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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Napoleon de la Fleurière   8 April [1871]1

My dear Sir/

When your “Origin of Species” came out, I wrote some articles, predicting it would be recognized as containing the initiative demonstration of the most important physical laws ever discovered.2 This prediction has already been fulfilled; an eminent German Savant—inter alia—having lately remarked that in times to come this will be known as “the age of Darwin”, as we now speak of the age of Newton of Aristotle &c.3 I had some correspondence with you on the subject of your work when it appeared, which you must have long forgotten;4 however I allude to it now by way of introduction to my suggestion that some notice should be taken of the wild criticism that appears in the Times today & yesterday;5 not indeed for its own sake but on account of the wide circulation of the journal which has been so ill-advised as to publish such stuff; of which we may say as of the fly in amber “one wonders how the devil it got there”.6 Homer nods & Mr. J. T. D. must have been dreaming to allow it;7 only if you know him, you needn’t tell him I say so.

Almost ever since my former correspondence with you, & especially of late, my time & attention have been so engrossed by political leader writing, that I have had no leisure for some of my favourite studies; but I have watched the progress of your theory & the illustrations you ha〈ve〉 published from time to time, 〈and〉 in this context it occurs to me to suggest, àpropos of the Times critique, that what is called Conscience or the moral sense, is really nothing more, as a moments reflection will prove, than the belief or notion of what is right & wrong, what we ought & ought not to do & is acquired either by observation & reflection, or by being taught us like other notions or beliefs; & is obviously Common to the inferior animals. Again—(àpropos of the silly peroration of the T. review) Moral Conduct is that voluntary conduct which is conducive to the good of the community, including the individual himself; immoral conduct the reverse. Duty is what we ought to do as being most conducive to the happiness & welfare of the community, in which our own is included.8 If I were you I should 〈“〉write to the Times” on this subject.

Sincerely hoping that you may live long in the enjoyment of health to still further complete & elucidate—so as to carry conviction to the mind of “the Stupid party” itself, to use Mill’s phrase9—a theory which has been long accepted by the greatest minds of the age,

Believe me My dear Sir to remain | your faithfull | N de la Fleurière

34 Albert Street | Regents Park NW

Saty Morning | 8 Apl.

To | Charles Darwin Esq


The year is established by the reference to the review of Descent in The Times (see n. 5, below).
De la Fleurière’s articles about Origin have not been found.
The German savant has not been identified. De la Fleuriére refers to Isaac Newton.
No other correspondence with de la Fleurière has been found.
A review of Descent appeared in The Times, 7 April 1871, p. 3, and 8 April 1871, p. 5.
De la Fleurière is quoting from Alexander Pope’s ‘Prologue to the satires, in an epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot’ (Pope 1751, 4: 5–32, ll. 169–72): Pretty! in amber to observe the forms Of hairs, or straws, or dirt, or grubs, or worms! The things, we know, are neither rich nor rare, But wonder how the devil they got there.
John Thadeus Delane was the editor of The Times. ‘Homer nods’ is a reference to Horace’s Ars poetica, 358–9: ‘et idem indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus’ (‘and yet I am resentful whenever great Homer nods off’).
The Times reviewer condemned CD’s theories of the development of moral sense as dangerous, stating that society had ‘no other guarantee for the order and peace of life except in the eternal authority of those elementary principles of duty which are independent of all times and all circumstances’ (The Times, 8 April 1871, p. 5).
John Stuart Mill coined this name for the Conservatives in Mill 1861, p. 138.


Believes CD should answer the critical article [review of Descent] in the Times [of 7 and 8 Apr].

Moral sense and moral conduct.

Letter details

Letter no.
Napoleon de la Fleurière
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Albert St, 34
Source of text
DAR 164: 135
Physical description
4pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7669,” accessed on 22 March 2018,

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