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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Emma Darwin to F. P. Cobbe   [14 April 1871]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.


My dear Miss Cobbe

Many thanks for your book. I shall value it very much & I think it is a common trouble to become less & less in sympathy with the usual prayers—2 I am most glad to have it.

Mr Darwin has been much interested in your article as he likes to read all that you have to say against his views.3

He does not know whether you will agree with him, or if you do whether it will in any degree reconcile you to the imaginary case of the hive-bee becoming intellectual enough to acquire a moral sense—that, apparently in contradiction to what you say, the principle of acting for the good of others of the community & of the species wd still hold sovereign sway—4

I may say that the above sentence was written before he had read the article in Pall Mall for Ap. 12—in which this point is touched on, & which differs curiously from your view.5

very truly yours | Emma Darwin


The date is established by the reference to the article in the Pall Mall Gazette of 12 April 1871 ([Morley] 1871b; see n. 5, below). In 1871, the Friday after 12 April was 14 April.
Cobbe presumably sent her book Alone to the alone: prayers for theists (Cobbe ed. 1871). On Emma Darwin’s religious beliefs, see R. Keynes 2001.
Emma refers to Cobbe’s article ‘Darwinism in morals’ in the Theological Review (Cobbe 1871). See letter from Emma Darwin to F. P. Cobbe, [7 April 1871].
Cobbe had criticised CD’s hypothetical case of hive bees who evolved ‘some feeling of right and wrong, or a conscience’, and who, if they were unmarried females, would ‘think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers’, or if they were mothers, ‘would strive to kill their fertile daughters’. Such behaviour, CD argued, would be for the good of the bee community, whereas for Cobbe it implied an abolition of moral principles (Descent 1: 73; Cobbe 1871, pp. 190–1).
The article appeared in the 12 April 1871 issue of the Pall Mall Gazette ([Morley] 1871b; see letter to John Morley, 14 April [1871] and n. 8).


Cobbe, Frances Power. 1871. Darwinism in morals. Theological Review 8: 167–92.

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

Keynes, Randal. 2001. Annie’s box. Charles Darwin, his daughter and human evolution. London: Fourth Estate.


Thanks for FPC’s book (presumablyAlone to the alone: prayers for theists (Cobbe ed. 1871)).

CD much interested in article ‘Darwinism in morals’ in the Theological Review (Cobbe 1871).

CDs and FPC’s views on moral sense in hive bees, and an article in the Pall Mal Gazette ([Morley] 1871b).

Letter details

Letter no.
Emma Wedgwood/Emma Darwin
Frances Power Cobbe
Sent from
Source of text
The Huntington Library (CB 389)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7684F,” accessed on 11 July 2020,

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