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Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. E. Abbot   3 March 1874

Boston, | No 1, Tremont Place.

Mar. 3, 1874.

Charles Darwin, Esq.

Dear Sir,

Today I have put into my printer’s hands the MSS. of a lecture entitled “Darwin’s Theory of Conscience: its Relation to Scientific Ethics,” for publication in the Index. It will appear in the issue for March 12, and I beg leave to invite your attention to it. Extra copies shall be sent you.1

I think you will not be wholly displeased with my lecture, as it essays to bring the science of Ethics into thorough harmony with your great theory; and the fact that I have ventured to go outside of this theory, in order to give an impregnable philosophical basis to it, and to show how vast a service to ethical science you have rendered, will not, I believe, be regarded by you as otherwise than a fresh proof of the value of your labors where, perhaps, you least anticipated it. If I am not mistaken, the central conception of my treatment,—namely, that there is a Moral Environment, properly to be regarded as grounded in the Nature of Things, and that conscience is a result of Evolution through the constant action and reaction between this Environment and Man,—is an original one; and it shows only an unsuspected importance in your chapters of the “Descent of Man” which treat of this subject.2 I believe that now for the first time it is proper to speak of morals as a science; and if I am correct, philosophy owes to you the first attempt to make it such.

Naturally I am extremely solicitous to know whether you will receive my attempt with favor. May I beg the honor of your criticisms? If you should be so kind as to put them in the form of a letter for publication, you would render me a service of incalculable value in my Efforts to give the Index a high and dignified character. But if you should conclude only to write your opinion for my private study, I should still be your debtor, and full of gratitude.3 Believing I have helped to make some real advance in moral science by the aid of your thought, I shall be deprived of a great satisfaction if I do not learn your estimate of my results.

Very respectfully yours, | Francis E. Abbot.

CD annotations

Last page: ‘Spectator | Fortnight R. | Lubbock | Tylor | H. Spencer | Contemporary’4 pencil


CD’s annotated copy of the issue of the Index containing Abbot’s lecture (Abbot 1874) is in DAR 139.12.3.
CD dealt with the evolution of morals in the first volume of Descent, chapters 3 and 5.
CD responded with a private letter to Abbot (see letter to F. E. Abbot, 30 March 1874).
CD was possibly listing journals (Spectator, Fortnightly Review, Contemporary Review) and people (John Lubbock, Edward Burnett Tylor, Herbert Spencer) to whom to send the extra copies of Abbot’s lecture (Abbot 1874).


Abbot, Francis Ellingwood. 1874. Darwin’s theory of conscience: its relation to scientific ethics. Index, 12 March 1874, 122–5.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.


Asks CD to read and comment, for publication, on his forthcoming essay in Index on the evolution of conscience and morals through action and reaction between man and the moral environment.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Ellingwood Abbot
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Index , Boston, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 159: 5
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9332,” accessed on 19 January 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22