From T. H. Farrer 1 March 1871
B of T
My dear Mr Darwin
I called this morning to mention an interesting parallel which struck me in reading your chapters on “Morality” last night1
You say—not only with Hume, that the social instinct did not arise from and is not resolvable into selfishness—but that in point of time it originated earlier than the selfish virtues.2 This is a very striking idea
The parallel which occurred to me is in the history of law— A generation since any lawyer who speculated at all on the origin of law would have said with Blackstone that law began with the rights of individuals; and especially that the notions of property arose from the “special occupancy” of some article or piece of land by individual savages.—3 But Maine has shewn in his excellent book on Ancient Law,4 that the first notions of property which we find in the actual history of different nations are notions of the property of a community, not of an individual—of the property belonging to the tribe, the clan, the village, the family—that in early systems of laws each persons good as compared with that of the family or community went for comparatively little—and that our present notions of the personal rights & property of individuals as one of the principal, if not the principal—or, as some people have said—the sole proper objects of law—are quite modern notions.
It is an interesting speculation to consider whether there is not at the present moment, a tendency to rebel against the ascendancy of these modern notions
I have no doubt that this, like every thing else, has occurred to you—but as it interests me, I jot it down
Sincerely yours | T H Farrer 〈C〉 Darwin Esq FRS
Parallel between CD’s account of morality [in Descent], of social instinct preceding selfishness, and Henry Maine’s account of notions of property of a community preceding individual property [in Ancient law (1861)].
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7528,” accessed on 22 February 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-7528