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Letter 12615

Darwin, C. R. to Preston, S. T.

22 May 1880


Discusses ethics of risking one’s life to save another.



May 22nd, 1880.

Dear Sir

Your letter appears to me an interesting and valuable one; but I have now been working for some years exclusively on the physiology of plants and all other subjects have gone out of my head, and it fatigues me much to try and bring them back again into my head. I am, moreover, at present very busy as I leave home for a fortnight’s rest at the beginning of next week. My conviction as yet remains unchanged, that a man who (for instance) jumps into a river to save a life without a second’s reflexion (either from an innate tendency or from one gained by habit) is deservedly more honoured than a man who acts deliberately and is conscious for however short a time that the risk and sacrifice give him some inward satisfaction. Wishing you success in your studies, I remain, Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Ch. Darwin

You are of course familiar with Herbert Spencer’s writings on Ethics.

DAR 147: 250


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