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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Anatole Roujou?   28 February [1872]1

9 Devonshire St. | Portland Place | London

Feb 28—

My dear Sir

I am much obliged for your note.2 I have read your work, but the subject is so abstruse, & as my health is weak, I am not sure that I have mastered your views.3

I can however see that your work exhibits much talent. It has delighted me to find that you are not shocked at the belief that man is a modified and wonderfully improved descendant of some lower animal-form.4 This belief, considering the date of the publication & that your country is France, is a surprising & very gratifying fact. Throughout Europe, with the exception of France, the great principle of evolution seems to me to be now fixed on a sure basis; though very many yet demur to man being included in the same category.5

I still fear that we differ much in our views on the origin of the moral sense, but I shall be pleased to find that I am mistaken.6

Pray believe me dear Sir. | Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin


The recipient is conjectured from the content of the letter. The year is established by the address. CD stayed at 9 Devonshire Street from 13 February until 21 March 1872 (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
No letter from Roujou has been found. His paper on analogies between the human type and that of very ancient mammals (Roujou 1872) was presented at a meeting of the Société d’anthropologie on 18 January 1872 (the date is given in the running head of the paper). CD’s annotated copy of the article is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. An inscription on the front reads, ‘A Monsieur Darwin | hommage de profond respect et d’admiration pour ses travaux’ (To Mr Darwin, a token of profound respect and admiration for his works).
Arguing from morphological comparison of humans and more ancient mammals, Roujou suggested that the first lemurs appeared well before the secondary period and the first monkeys before the tertiary, and that early humans appeared at the beginning of the tertiary period (Roujou 1872).
Roujou argued that the only logical explanation of human origins was the transformist one, and further that all vertebrates developed from a single original type (Roujou 1872, pp. 50–2).
CD had recently failed to be elected to the zoological section of the Académie des sciences for the second time (see letter from Armand de Quatrefrages, 12 January 1872 and n. 2).
Roujou had argued that the calculated self-interest of individuals produced a kind of morality among certain animals, but he had not further elaborated his views on the origin of the moral sense (Roujou 1872, p. 121). In contrast, CD held that moral sense was not acquired by each individual but was innate and arose from social instincts, and further, that any social animal would inevitably acquire a moral sense if its intelligence were as developed as that of humans (see Descent 1: 71).


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

Roujou, Anatole. 1872. Note sur quelques analogies du type humain avec celui de très-anciens mammifères. [Read 18 January 1872.] Bulletins de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris 2d ser. 7: 44–122.


Has read correspondent’s work. Glad he is not shocked at belief that man is descendant of lower form. An unusual attitude for a Frenchman.

Fears they differ greatly on origins of moral sense.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8226,” accessed on 23 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20