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Darwin Correspondence Project

To F. J. Wedgwood   [after 1 April 1871?]1

My dear Snow

[‘I enter my protest against your making the struggle for existence (which is sufficiently melancholy fact) still more odious by calling it “selfish competition”.’2

Darwin discusses and deprecates his correspondent’s comment, presumably on the key passage in The Descent of Man (Part I, chapter V) where he contends that the struggle for existence, and its consequence, natural selection, are the result of a rapid rate of increase.3 He denies that success derived from energy and intellect is due to selfishness, drawing a parallel with ‘a feline animal [which] is born rather bigger, fiercer or more cunning than others of the same or some other species & succeeds in life, & rears lots of savage little kittens, who get on very well in life, yet you cannot call this, even metaphorically, selfishness’, pointing out also the role of parental affection, ‘a very important element of success’.]

C. Darwin


The date is conjectured by the relationship between this letter and the letter from F. J. Wedgwood to H. E. Darwin, 1 April 1871.
The comment has not been found, but may have been in the missing page or attached abstract (also missing) of the letter from F. J. Wedgwood to H. E. Darwin, 1 April 1871. See also, however, letter from Charles and Emma Darwin to F. J. Wedgwood, [March 1871?].
In Descent 1: 180, CD wrote, ‘Natural selection follows from the struggle for existence; and this from a rapid rate of increase. It is impossible not bitterly to regret, but whether wisely is another question, the rate at which man tends to increase; for this leads in barbarous tribes to infanticide and many other evils, and in civilised nations to abject poverty, celibacy, and to the late marriages of the prudent.’


Protests against FJW making the struggle for existence still more odious by calling it ‘selfish competition’.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7651F,” accessed on 26 June 2019,

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