DARWIN, Charles (1809-1882). Autograph letter signed ('C. Darwin') to Julia Wedgwood ('My dear Snow'), n.p., n.d. [1871?], 2 pages, oblong 8vo. Provenance: purchased from Scribners, New York, 6 September 1939, $27.
'I enter my protest against your making the struggle for existence (which is a sufficiently melancholy fact) still more odious by calling it "selfish competition"'.
Darwin discusses and deprecates his correspondent's comment, presumably on the key passage in The Descent of Man (Part I, chapter V) where he contends that the struggle for existence, and its consequence, natural selection, are the result of a rapid rate of increase. He denies that success derived from energy and intellect is due to selfishness, drawing a parallel with 'a feline animal [which] is born rather bigger, fiercer or more cunning than others of the same or some other species & succeeds in life, & rears lots of savage little kittens, who get on very well in life, yet you cannot call this, even metaphorically, selfishness', pointing out also the role of parental affection, 'a very important element of success'.
The Descent of Man was published in 1871, and the passage referred to is in Darwin's examination of the Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties during Primeval and Civilised Times. His letter probably replies to one written by Julia Wedgwood soon after the publication of the work and is apparently unpublished.