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Studies of Victorian appropriations of the ancient world have allowed us to appreciate the pervasive influence of classical Greece on aesthetics and education, as well as religious, moral, and philosophical discourses. Celebrations of ancient Greek genius also prompted scientific interpretations of the past, present, and future of human society. For Charles Darwin (1809–1882), along with his correspondents Charles Lyell (1797–1875), Francis Galton (1822–1911), and William Rathbone Greg (1809–1881), the ancient Greeks were a race that had never been intellectually surpassed. Classical Athens therefore served as a precautionary tale of the multiple biological, sociopolitical, and geographical factors that may inhibit social progress. Their complementary, or even conflicting, understandings of the causes that prevented humankind from surpassing the ancient Greeks demonstrate subtle differences in their evolutionary perspectives. Against the Enlightenment faith in moral and intellectual improvement, Darwin's thesis that evolutionary progress was "no invariable rule" was used to explain why empires of the past had declined, serving also as a guide for how Victorian Britain should address concerns such as migration, morality, and social order.

In March 1860, at the end of a brief letter, Charles Darwin wrote to his friend and mentor Charles Lyell about an unexpected attack on the concept of evolutionary progress:

By an odd chance (for I had not alluded even to subject) the Ladies attacked me this evening & threw the high state of old Græcians into my teeth, as an unanswerable difficulty; but by good chance I had my answer all pat & silenced them.2 [End Page 97]

As Darwin explained in the letter, the subject of this friendly debate had come up in an earlier discussion with Lyell: did the ancient Greeks' "high state of Intellectual development" and humankind's "little or no subsequent improvement" constitute a challenge for the progressivist slant of evolutionary theory? That is, if natural selection acts on moral qualities and mental attributes in the same ways it acts on physical capacities, would cases such as the ancient Greeks threaten an evolutionary theory seen as inescapably progressive?3

Darwin appeared confident that the issue posed no danger to his views. Unlike the doctrines held by Lamarck or the author of the anonymous evolutionary tract of 1844 Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation,4 corporeal, intellectual, or moral "progression" was not inevitable for Darwin. The case of ancient Greece could therefore be easily harmonized "with the other facts of progression in corporeal structure of other animals" (Burkhardt and Smith 1993, 128). For Darwin, intellectual development was not guaranteed, and in certain instances such as "a state of anarchy or despotism or bad government or after irruption of Barbarians force and strength or ferocity & not intellect would be apt to gain the day" (Burkhardt and Smith 1993, 128). In other words, human evolution was influenced by a host of multiple dependent factors among which the state of government was of major importance.

Putting Darwin's theoretical worries momentarily aside, how did the ancient Greeks come to occupy his communications with Lyell, as well as a discussion among family friends in a relaxed evening setting? The significance of these two incidents can be fully appreciated only against the backdrop of a long-standing fascination with classical Greece among the British intellectual elite that reached an apogee in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, when Britain's imperial might drew (sometimes anxious) comparisons with its Athenian and Roman predecessors. This article demonstrates that Darwin's thinking on Greece relied explicitly on the arguments of three other Victorian gentlemen: Charles Lyell, Francis Galton, and William Rathbone Greg. Their varied views on and uses of the past became entangled in scientific discussions far beyond the realm of classical scholars. From Darwin's early jottings, through his exchanges with Lyell, Galton, and Greg, to an intricate argument in The Descent of Man (1871), this study explores how these evolutionary theorists used antiquity as an intellectual resource to address existing concerns over social development.5 Thus it reveals how these Victorians' views of the Greeks, ancient and modern, reflected their hopes and fears for their own society. One of the surprises in what follows is the prominence of W.R. Greg's arguments, often remembered for the virulent phrase quoted in The Descent that "the careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits" (Darwin 1871, [End Page 98] vol. 1, 174). This historical analysis shows that when Darwin came to publish on the topic, he had long been reading and thinking in the public sphere of ideas and as with his other writings had accumulated a wealth of diverse considerations. As a record of the state of a discussion and by highlighting the nuances and differences in the perspectives of these four naturalists, this article offers a reappraisal of the relationship between evolutionist racial theory and classical reception, expanding the discussion on the complexity of Victorian perceptions of antiquity, human progress, and degeneration.6

The Greeks, the Victorians, and the question of progress and decline

The eighteenth-century ideological and cultural identification of ancient Greece with Western Europe inspired a host of explanations for Greek achievement and fall, which found their fullest expression in the Romantic era. Since Montesquieu's early writings, republican and rationale government, civic manners, and freedom from censorship in the development of arts and knowledge were praised as the foundations of Greek civilization. Conversely, the departure from these principles—political conflict and division—led to Greece's corruption and moral decline. The constant exercise of body and mind aiming to strengthen military prowess was transformed into a lack of restraint and physical exhaustion, uncanny adoration of male beauty and propensity to excess, sensual pleasures, and homosexuality (Valdez 2014). While the decline of manners, extreme sensuality, and adherence to mysticism became clichéd topics by the early nineteenth century, the Romantics interweaved radical politics against despotism, enslavement, and tyranny, as well as religious and secular arguments to explain Greek decline and promote their involvement in the War of Independence (Stock 2010).

Along with the discourses on progress and degeneration, the rapid development of the historical and social sciences during this period brought Greece to the focus of physical anthropologists and racial theorists (Trubeta 2013, 38; Lefkaditou, forthcoming). Greece was interesting not only as the birthplace of European civilization, but as the border and passage to Europe and therefore a terrain of intense ethnic intermixing, with a peculiar landscape that allowed for purity through isolation on islands and high mountains. Within the early Greek state, the majority of Western-educated local elites and state officials advocated a model of lineal continuity between ancient and Modern Greece. However, European audiences were not easily swayed. Paul Stock identifies these tensions and conflicts in the conceptions of Greece "as a European progenitor as well as a corrupted and alien other" among the circles of dedicated [End Page 99] philhellenes (Stock 2010, 20). Their racialized interpretations saw the Greeks as socially and biologically degenerated by Ottoman rule—and at the same time as direct descendants of the ancients carrying the potential for regeneration.

By the mid-nineteenth century, and as racial theories were becoming a dominant discourse, Western scholars would not abide by Greece's foundational myth.7 They often contested the suggestion of "the regeneration of Greece and the Greeks, the physical reincarnation of the idea of the ancient past" (Roessel 2001, 3), questioning any similarities between the ancient, glorious inhabitants and the contemporary, uneducated, and impoverished populace. Among them was a figure known to Darwin and his circle, the controversial Scottish anatomist and racial determinist Robert Knox. In a series of lectures first published in 1850 under the title The Races of Men (1850),8 Knox suggested that ancient Greeks were a unique amalgam of Scandinavian or Saxon, Celtic, Slavonian, Gothic, and Oriental elements that were mixed with the autochthonous Pelasgi. For Knox, it was the Scandinavian or Saxon race that "contributed mainly, no doubt, to the formation of the noblest of all men" (1850, 41), and in arguing for the supremacy of his race he established a clear-cut division between the Greeks of the classical period and the modern occupants of the area. "Anti-classic in all things, how Greece has fallen," he exclaimed (Knox 1850, 270–271).

Knox's conceptions of ancient and Modern Greece were typical of the Victorian period's preoccupation with the past and the contested readings of ancient civilizations in terms of progress and decline. Broadly speaking, faith in the inevitability of progress amidst rapid societal changes characterized the high-Victorian attitude to a future that was marching towards them.9 Different and often incommensurate models of progress appealed to diverse social groups, but they all shared a belief in inexorable social improvement. After some of the brightest hopes of the Enlightenment were crushed by the stark realities of rapid industrialization, the prospect of degeneration—of moral, political, intellectual, and racial regress—reared its ugly head. In this newly pessimistic environment, the decline of ancient Greece posed an interesting puzzle. Progress was not inevitable; societies, civilizations, the whole of the human species were subject to unpredictable natural forces. Once again, the Victorians had to reinterpret the past and look for signs of warning in the decaying empires if they did not want to perish as both the Greeks and Romans had done.10 The intellectual construction of the British Empire was now seen as undoubtedly Greek, and thus Greece was more fitting as "a source of prescriptive values and of illustrative moral and political allusions" (Turner 1981, 4). [End Page 100]

Notwithstanding the utilitarian and presentist Victorian attitudes towards the past, their society was inordinately fascinated by Ancient Greek art, language, philosophy, religion, and political life (Jenkyns 1980; Shanks 1996; Goldhill 2011). Knowledge of the classical world, especially languages, was a privilege reserved for the upper and upper-middle classes, whose children could attend public schools. Indeed, inclusion in the educated elites and intellectual ambition were tied to classical education (Evangelista 2009). Throughout the nineteenth century, classics evolved from a symbol of gentlemanly education to a prerequisite for joining the higher ranks of administrative and professional elites (Stray 1998). Despite the reign of Greeks and Romans within humanist circles in Oxford and Cambridge, classical authority was not uncontested. Darwin's own relationship with the classics was troubled. Starting at Dr. Butler's great classical school in Shrewsbury and continuing with his classical education in preparation for enrolling at Cambridge University in 1828, he found the study of Greek and Latin onerous and uninspiring. He eventually came to support the late-nineteenth century efforts of scientific naturalists—many of whom were his own disciples—who campaigned against the iron grip of the classical curriculum on all levels of education to the detriment of sciences.11

The following sections show how Lyell, Galton, Greg, and eventually Darwin reworked earlier models of progress and degeneration into new naturalistic explanations. Their arguments intertwine their fascination and disillusionment with ancient Greece together with their own commitments to progressive or cyclical change.

Charles Lyell's Grotean Response

The year 1860 was crucial for the reception of Darwin's magnum opus, On the Origin of Species (1859). The correspondence between him and Lyell grew more voluminous than ever.12 As Lyell was preparing his own book on humankind, he was battling with the obvious implication for human descent that "man is in same predicament with other animals."13 The idea of erasing the bright line separating man and brute was spiritually offensive to the older naturalist. For Darwin, Lyell's "ever attached disciple,"14 there was absolutely no need for natural selection to introduce any sharp distinction between humans and the rest of nature, even when it came to the issue of intellectual or moral capacities.

In the end, and to Darwin's chagrin, Lyell's book saved the minds and morals of humans from any association with the apes. The Antiquity of Man, published in 1863, suggested a unique mechanism for the appearance of [End Page 101] humans, a sudden leap that separated them abruptly from any other animal form (Bynum 1984).15 Even so, Lyell's interest in the relationship between natural selection and intellectual powers was sincere, a "knotty spiritual inner debate" (Bartholomew 1973, 296), which he recorded as an intense "private dialogue with Darwinism" in a series of seven volumes containing "a rich mix of natural history notes, geological jottings, theological threnes, and metaphysical musings" (Hodge 1971, 119).

It is in these volumes that in March 1860 Lyell kept a record of his discussion with Darwin about the status of the Greeks (Wilson 1970). Out of Darwin's closest circle of friends, supporters, and frequent correspondents, Lyell probably had the most intimate relationship with the classics, as he had originally graduated with a BA with honors in Classics in 1819 (Rudwick 2012). But his knowledge and understanding of the ancient world was greatly influenced and augmented by George Grote's 12–volume History of Greece ([1846–1856] 1869–1870),16 in which fifth-century BCE Athenian democracy was reinvented in the image of mid-Victorian democratic, critical rationalism. Grote's history was quoted twice in the few paragraphs considered here.

Lyell began his account with a sharp criticism of powerful, state-sanctioned religious establishments, as well as the resulting restrictions on civil liberties and freedom of opinion. He explained:

The Greeks were the only civilized people in antiquity who unlike the Egyptians, Chinese, Hindoos, had no regular organized priesthood. Only certain families had oracles & temples, but not the State, so that there was more freedom for new schools of philosophy, less danger in Magna Graecia & Etruria of setting up new opinions & doctrines, moral or political.

Lyell was a deist throughout his whole life, but his attitudes towards religious institutions were more complex. In 1831, when appointed as Professor of Geology at King's College in London, only the first volume of his Principles of Geology (1830–1833) had appeared. His views on creation and biblical events, such as the Flood, caused some distress among the clergymen in the institution's governing body,17 but the reasons for his not continuing in his post after 1833 need to be investigated further. While Lyell himself alluded to the bishops being dissatisfied with the content of his lectures, he never openly supported attacks on the clergy or public feeling towards the Church (Bartholomew 1973, 267–268). On the matter of religious practice, however, Lyell as a leading member of the Whig party could not have been but a pluralist committed to supporting the rights of religious minorities (Mandler 2006, 91). The view of Athenian democracy as an exemplar of enlightened tolerance and rational [End Page 102] government—stemming from Grote's radical historical revision—fitted very well with the hostility of liberal thinkers towards the oppressive dogma and practices of Catholicism, of which the Church of Spain was considered to provide the crudest model. The democratic constitution of Athens was in no way comparable to "the Spanish Inquisition selecting every original thinker and burning him" (Wilson 1970, 365).

Echoing once again Grote's celebratory presentation of classical republicanism, Lyell discussed one of the grimmest times for Athens: the execution of Socrates. Instead of focusing on Socrates' final condemnation, Lyell emphasized that it was impossible to find a modern community that would show such tolerance towards someone who taught truths distasteful to the establishment for more than 50 years. This unique balance between constitutional democracy and individual freedom of thought, as well as an openness to new ideas and critique of authoritarian texts, served for Lyell as the context that allowed the high intellectual abilities of ancient Greeks to both flourish and serve as a paradigm for Victorian emulation. The identification between Grote and Lyell was noticed by Huxley, who wrote that "Grote's 'History of Greece' is a product of the same intellectual movement as Lyell's 'Principles'" (quoted in Francis Darwin 1887, vol. 2, 190). This alignment was not just a matter of political sympathies but also of methodological approach and worldview. Grote and Lyell belonged to the same intellectual tradition that attempted to provide explanations based on the identity of past and present causes. Grote sought to identify the causes for the blossoming and withering of the ancient Greek intellect by closely listening to and observing his contemporaries. In turn, Lyell's scientific endeavor was based on the synthetic principle of uniformity, which posited both that past events could be understood in terms of forces operating with the same intensity in the present and that the geological processes do not necessarily change in one specific direction.18 He then used the lens constructed by this framework to understand the history of earth and thus interpret social trajectories.

Lyell remained elusive, however, on the thorny issue of why human intellect had not managed to surpass that of the ancient Greeks and whether that could pose a problem for evolution by natural selection. He had no doubt that in the case of the ancient Greeks a continuous exercise of the mind in an ideal "republican or constitutional form" sustained the whole race for a period long enough—500 years—to allow "for craniological & cerebral improvement as well as for increases of beauty of form so much adored by the Greeks" (Wilson 1970, 364). Even though Lyell alluded to the small size of the population of Greece as a possible explanation for its decline and emphasized the apparent [End Page 103] "fitness for improvement" that the northern nations exhibited when they came into contact with classical writers, he offered no explicit reasons for the fall of the Greeks (Wilson 1970, 365). He did, however, come back to and elevated what he considered to be the most didactic aspect of this story:

The Greeks were disciplined by a keen competition of rival races, much selection owing to that, emulation, freedom of thought, less persecution for new ideas and opinions than elsewhere, a less rich endowment of certain doctrines deemed to be infallible.

As a result of its geographical position—being surrounded by competitors— and probably its ambition to expand into new colonies, the Greek population was constantly under selection pressure with the strongest and ablest surviving intense warfare. On top of that, liberal Athenian society provided the ideal environment for its citizens to reach their fullest capacity and to achieve the high intellectual achievements and beauty that all men would attain in similar favorable circumstances.

Reflecting the earlier assumption that moral corruption led the classical world to its end, Lyell exalted the "moral dignity & favour" of the Turks, who until recently had occupied the areas of ancient Greece. He suggested that their superior moral character could possibly explain why they had managed to conquer a race with such higher intellect (Wilson 1970, 364). Modern scholars have written extensively about European perceptions of the Turks and how the association of Modern Greece with its Ottoman past had put a taint of barbarism over the ideal Hellas (Scopetea 1988).19 Greece was "Ur-Europa and humiliated oriental vassal at one and the same time," as anthropologist Michael Herzfeld (1987, 19) has phrased it. But Lyell's notes do not project this exact sentiment.20 On the contrary, a certain admiration for the moral qualities and grace of the Turks is evident. It seems that for Lyell, at least, the Turks were a much better option than the Spanish Inquisition. And moral dignity was certainly of great importance; after all, the threat to the dignity of humankind had been Lyell's most significant difficulty with Darwin's theory.

Lyell also provides a rather surprising suggestion with regard to the relationship between ancient and modern Greeks:

Both then, the improved intellect and beauty, remain after 2,000 years. . . . Years of oppression have not prevented the Greek race from retaining their superiority in other respects.

(Wilson 1970, 364–365)

Thus he saw the "Greek race" as a continuous community with specific characteristics that could be attributed to both culture and biology. Lyell, however, did not offer any further explanation as to how this cultural and/or biological [End Page 104] continuity was established. The only possibility would be that another power, higher than nature, was responsible for such qualities as intellect and taste for beauty. Through the intervention of "the far greater mind ultimately responsible for the intelligibility of all material things" (Hodge 1971, 120), Lyell could welcome the ancient Greeks as his distant relatives. Retaining a genealogical connection between ancient and modern Greeks made the continuity between the former and the rest of the Europeans appear more plausible. Not disturbing this ancestral line preserved his own—and humanity's—high genealogy.

William Rathbone Greg: The view of an insider

We do not know much about Darwin's relationship with William Rathbone Greg.21 Their time together in Edinburgh ended sooner than expected; Darwin left in April 1827, and Greg abandoned his studies in March 1829 after his mother's death in order to manage one of the family mills in Bury. He soon made a name for himself as a leading publicist and essayist, writing more than 150 essays for major Victorian periodicals, including among others the Westminster Review, the Edinburgh Review, Frazer's Magazine, the North British Review, the Quarterly Review, and the Contemporary Review.22 After his work had been incorporated in The Descent of Man, Greg sent a letter of praise to Darwin accompanied by a "broad packet" containing his speculations on "the cause of the varying proportions of male and female births" in London.23 The opening paragraph of Darwin's response portrays Greg as "a man who possesses such varied & odd knowledge" and as an "acute reasoner."24 Indeed, Greg seemed to effortlessly integrate his early phrenological and natural history studies with political, economic, social, and even religious questions (Kirsop 1979, 386). His characteristic style of reasoning is evident in an article that appeared in Frazer's Magazine under the title "On the Failure of 'Natural Selection' in the Case of Man" (1868), in which Greg dealt with the possible challenge that the high status of ancient Greece posed for natural selection. Before turning to this paper, however, what makes Greg's case even more interesting is his early engagement with the Greek context.

In 1831, Greg set off for a year of travel in France, Switzerland, and Italy, but the ruins of Rome left him disillusioned.25 Lusting for adventure and danger, he decided to venture to Greece—the newly liberated state with its muddy streets crammed by a lively crowd of natives, merchants, travelers, topographers, missionaries, and soldiers. What he saw when he first laid eyes on Athens was no more than a discordant mix of half-built houses, tents, and scattered ruins. Yet, upon his return to England, this image of Greece inspired him to [End Page 105] publish an anonymous pamphlet entitled Greece and Turkey; With the Present Condition and Future Prospects of the Turkish Empire (1833). His sentiments are made clear right on the title page, where he quoted the following verses from John Milton's Areopagitica26 (1664):

Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks: methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam.

(quoted in Greg 1833, title page)

The metaphor of the rising nation to its past glorious youth attests to Greg's vision of Athens as still possessing something of its former splendor, but more importantly the possibility of revival. He, of course, saw Modern Greeks as degraded, a common theme in most travel narratives of his times (Eisner 1991; Athanassopoulos 2002; Harlan 2009). Unlike his fellow Victorians, though, who were interested in the famous sites and the ruins—and careful enough not to mingle with the unfortunate inhabitants of this now poor land—Greg's intentions were distinctively different. He was "much surprised at the deficient and erroneous impressions," which prevailed in his country regarding the Greek people, and hoped "to remedy these deficiencies" (Greg 1833, v–vi). Greg's words echo the hopes generated by the Greek War of Independence in "the recollection of what Greece once was, and the prospect of what she may again become" (Greg 1833, vii). His belief in this prospect is nowhere more evident than when he argued that in spite of their "painful" current condition the Greeks "contain in their own character and circumstances the seeds of high intellectual eminence, and extended national prosperity" (Greg 1833, 205).

Some of his descriptions betray Greg's previous association with phrenology and his interest in the human condition. With a keen eye for observation, he searched for "true specimens" in "the wilder and remoter places" and "in every variety of circumstance and situation" (Greg 1833, 189–206). In these pages, full of lyrical narratives, Greeks—with their "astonishing quickness of perception," "facility of acquisition," "capacity of retention," "finesse and intriguing spirit" (1833, 194)—still carried the hallmarks of their ancestors. Even the riotous chiefs, still fighting against each other, were presented as men with "delicacy" and "confiding kindness" that offered him "unsolicited hospitality" and "generous and liberal assistance" (1833, 202–203). For Greg, the Albanians, from whom a large proportion of the Modern Greeks was believed to have descended, stood in stark contrast: "a notoriously wild and savage race of mountaineers," "a crowd of robbers and plunderers by profession, without [End Page 106] discipline, and without restraint" (1833, 199). In these pages, the only other group of people painted in equally black colors was the priests. Their "unlimited influence over the weak minds of the people," combined with their "gross ignorance" and "blemished character," ran contrary to Greg's Unitarian ethos (1833, 204–205).

Not surprisingly, then, Greg's Frazer's paper discussed the issue of Greek decline with confidence. After all, his agenda was quite different. Greg's faith in the principle of natural selection working as a law to check the development of human races was unshakeable. Darwin's evolutionary theory, the "substantial truth" of which "nearly all qualified men to form an opinion" were convinced, had supplanted his earlier belief that the extinction of aboriginals was an act of Divine Providence (1868, 353).27 The potential threat that could cause that "righteous and salutary law" (Greg 1868, 356)—that is, natural selection—to fail was a state of social progress and culture that did not allow the weaker in form, morals, and intellect to perish. Benefiting from a civilized society's protection, those who "would have been pushed out of existence, jostled aside in the struggle and the race, and left by the way to die" were being "fostered, flattered, married, and empowered to hand down their vapid incapacities to numerous offspring" (Greg 1868, 359). For Greg, the possibility of degenerates outbreeding their superiors was the real problem that required immediate attention (Richards 2003, 104–105).

Greg's understanding of human evolution allowed him to explain away the Greek decline without posing any threat to the progressivist aspects of evolutionary theory. The Romans, who had a "coarser organization and less developed brain," managed to overpower "the finest physical and intellectual nature that has yet appeared upon the earth" for two main reasons (Greg 1868, 357). First, "the Greeks, when they succumbed, had fallen away from the perfection of their palmier days; they were enervated and corrupt to the very core." Second, the Romans possessed another competitive advantage: a "robuster will and unequalled political genius." While Greg subscribed to the overall Victorian fascination with Greece, he also accepted the common assumption of nineteenth-century scholars that the supreme cultural maturity of the fifth century BCE was succeeded by decay and enfeeblement. In turn, this understanding led him to suggest that the Romans similarly declined due to their loss of vitality, taste for extreme luxury, and ultimately self-defeating success. The arguments presented here mirror the general late nineteenth-century fear of degeneration, but they are also indicative of Greg's moralist, conservative, and antidemocratic trajectory.28 His early lyrical descriptions and faith in human possibilities through the beneficial action of natural selection in the [End Page 107] competition between races and nations had decisively given way to alarmist bigotry and contempt for the working classes.

Galton and "a magnificent breed of human animals"29

In the spring of 1840, Charles Darwin's younger cousin Francis Galton—much like Greg a few years earlier—was feeling overwhelmed by a desire to travel as if he "had been a migratory bird" (Galton 1908, 48). Allured by Byron's poetic descriptions of the East, he set off for Vienna to finally reach Istanbul, Smyrna, and Greece. When he landed on the Greek island of Syros, he was placed in quarantine for several days due to a plague outbreak. His confinement did not allow him enough time to visit Athens, where he only "had [a] few, but memorable hours" on his way back to Trieste (1908, 54). One can probably imagine the impact of seeing Athens for someone who as a young boy found great pleasure in reciting verses from the Iliad and Odyssey and had his "little head full of Greeks and Trojans" (1908, 16). However, Galton would fully reveal his thoughts and sentiments towards the ancient land of Greece not in his famous travel narratives but almost30 years later in the book Hereditary Genius (1869), which set him on the path to becoming the father of eugenics.

Galton's book, based on a two-part essay published in MacMillan's Magazine in 1865 under the title "Hereditary Talent and Character," envisioned improving the human stock through some form of selective breeding.30 Charles Darwin had made the analogy between artificial selection and natural selection, metaphorically extending the familiar everyday practice of the livestock breeder to nature's workings. Galton took an even more challenging step. He turned humans into animal stock and proposed "to produce a highly-gifted race of men by judicious marriages during several consecutive generations" (Galton 1869, 1). By carefully examining biological kinship among eminent men, he concluded that character and talent follow family lines, and thus had to be attributed to the action of hereditary laws, which act in much the same way with respect to mental and physical features across the entire organic world.

With these convictions in mind, he then set out to measure and classify English men according to their natural abilities. Towards the end of the book, he compared his compatriots with the inhabitants of ancient Athens, "the ablest race of whom history bears record" (Galton 1869, 340). In the ancient Athenians, Galton saw a perfect case study that would both highlight the advantages of selective breeding for high intelligence and caution his fellow Victorians about the possibility of degeneration, if appropriate measures were not taken. [End Page 108]

In a spirit of enthusiasm for quantitative inquiry, Galton ventured to prove the mental superiority of the Greeks. He devoted over two long pages of calculations estimating the number of eminent men in the total population of Athens of the fifth century BCE and then compared his conclusions to those of the English men. The comparison between the projected Athenian standard of ability and that of his "race" and time showed that:

the average ability of the Athenian race is, on the lowest possible estimate, very nearly two grades higher than our own—that is, about as much as our race is above that of the African negro.

(Galton 1869, 341–342)

His cousin, Charles Darwin, was impressed by Galton's argument, characterized it as "ingenious and original" (1871, vol. 1, 177) and included it in The Descent. Combining his classical education with pioneering statistical analysis carried the potential to transform the study of Greek and Latin from a gentlemanly activity to practical, scientific knowledge.

What made the Greek case even more remarkable for Galton was the fact that Greece was a small country bounded by the sea and that "the population that gave birth to the creators of those master-pieces was very small" (1869, 340). In spite of these apparent shortcomings, the high intelligence of the Greeks sustained them; a great proof for the possibility for improving the whole human race through selective breeding for this trait. Galton (1869, 341) made this point even clearer by adding that:

Athens opened her arms to immigrants, but not indiscriminately, for her social life was such that none but very able men could take any pleasure in it; on the other hand, she offered attractions such as men of the highest ability and culture could find in no other city.

This "system of partly unconscious selection" that resulted in building up "a magnificent breed of human animals" could go a long way to strengthen Galton's aspirations (1869, 341). If unconscious selection could maintain a population of the highest intelligence, even among not so favorable circumstances, then a carefully organized system of breeding could have immensely positive effects on contemporary societies.

But if controlled immigration resulted in the finest mix of people, and the Greek case provided evidence of the benefits of an even unconscious social engineering, the reasons behind Greek decline could also be instructive.

Social morality grew exceedingly lax; marriage became unfashionable, and was avoided; many of the more ambitious and accomplished women were avowed courtesans, and consequently infertile, and the mothers of the incoming [End Page 109] population were of a heterogeneous class. In a small sea-bordered country, where emigration and immigration are constantly going on, and where the manners are so dissolute as were those of Greece in the period of which I speak, the purity of a race would necessarily fail.

(Galton 1869, 342–343)

These arguments echo Victorian anxiety over the social, political, and demographic changes taking place during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The parallels between sea-bordered Greece and Britain's overcrowded and filthy cities would have been obvious to Galton's readers. This representation of ancient Greece as falling victim to the dangers of racial mixture echoes once again contemporary concerns over the future of British Empire. The classical past could serve as a warning, and the story of Greek decline could buttress arguments for the strict regulation of population movements to and from colonial centers (Bell 2006; Challis 2010).

Galton's views, much like Greg's, indeed paint a picture of degeneration characteristic of the late decades of the nineteenth century, but most importantly promote his own rigid naturalistic understanding of social processes. Galton fed on the fears of degeneration to advance the possibility for regeneration. When in 1894 he returned to his original thesis on the unsurpassed quality of the natural faculties of the Greek race, his real preoccupation with improving the British race emerged:

and some future race may be at least the equal of the Greek, while it is reasonable to hope that when the power of heredity and the importance of preserving valuable "transiliencies" shall have become generally recognized, effective efforts will be made to preserve them.

As he wrote, his views were originally "in contradiction to general opinion" (Galton 1869, 2), and it took more than two decades after he first published on the topic for his heretical hereditarian ideas to be fully appreciated within scientific circles.31 Darwin was probably the earliest authority to draw on his arguments. As we will see in the following section, they both shared, after all, the same conclusion as to the fate of the Greeks: the "high Athenian breed decayed and disappeared" (Galton 1869, 343).

The Greeks from Notebook N to The Descent

After his Beagle voyage and immersion in the intellectually heady atmosphere of London, Darwin started exploring the ideas that would later become the centerpieces of his books. By looking at his intense theoretical production during 1837 and 1838, one can "read the rest of his life as so many sequels to the brain [End Page 110] work of these months" (Hodge 2003, 40). But unlike the books, his notebooks were meant to be private; they provided a place for him to negotiate and freely speculate; a space to argue with himself, to raise—and then to counter—possible objections to the thoughts he had just begun putting on paper. Indeed, the concern over the unsurpassed intellectual powers of the Greeks that we saw earlier in his letter to Lyell, first appeared towards the end of 1838—sometime after 27 November—when Darwin jotted down the following lines in his Notebook N on Metaphysics and Expression:

Man's intellect is not become superior to that of the Greeks.—(which seems opposed to progressive. development) on account of dark ages.—«effects of external circumstances» Look at Spain now.—man's intellect might well deteriorate. «CD[in my theory there is no absolute tendency to progression, excepting from favourable circumstances!»

The case of the Greeks was a puzzle to reckon with, but his two insertions here emphasize that his theory of evolution is influenced by the workings of external circumstances, and he is not committed to the idea of a linear, irreversible, progressive tendency in nature. On the contrary, it allows for reversals; intellect may not improve further or may even decline. Thus, even before reading the works on social evolution by writers such as Greg or Galton or even Herbert Spencer, Darwin had asserted that societal progress is not inevitable.33 With regard to the reasons for such deterioration, he offered two points that are indicative of his thinking and influences, and they merit closer inspection.

First, Darwin suggested that the Dark Ages accounted for why human intellect had never surpassed the quality of the Greek mind. Disdain for the Middle Ages was a hallmark of Victorian scholarship. Indeed, if we look at Reverend William Whewell's description of the great defects of the human intellect in the Middle Ages as including, among others, indistinctness of ideas, dogmatism, and mysticism (1866, vol. 1, 185–251), the contrast with the luminous and freedom-loving Greeks of the fifth century BCE emerges clearly. Even more pointedly, in On the Philosophy of Discovery (1860), Whewell understood the Dark Ages as a great detour for the mind, from which the human intellect had to fight to free itself. In this instance, then, Darwin seems to echo the views of his former instructor at Cambridge, or more generally the critical spirit of his time.34 Indeed, upon his return to London, Darwin became acquainted with Grote and was impressed by the "simplicity and absence of all pretention in his manners" (Barlow 1958, 111), although he was less impressed when reading his History in April 1853, which he noted as "dull" (van Wyhe 2002–). Grote's multivolume work served as a political manifesto for the virtues of democracy [End Page 111] and—much like the scientific naturalism of Darwin's circle—"constituted an Anglican nightmare of classical studies gone awry" (Turner 1993, 349).35 This liberal, democratic alliance was fueled by the earlier romantic sentiment of the British philhellenes, who fought for the revival of the ideal democracy during the Greek War of Independence (1821–1832).36

Similarly, in using Spain as an example of intellectual decline, Darwin drew on his liberal, Anglican circle's prevailing views on Catholicism. In brief, cultural attitudes towards Spain, Spaniards, and the Spanish Church were predominantly negative.37 Spanish people were described as lazy and reckless, while the Church of Spain was perceived "as the most extreme and dangerous form of Catholicism" (Glendinning and Macartney 2011, 139). The Spanish inquisition was seen as European history's severest attack on human intellect and freedom of thought, and the Spanish empire was characterized as the embodiment of cruelty, repression, and fanaticism. Darwin's biographer Janet Browne (2002, 329–333) reports a related story with regard to Darwin's acrimonious debate with St. George Mivart (1827–1900), a young naturalist who promoted a theological compromise, paraphrasing and distorting Darwinian views on evolution. According to Browne, Darwin's hostility towards Mivart was fueled by the latter's adherence to Catholicism, which was regarded with "distaste or horror" by everyone in Darwin's circle. Indeed, in a letter to Hooker, he wrote about Mivart's attack: "I suppose that accursed religious bigotry is at the root of it."38 This anti-Catholic feeling seems to bring Darwin closer to the prejudices of the English middle classes, even though his agenda was quite different. As a liberal Whig, Darwin's theological skepticism reserved its sharpest venom for all religious signs of backwardness, superstition, oppression, and intolerance.

Darwin's arguments on the subject, along with an explicit acknowledgement of his intellectual borrowings, found their fullest expression almost 30 years later in The Descent. Towards the end of Chapter 5, tellingly entitled "On the Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties during Primeval and Civilized Times," he discussed the effects of natural selection on civilized nations. This section developed all the theoretical insights that were already present in outline in Notebook N and his letter to Lyell. Over a long paragraph—followed by the now familiar example of Spain, probably reinforced by his exchange with Lyell—Darwin reaffirmed that there is no "innate tendency towards continuous development" because of all the checks nature imposes on selection (1871, vol. 1, 178). Therefore, "the old Greeks, who stood some grades higher in intellect than any race" did not rise even higher, as "individuals and races may have acquired certain indisputable advantages, and yet have perished [End Page 112] from failing in other characters" (Darwin 1871, vol. 1, 178). As both Galton and Lyell had suggested earlier, higher intellect did not guarantee continued progress; higher intellect did not mean higher overall fitness; changes in the environment could favor strength and cunning over intellectual brilliance, leading to overall regress.

Although The Descent unquestionably brought the human race closer than ever to its animal origins and made clear that not only human faculties and morals but also social behavior in general can be explained in naturalistic terms, Darwin's own battle with crude progressivism remained unsettled.39 As his thinking on the effects of natural selection on civilized nations was unfolding, he sought to ease Victorian worries about the pessimistic thrust of natural selection and the degenerationist rhetoric of the time. For Darwin, the lesson to be taken from the Greeks was a more hopeful one:

We can at least see that a nation which produced during a lengthened period the greatest number of highly intellectual, energetic, brave, patriotic, and benevolent men, would generally prevail over less favored nations.

(Darwin 1871, vol. 1, 180)

And in any case, even if decline and extinction were probably common fate, he did make an important addition to the second edition of his book in this particular chapter: a number of causes, and not merely natural selection, regulated the trajectory of "highly civilized nations"—such as, for example, the British Empire—so that they "do not supplant and exterminate one another as do savage tribes" (Darwin 1874, vol. 1, 143).

As Lyell, Greg, and Galton did before him, Darwin ventured to survey a number of such causes for the Greek decline without however elevating one:

The Greeks may have retrograded from a want of coherence between the many small states, from the small size of their whole country, from the practice of slavery, or from extreme sensuality; for they did not succumb until "they were enervated and corrupt to the very core."40

(1871, vol. 1, 181)

The first two causes seem pragmatic enough. They acted as a cautionary tale whose moral was that the British Empire should improve the coherence between its various colonies and the metropolis (see also Bell 2006). The third cause is a particularly Darwinian one. Slavery ran contrary to the prevailing idealized image of Athenian democracy, and Darwin was one of the few prominent intellectuals at the time to consider it. His affiliations with the British antislavery movement, his family's involvement in abolition campaigns, and his own loathing for every form of cruelty against all human beings converged to form his understanding of slavery as a degrading practice that could lead to moral and intellectual decay.41 [End Page 113]

The fourth cause, however, is "extreme sensuality." Intellect and sensuality seem to be antagonists here; Darwin reflects the contemporary view that men who spent their energy on pleasures of the flesh have little hopes of developing their brains. And what is more, extreme sensuality may lead to the failure of even the most advanced intellectual abilities. Elsewhere, he argued that natural selection would certainly benefit tribes (or races) of individuals with high standards of morality.42 Although Darwin uses Greg as his main reference for this argument, he does not simply project the familiar stereotype of a prudish, sexually repressed Victorian, but rather he expresses the worries of a naturalist in terms of energy balance. The association of sexuality with loss of vigor and moral corruption is a way to see moral anxieties being brought under the scientific lens. For a rational naturalist, it would not be surprising to view sexuality as just another part of social behavior that should be scrutinized and regulated by science.

Although Darwin's reasons for the decline of the ancient Greeks remain partly elusive, his conclusion about their relationship with Europeans—probably including Modern Greeks—appears crystal clear:

The western nations of Europe, who now so immeasurably surpass their former savage progenitors and stand at the summit of civilization, owe little or none of their superiority to direct inheritance from the old Greeks; though they owe much to the written works of this wonderful people.

(Darwin 1871, vol. 1, 178)

Against Lyell and Greg, but in line with Galton, Darwin did not see in the physical or moral qualities of his fellow Victorians any direct biological association with ancient Greeks.

Concluding remarks

Two issues—the nonimprovement of human intellect after the classical Greeks and their decline—tended to become entangled in the minds of these four Victorian men. They all shared the Victorian admiration for classical Greece, and they offered both complementary and contrasting interpretations of this superiority. Lyell invested his answer with Grote's liberal progressivism; Greg infused it with ethnic and racial stereotyping; Galton used it to promote his early eugenic aspirations; and Darwin brought all of these elements together to construct a long naturalistic argument about human affairs. The close reading of their exchanges and viewpoints reveals much more than Victorian prejudice and moralism and is a testament to their prolonged engagement with the evolution of human mind and morals. [End Page 114]

Darwin is often portrayed as ambivalent, and the perception of him as a deeply private thinker is still widespread outside the circles of Darwinian scholars. This article shows that throughout the 30 or so years that he grappled with these issues he remained remarkably consistent in his thinking while adding on to and refining his initial arguments. But it also contributes to the understanding of Darwin as a scholar who recorded his views in diverse formats and shared them with an extended network of friends, family, and correspondents. Thus his reflections on Greece reunite the private with the public Darwin through the initial sketchy note in his notebook, his correspondence, the family dinner discussions, and his scholarly borrowings to the several paragraphs in The Descent.

In this first lengthy book on humans, The Descent, "the imaginative framing of tentative hypotheses" (Hacking 2005, 114) is coupled with firm arguments on humankind's common origins, the continuity of human-animal evolution, as well as the importance of natural selection for the development of human faculties and of sexual selection for human diversity (Radick 2013). While The Descent reflects the commitment of Darwin and his whole family to the antislavery cause (Desmond and Moore 2009), he nevertheless supported the attempts for eugenic control through selective breeding and competitive struggle in society, which later came under the blanket of Social Darwinism (Paul 2003; Beck 2013). As most of his contemporaries and mentors on social issues, Darwin undoubtedly upheld a hierarchy of races and cultures but still believed that even peoples existing in the lowest states of improvement bore the potential for positive change (Radick 2010). Darwin considered progress in both nature and society.43 However, he also supposed that progress is always checked and often impeded by a host of complex factors and interactions, which may eventually lead to surprising reversals. This is exactly what we see in his use of the Greek example and his arguments for the noncontinuous, progressive development in the body and mind of humans.

Darwin's straightforward belief that society becomes uniquely intelligible through biology is consistent with Greg and Galton's efforts to carve out the factors affecting the intellectual and moral qualities of civilized nations. While Greg is an obscure figure, this paper throws more light on him and his writings. His pamphlet on Greece reveals an interesting and quite knowledgeable person, while his appropriation of Darwinian theory is paradigmatic of the social thinking of his time. With Greg's contributions, we not only witness his personal transformation to a respectable conservative, but more acutely we see how the whole theory of evolution through natural selection conformed to accepted middle-class Victorian standards. Last, Galton's discussion provides [End Page 115] yet another link on how his social preoccupations uniquely interacted with his biological understandings. It is in his views that we can more easily identify how the past could act not just as a way to interpret the present but also as an instructive model for the building of future societies. In this discussion, Lyell emerges as the well-known polymath, who can easily accommodate views on history and the classics, accompanied by his interest in issues of power and success. But his ideas on the possibility of a Greek reappearance also seem to betray his geological education and his beliefs in temporary, local, and reversible revivals. Yet he still appears more reluctant than the others to submit to purely biological explanations for social and political conditions. For Lyell, the upmost guarantee for intellectual and moral development was individual freedom, which would then ensure the liberty for exercising human faculties in a society where all members were equally free to pursue such endeavors.

The interpretation of the Greek case represented a difficulty for the Victorians, since it required yet another reversal in their understanding of progress. Having finally come to grips with the possibility of an originally primitive state from which society steadily developed, the Greek course presented a challenge to progressivist assumptions. If the Greeks stood at the higher end of the developmental ladder, why did they not progress even more, what led to their decline, and why have humans subsequently not surpassed them? And if the Victorians now stood at the same place on that ladder—albeit for Galton two grades lower—what did the future hold for them? The open-endedness that these questions introduced was very much in accord with the most radical underpinnings of Darwin's theory. But what was a puzzle for Darwin and his circle becomes an opportunity for us to once again appreciate the multiplicity of approaches and voices included in such discussions. The nuances and shifts identified in the four men's arguments point to their intellectual presuppositions about wider changes in Victorian society. Moreover, the exchanges presented here stand as an illustrating example of many more nineteenth-century discussions about Greeks, ancient and modern, and the broader battle over Western European ancestry. [End Page 116]

Ageliki Lefkaditou
Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo
Ageliki Lefkaditou

Ageliki Lefkaditou is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Oslo and curator of the exhibition FOLK at The Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology. She is writing on the history of physical anthropology, race, and racism from the late nineteenth century to the present with a specific focus on Greece. Her research interests include the history of science and the development of museum theory, methods, and practices, as well as science communication. She has recently published "Observations on Race and Racism in Greece" (2017) in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences (doi 10.4436/ JASS.95013).


I am grateful to Greg Radick, Jon Hodges, Adrian Wilson, Jon Kyllingstad, Claire Jones, Dominic Berry, and Henrik Treimo for their insightful feedback on various drafts of this paper. I would also like to thank Betty Smocovitis and Gonda Van Steen for their generous advice and encouragement. This work has been completed with funding from the Research Council of Norway (Project no. 220741/F10) through the Cultural Conditions Underlying Social Change (SAMKUL) program.


1. The title quotation refers to Darwin's characterization of the "old Greeks" as "this wonderful people" in The Descent of Man (1871, vol. 1, 178).

2. The letter was sent by Charles Darwin to Charles Lyell on 12 [March 1860], and is published under The Correspondence of Charles Darwin (henceforth, Burkhardt and Smith, Correspondence) series. The "Ladies" referred to here are probably Emma Darwin's friends, Georgina and Ellen Harriet Tollet, and Charles Darwin's sister, Emily Catherine Darwin (Burkhardt and Smith 1993, 129n3).

3. This paper follows the main discussants in differentiating between ancient—most often meaning classical—and modern—invariably including Byzantine, Ottoman, and Modern—Greece and Greeks.

4. Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation appeared anonymously in 1844, while the Edinburgh publisher Robert Chambers was revealed as its author in 1884. The book was a wideranging synthesis of contemporary scientific theories about the world and the fate of humanity, as well as a publishing success that transcended the circles of the educated elites. For the most comprehensive account of its making and reception, see Secord 2000.

5. For a case in point, on 30 June 1860 during the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford, John William Draper, professor of chemistry at the University of the City of New York, presented a paper just before the now famous exchange between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas H. Huxley took place, in which he portrayed the Greeks as "the only European nation which thus far has offered a complete and completed intellectual life," suggesting that "the characteristics of Greek mental development answer perfectly to those of individual life" (Draper 1861, 115–116). For a discussion of Draper's understanding of Darwin, see Moore 1979, 19–49.

6. The writings on social evolutionism and reception studies are expansive, and ample references to these works can be found in the paper. These two topics, however, have seldom converged. The paper builds on current literature, such as Challis 2010, which explores Galtonian views of the Greeks in the context of Victorian imperialist thought, and Bell 2006, which studies the influence of ancient empires on Victorian Britain. It also takes much inspiration from the pioneering studies of Jenkyns 1980 and Turner 1981 on the impact of Greek culture on Victorian intellectual elites and society. Greene's early work on Darwin and social evolution (1977), which discusses the place of Galton's and Greg's arguments in The Descent of Man, has also served as a main point of reference.

7. Hamilakis (2007, 58–123) discusses explicitly the invention of Modern Greece as an interaction between colonial and national processes.

8. On the influence of Greek sculpture on Knox's work, and especially on the development of a physical conception of English national identity, which made nationalism and Hellenism coextensive, see Leoussi 1997, 1998, 2001. [End Page 117]

9. On the pervasiveness and complexity of the idea of progress in Victorian culture, see Bowler 1989.

10. Bell 2006 discusses the disillusionment of British imperial thinkers with the use of the ancient empires of Greece and Rome as exemplars for the British Empire and points to how they instead turned to the present for inspiration.

11. Darwin's skepticism towards the overpowering influence of the classical system of education is evident in a series of essays edited by Ray Lankester (1918), as well as in his support of a Royal Society fellowship for Rev. F.W. Farrar, a philologist-critic of public school education (Moore 1979, 95). Waller 2001 mentions Galton's efforts to promote the teaching of science in schools and universities, even though his commitment to educational reform was rather weak.

12. For an account of Lyell's struggle with the implications of evolution for human ancestry and his intense exchanges with Darwin, see Bartholomew 1973.

13. Letter from Charles Darwin to Charles Lyell, 10 January 1860 (Burkhardt and Smith, Correspondence).

14. Letter from Charles Darwin to Charles Lyell, 20 October [1859] (Burkhardt and Smith, Correspondence). Darwin's and Lyell's relationship was much more complex—and at times tense—than the phrase quoted here implies. For a discussion of specific aspects of their disagreements on human descent, see Bartholomew 1973, and especially on the issues of slavery and human descent, see Desmond and Moore 2009.

15. As Bynum 1984 notes, many of Lyell's scientific contemporaries did not see the book as a grand synthesis, but mainly as a compilation of mostly known facts with no internal unity, which still managed to keep biological and social issues apart contrary to Victorian anthropological fashion.

16. An edited collection by Kyriacos N. Demetriou (2003) documents the reception of Grote's work in its historical and intellectual context, while Turner 1993 provides a brief account of Grote's influence on Victorian science. Lianeri 2007, 331–353, also engages with Grote's historiography as indispensably connected to his political pursuits, exalting the benefits of democracy and cautioning against the limits of imperial despotism.

17. For example, Rudwick 2012 refers to the worries raised by bishop and moral philosopher Edward Copleston.

18. For example, using uniformity as an interpretive principle, Lyell strove to gather all available evidence on coral reefs without ever seeing one in order to infer their formation as the result of slow processes of elevation and subsidence—both causes discernible in the present (Bowen 2015, 37–38). Bartholomew 1979 carefully discusses the novelty of Lyell's ideas, their contemporary reception, and his vision: "a world in which constant geological forces supply an endless permutation of life-support conditions, and of a creator who constantly slots in appropriate species" (281).

19. Elli Scopetea (2003) has refreshingly written on how Western values and stereotypes have influenced the ways Balkan people perceive each other.

20. However, it is arguable that Lyell shared in Victorian stereotypes, as Bilgili 2017 shows that such images of the Turks circulated widely and even penetrated Darwin's writings.

21. Aspects of Darwin and Greg's relationship are discussed in Kirsop 1979. For biographical information on Greg, see Morley 1886; Rose 1986; Helmstadter 1990.

22. A search in The Nineteenth Century Index produced 269 results—a number large enough to sustain Greg and his family. By the 1850s, he was a regular columnist in The Economist and also held a post in the Board of Customs. Among his most widely read works are [End Page 118] the following: The Creed of Christendom; Its Foundations and Superstructure (1851); Enigmas of Life (1872).

23. Letter from W.R. Greg to Charles Darwin, 14 March [1871] (Burkhardt and Smith, Correspondence).

24. Letter from Charles Darwin to W.R. Greg, 21 March [1871] (Burkhardt and Smith, Correspondence).

25. For an extensive discussion on traveling and tourism around the Victorian era, see Buzard 1993; Hulme and Youngs 2002.

26. John Milton's pamphlet Areopagitica, the title invoking the classical court of Athens Areopagus, was his response to the Licensing Order issued by the Parliament in 1663. Milton wrote this dialogic text, which now stands as a hallmark of freedom of expression and civil liberty, to defend the English (educated) public's ability to judge a text without it being prepublished and thus censored. For a discussion of the role of Milton's and the more than 20,000 pamphlets that were printed during the English Revolution, see Achinstein 1994.

27. For the differences between Greg's and Darwin's views on exterminations, see Desmond and Moore 2009, 145–146.

28. Desmond and Moore 2009 offers evidence of Greg's course from his Edinburgh radicalism to conservatism, already evident after he was put to run the Bury mill.

29. The quotation refers to Galton's (1869, 341) description of the ancient Greek people.

30. For Galton's life and scientific program, see the classical biography by Karl Pearson (1914–1930), Galton's friend and associate. Recent biographies of Galton, include Gillham 2001 and Bulmer 2003. A recent paper by Chris Renwick (2011) sets Galton's contributions in a broader context, showing how social concerns and questions shaped his program at least as much as biological ones.

31. For the late reception of Galton's ideas, see, for example, Bowler 1989, 199–200; Paul 2003, 202. Gökyigit 1994 offers a detailed and balanced account of the immediate reception of Galton's work and argues for understanding the various responses—generally more positive than what previously assumed—as reactions to the new era of scientific naturalism that the book represented.

32. The two phrases enclosed in angle quotes are insertions made by Darwin, with the second one written across the page margins.

33. Greene 1977 offers an account of Darwin's influences on issues related to social evolution.

34. For Whewell's epistemological influence on Darwin, see Curtis 1987; Desmond and Moore 2009, 52–54. Jonathan Hodge, however, suggests that Curtis's study overestimated Whewell's impact on Darwin; for more details, see Hodge 2003, 68n16.

35. While Goldhill 2011 also demonstrates how classical antiquity had been associated with progressive politics, especially until the mid-nineteenth century, Richardson 2013 offers an account of how it was used as an instrument of social control and to maintain social hierarchies.

36. Gonda Van Steen's (2010) work on the French diplomat and classicist Comte de Marcellus (1795–1865) is a critical reappraisal of the relationship between Orientalism and philhellenism and challenges us to rethink known categories and travelers' differing motivations, aspirations, discourses, and politics. Stathis Gourgouris's (1996) study also directs attention to the political project of philhellenism and its often-concealed connections with both Hellenism and Orientalism. For an early but classic treatment of British and American philhellenism, see Dakin 1955.

37. MacKay 2006, Howarth 2007, and Glendinning and Macartney 2011 discuss the British perception of Spain. [End Page 119]

38. Letter from Charles Darwin to Joseph Hooker, 16 September [1871]. Darwin Correspondence Database. Accessed 30 June 2016.

39. See, for example, Jones 1978. For a historical account of the construction of The Descent, see also Moore and Desmond 2004.

40. The quotation here comes from Greg's 1868 article in Frazer's magazine.

41. For the most detailed account of Darwin's battle with slavery, see Desmond and Moore 2009.

42. Robert J. Richards (2003) writes extensively on Darwin's moral sensitivities, the evolution of human morality, and how community selection preserved a human moral core.

43. Here I am referring to progress in the sense advocated by Hodge and Radick 2003, 7: "progressive in that adaptation has generally entailed specialisation, so that higher animals have more specialised parts—mouth parts and locomotive limbs where their oldest ancestors absorbed nutrients and moved themselves with their whole bodies." See also Radick 2000 on the relationship between evolutionary progress, selection, and happenstance.


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