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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Neil Arnott   16 February [1860?]1

Down. | Bromley Kent.

Feb. 16th.2

My dear Sir.

I am much obliged for your kind note & pamphlet—3 The latter seems to me very interesting, & I agree with all that you say about the course of development of the intellect of man; especially about the dreadful waste of time, on the dead languages, German would be difficult enough if learning a language be good exercise for the mind, & how incomparably more useful.—4 I really have no suggestions or criticisms worth giving    it would indeed be presumptuous to think that I had, for I have never thought much about Human Progression or on the all important subject of Education—   I can, however, say from my own personal experience with my five Boys5 that it is surprising how very early in life they take vivid interest in & understand something of Natural Philosophy—   If you enlarge the pamphlet into a Book, it might be very valuable; especially if it were any how possible to make it, when enlarged interesting to the general reader.

You put the Malthusian great truth of the “Struggle for existence” very forcibly—6

To give one infinitely little criticism; I demur to your saying—p. 17. that animals are governed only by selfish motives.—7 look at the maternal instincts & still more at the social instincts. How unselfish is a Dog! At p. 18, ought not conscience as well as “the far seeing reasoning nature” to be introduced?8 To me it seems as clear that we have a conscience as that the lower animals have a social instinct: indeed I believe they are nearly the same— But these are mere trifles.

With my best thanks & with my hopes that you may produce a larger work on the same subject—

I remain. | My dear Sir. | Yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin.


The year is suggested by CD’s reference to Arnott’s enlarging into a book the pamphlet he sent CD. This was apparently the book he published in 1861 (Arnott 1861).
Although the copyist wrote ‘18th’, this was altered to ‘16th.’, presumably by Francis Darwin.
Arnott’s pamphlet has not been identified. It was probably a preliminary version of his book on human progress (Arnott 1861); the passages CD cites are included in this work.
Arnott was a prominent educational theorist who advocated the revision of school and university curricula to take more account of science and less of classics. See Arnott 1861, pp. 87–92.
The copyist wrote ‘four Boys’. This was altered, presumably by Francis Darwin, to read ‘five’.
Arnott 1861, pp. 60–3.
he lower animal is shortsightedly or almost blindly selfish‘ (Arnott 1861, p. 51).
he mere animal nature would yield to the impulses of the moment; the far-seeing reasoning nature calculates remote consequences, and can plan very complex arrangements to bring about desirable ends.‘ (Arnott 1861, p. 52).


Arnott, Neil. 1861. A survey of human progress, from the savage state to the highest civilisation yet attained. A progress as little perceived by the multitude in any age as is the slow growing of a tree by the children who play under its shade, but which is leading to a new condition of mankind on earth. London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts.


Discusses NA’s pamphlet on human progress. Suggests making it a book [A survey of human progress (1861)].

Comments on study of dead languages.

Denies that animals are "governed only by selfish motives".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Neil Arnott
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143: 22
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2677,” accessed on 17 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8