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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Hensleigh Wedgwood   9 March 1871


March 9th. 71

My dear Hensleigh,

I promise that I will not plague you with another letter. I have been particularly glad to get your last M.S, for I feared that we differed in toto.1

We seem to agree about what may be called instinctive moral actions, as in impulsively saving a drowning man.

I think we also agree about the so-called self-regarding virtues, such as temperance; the breach of which, as in the case of Etiquette, I believe are regretted or repented solely from our appreciation of the approbation or disapprobation of our fellows; this appreciation depending (as I suppose you will admit) on our innate or instinctive sympathy, which seems to me a rather different emotion from love. Am I right in supposing that we agree about the self-regarding virtues & etiquettes? Every point of agreement is a satisfaction to me.

We differ on the causes of repentance or shame, when the social are mastered by the animal appetites, for in such cases I bring in the greater persistence of the former.— It would simplify matters much if I could persuade myself that this step or view might be omitted; and I do not feel so positive as I did. The following illustration will make me clearly perceive whether I clearly understand your view.— A man does not save a fellow-man from drowning, being prevented by a strong sense or instinct of self-preservation. When he reflects over his conduct, from the danger not being then present and imminent, while the social instincts are persistent, I believe that he feels dissatisfied with himself for having disobeyed the latter in not trying to save the man. This dissatisfaction does not imply any balancing of gratification and uneasiness, and may amount only to regret, or to repentance or remorse. I believe this would be the state of mind in our man, independently of any direct or indirect consideration or appreciation of the Approbation of his fellow-men. A man with a noble nature might repent not having tried to save the ‘drownee’, altho’ from the risk being so extreme he might feel sure that no one wd blame him for not having made the attempt. Nor can I believe that his regret is due to habit of reflexion that it would have been highly praiseworthy, had he made the attempt. I suppose that you wd say at least in the former case of risk not being extreme that his repentance (or shame if you like) is due to his looking on his own conduct as on that of another man’s, & he knows that he shd blame this other man, & so feels the blame himself; and blame is odious to us from being endowed with sympathy. So conversely with praise had he made the attempt. Is this your view?— A brief answer will suffice.—

Will you return me this letter as it will serve for a memorandum.

Possibly you might like to see the part between blue marks in the enclosed letter. Please return it— Mr Johnson, the writer, is said to be a very clever man.2

I have found your language book & dictionary very useful in my Expression work.—3

Yours affectly. | Ch. Darwin

CD annotations

5.1 Will you … work.— 7.2] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘2d Letter’ pencil
3.1 such as … Etiquette 3.2] ‘I should widely distinguish these two’ arrows pointing to ‘temperance’ and ‘Etiquette’ ink
3.5 Am I … etiquettes? 3.6] ‘Yes in the case of etiquette.’ ink
4.22 Is … view?—] ‘Yes’ ink


See letter from Hensleigh Wedgwood, [3–9 March 1871]. A draft of this letter, together with additional notes made by CD after the letter was sent, is in DAR 88: 67. The notes reiterate CD’s discussion of remorse, using the example of the failure to save a drowning man. CD concludes: In a 2d. Edit. I might say from several discussions & correspondence with H.W. I have modified my views—given even more importance to praise & blame, & much less to endurance of social instincts. In Descent 2d ed., p. 114, CD changed some of his discussion of remorse and referred to ‘critics’, but did not mention his exchange with Wedgwood on the topic.
CD evidently enclosed the letter from William Johnson, 5 March 1871 (see CD’s annotations to the letter).
CD refers to H. Wedgwood 1866 and H. Wedgwood 1859–[67]. CD’s annotated copy of H. Wedgwood 1866 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 853).


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

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Wedgwood, Hensleigh. 1866. On the origin of language. London: N. Trübner & Co.


Seeks to clarify his and HW’s views on the causes of repentance or shame.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Hensleigh Wedgwood
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 88: 64–6
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7560,” accessed on 25 September 2021,

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