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Letter 2677

Darwin, C. R. to Arnott, Neil

16 Feb [1860]

    Summary Add

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

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    Comments on study of dead languages.

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


Down. | Bromley Kent.

Feb. 16th.2

My dear Sir.

I am much obliged for your kind note & pamphlet— 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.— 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 Boys 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—

To give one infinitely little criticism; I demur to your saying—p. 17. that animals are governed only by selfish motives.— 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? 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.

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 2677.f1
    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).
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    f2 2677.f2
    Although the copyist wrote `18th', this was altered to `16th.', presumably by Francis Darwin.
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    f3 2677.f3
    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.
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    f4 2677.f4
    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.
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    f5 2677.f5
    The copyist wrote `four Boys'. This was altered, presumably by Francis Darwin, to read `five'.
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    f6 2677.f6
    Arnott 1861, pp. 60--3.
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    f7 2677.f7
    he lower animal is shortsightedly or almost blindly selfish` (Arnott 1861, p. 51).
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    f8 2677.f8
    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).
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