A LETTER written by Charles Darwin, in which he disclosed that he did not believe in the Bible as divine revelation, or in Christ as the Son of God (News, 11 September), has set a new world auction record for any of his correspondence.
Written in November 1880, in answer to a question from a young barrister, Francis McDermott, the letter sold for £127,000 — more than double its pre-sale estimate of up to £60,000.
A spokesman for Bonhams, which conducted the sale in New York on Monday of last week, said: "This was an important letter, written by one of the most significant figures of the 19th century . . . so we are not surprised that it . . . made such a high price." The buyer’s identity has not been disclosed.
The question whether the man who developed the theory of evolution believed in the Bible and in Jesus Christ as the Son of God was a source of speculation in his lifetime. But Darwin always avoided discussing his beliefs — or lack of them.
He broke his silence, however, when McDermott wrote asking: "If I am to have pleasure in reading your books I must feel that at the end I shall not have lost my faith in the New Testament. My reason in writing to you therefore is to ask you to give me a Yes or No to the question Do you believe in the New Testament. . ." He promised not to publicise Darwin’s reply in the "theological papers".
Darwin, in a note headed "Private", replied: "Dear Sir, I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God. Yours faithfully, Ch. Darwin."
McDermott kept his promise, and Darwin’s response remained unknown to scholars until late into the 20th century.