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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Lawson Tait   7 September [1875]1

7, Great Charles St. | Birmingham.

Sep 7

My Dear Sir,

I am engaged in working out a curious speculation as to the origin of the peculiarities of our moral nature, tracing them from the common origin of parental assistance to the young in the struggle for existence   I purpose making it the subject of my introductory lecture to my biology class next month.2

Do you know of any earlier instances of parental protection than that of the stickleback?

Spiders don’t?

Nor ants?

Anything above vertebrata?

Yours ever, | Lawson Tait

I dont think it so “hopeless to speculate” on this as you seemed to be when you wrote Chap III of “Descent of Man”.3 I think I see my way into the mist at least a short distance. My difficulty is to unlearn enough!


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Lawson Tait, 10 September [1875].
Tait was a lecturer in physiology at the Midland Institute (ODNB); no publication by him on this subject has been found.
In Descent 1: 80, CD had written, ‘With respect to the origin of the parental and filial affections, which apparently lie at the basis of the social affections, it is hopeless to speculate; but we may infer that they have been to a large extent gained through natural selection.’


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

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.


RLT speculates on the "moral nature" of parental protection shown by humans and traces it back to its first occurrence in the animal world.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Lawson (Lawson) Tait
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 18
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10153,” accessed on 10 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23