skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Hensleigh Wedgwood   3 March [1871]1


Mar 3

My dear Hensleigh

I am very much obliged for yr M.S. which has interested me much.— I will keep it until a new Ed (if ever) is wanted.2 At present I am so sick of my whole book that I cannot read any one Chap. with attention. I will make only a few miscellaneous remarks. I still think, if our pointer reflected about the hare, the instinct of pointing which was born in him, & which had been constantly exercized, would, when the temptation of the live hare was not actually present, appear to him the one which he ought(?) to have followed; it wd, I conceive, have a stronger hold on his mind than the temporary one of hunting.3 But we may dispute about this till doomsday. I admit, however that you have shown that this is a faulty illustration; for the pointing instinct is not always present, as I believe the social instincts are with those animals which cannot endure being alone. It was introduced for the sake of the word ought about which I am muddled. I wish I had said more about shame, but I shd be chary of the word, as it is so often applied to mere breaches of etiquette, when the moral sense does not strictly come into play; yet as I have remarked, there is but a fine distinction between the two cases i.e. break of etiquette & morality. I consequently have used the word repentance, & remorse for the feeling when very strong.4 I cannot believe that remorse is based on our sense of the disapprobation of our fellows. I am glad to see that you lay so much stress on praise & blame, for I feared that I had made too much of this. In one passage in yr M.S. you seem to forget that I maintain (though in the summary I have not kept the distinction so clear as in the full Chapter) that certain actions are done impulsively from the strength of the social instincts, whilst others depend on their enduring nature, which leads us to value at all times the praise & blame of our fellows—

You say that the superiority of the social instincts to animal appetites is that the gratification of the former excites emotions in the mind of the spectator &c— Now I cannot believe that when a man suddenly jumps into a river to save a fellow-creature, or when he suffers death rather than betray a comrade, or when the little monkey attacked the baboon, that they were impelled in the manner supposed by you.5 It seems to me that there is an instinct to aid our fellows as blind as when a beaver sees a rill of water in a court yard where he is confined & tries to dam it. If you will grant this impulse then I am willing to admit that in 99 out of a 100 cases the praise or blame of our fellows determines what kind of aid shall be given, or what line of conduct shall be followed,—whether in murdering or robbing a stranger; or in saving his life, or in some ridiculous etiquette. The value which we set on public opinion depending as just said, on the enduring social instincts which include sympathy. What an awfully complex subject it is. I suppose no two persons would even quite agree; & I expect hardly any one will even partially agree with me. But as yet I nail my colours to the mast.

With cordial thanks for all your trouble, | yours affectly | Ch Darwin

(I feel much doubt, but yet cannot quite give in)

P.S to letter to Hensleigh— A good pointer, if we cd imagine them forcibly prevented from pointing when scenting a hare, would, I conceive feel, as after he reflected over the fact, indignation & great dissatisfaction; & I cannot get it out of my head, that if, overmastered by the temptation of the sight of the living hare, he rushed in at the hare, the temptation wd not afterwards on more reflection appear nearly so strong as the more permanent instinct of pointing, He wd then feel indignant or dissatisfied with himself & regret his conduct & regretting graduate into repentance or shame if other pointers knew of his conduct & we could imagine he cared for the opinion of his betters


The year is established by the reference to Descent, which was published on 24 February 1871 (Freeman 1977).
See letter from Hensleigh Wedgwood, [before 3 March 1871]. A second edition of Descent appeared in 1874.
The word ‘repentance’ does not appear in Descent, but is used in Descent 2d ed., pp. 114–15 and 125.


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.


Admits pointer illustration is faulty.

Discusses shame, remorse, social instincts, approbation, and other topics discussed in Descent, ch. 4. "But as yet I nail my colours to the mast."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Hensleigh Wedgwood
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 88: 24, 54–5
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7537,” accessed on 17 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19