin's Historical Sketch was included in every edition of the Origin of Species from the third edition onward (Darwin 1861). Dempster never got that fact wrong in this letter, it's just that he writes "by the 6h edition" meaning it was definitely in that edition.
It is also important to note that this letter established that Richard Dawkins was well aware of the completeness of Matthew's (1831) on the topic of natural selection as early as 1994, not least thanks to the correspondence he received from Jim Dempster on the topic.