To F. P. Cobbe 28 November 1872
Down, | Beckenham, Kent.
Nov 28. 1872
My dear Miss Cobbe
I have been greatly interested by your article in the Quarterly.1 It seems to me the best analysis of the mind of an animal which I have ever read, & I agree with you on most points. I have been particularly glad to read what you say about the reasoning power of dogs & about that rather vague matter, their self-consciousness.2 I dare say however that you wd prefer criticisms to admiration. I regret that you quote Jesse so often: I made enquiries about one case (which quite broke down) from a man who certainly ought to have known Mr Jesse well, & I was cautioned that he had not written in a scientific spirit.3 I regret also that you quote old writers;4 it may be very illiberal but their statements go for nothing with me, & I suspect with many others. It passes my powers of belief that dogs ever commit suicide; assuming the statements to be true, I shd think it more probable that they were distraught & did not know what they were doing; nor am I able to credit about fetishes.5
One of the most interesting subjects in yr article seems to me to be about the moral sense.6 Since publishing the Descent of Man I have got to believe rather more than I did in dog’s having what may be called a conscience. When an honourable dog has committed an undiscovered offence he certainly seems ashamed (& this is the term naturally & often used) rather than afraid to meet his master.7 My dog, the beloved & beautiful Polly, is at such times extremely affectionate towards me; & this leads me to mention a little anecdote. When I was a very little boy, I had committed some offence, so that my conscience troubled me; & when I met my father,8 I lavished so much affection on him, that he at once asked me what I had done, & told me to confess. I was so utterly confounded at his suspecting any thing, that I remember the scene clearly to the present day; & it seems to me that Polly’s frame of mind on such occasions is much the same as was mine, for I was not then at all afraid of my father.
This note is not worth sending, but I have nothing better to write & I remain with kind regards to Miss Lloyd9 | yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin
FPC’s article on consciousness of dogs is best analysis of an animal’s mind CD has read.
Regrets she quotes [Edward?] Jesse.
Since writing Descent, CD has come to believe dogs have a conscience.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8652,” accessed on 19 February 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-8652