RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1873. Inherited instinct. Nature. A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science 7 (13 February): 281.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, text prepared and edited by John van Wyhe 2003-8, textual corrections by Sue Asscher 3.2007, Huggins letter transcribed by Christine Chua 12.2019. RN4

NOTE: See record in the Freeman Bibliographical Database, enter its Identifier here.

[page] 281

Inherited Instinct

THE following letter seems to me so valuable, and the accuracy of the statements vouched for by so high an authority, that I have obtained permission from Dr. Huggins to send it for publication.1 No one who has attended to animals either in a state of nature or domestication will doubt that many special fears, tastes, &c., which must have been acquired at a remote period, are now strictly inherited. This has been clearly proved to be the case by Mr. Spalding with chickens and turkeys just born, in his admirable article recently published in Macmillan's Magazine.2 It is probable that most inherited or instinctive feelings were originally acquired by slow degrees through habit and the experience of their utility; for instance the fear of man, which as I showed many years ago, is gained very slowly by birds on oceanic islands. It is, however, almost certain that many of the most wonderful instincts have been acquired independently of habit, through the preservation of useful variations of pre-existing instincts. Other instincts may have arisen suddenly in an individual and then been transmitted to its offspring, independently both of selection and serviceable experience, though subsequently strengthened by habit. The tumbler-pigeon is a case in point, for no one would have thought of teaching a pigeon to turn head over heels in the air; and until some bird exhibited a tendency in this direction, there could have been no selection. In the following case we see a specialised feeling of antipathy transmitted through three generations of dogs, as well as to some collateral members of the same family, and which must have been acquired within a very recent period. Unfortunately it is not known how the feeling first arose in the grandfather of Dr. Huggins's dog. We may suspect that it was due to some ill-treatment; but it may have originated without any assignable cause, as with certain animals in the Zoological Gardens, which, as I am assured by Mr. Bartlett,3 have taken a strong hatred to him and others without any provocation. As far as it can be ascertained, the great-grandfather of Dr. Huggins's dog did not evince the feeling of antipathy, described in the following letter.


"I wish to communicate to you a curious case of an inherited mental peculiarity. I possess an English mastiff, by name Kepler, a son of the celebrated Turk out of Venus. I brought the dog, when six weeks old, from the stable in which he was born.

The first time I took him out he started back in alarm at the first butcher's shop he had even seen. I soon found he had a violent antipathy to butchers and butcher's shops.

When six months old, a servant took him with her on an errand. At a short distance before coming to the house, she had to pass a butcher's shop; the dog threw himself down (being led with a string), and neither coaxing nor threats would make him pass the shop.

The dog was too heavy to be carried; and as a crowd collected, the servant had to return with the dog more than a mile, and then go without him. This occurred about two years ago.

The antipathy still continues, but the dog will pass nearer to a shop than he formerly would.

About two months ago, in a little book on dogs published by Dean, I discovered that the same antipathy is shown by the father, Turk. I then wrote to Mr Nichols, the former owner of Turk, to ask him for any information he might have on the point. He replied –

'I can say that the same antipathy exists in King, the sire of Turk, in Turk, in Punch (son of Turk, out of Meg) and in Paris (son of Turk, out of Juno).

Paris has the greatest antipathy, as he would hardly go into a street where a butcher's shop is, and would run away after passing

1 William Huggins (1824-1910), astronomer, his letter was printed on pp. 281-2. Huggins' letter gives an account of three generations of dogs which exhibited fright when in the vicinity of a butcher or butcher's shop. Further letters on the subject appeared in Nature (20 February 1873), pp. 303 and 20 March 1873, pp. 377-8.

2 Douglas Alexander Spalding (1841-1877), comparative psychologist. Spalding 1873.

3 Abraham Dee Bartlett (1812-1897), superintendent of the Zoological Society′s Gardens, Regent's Park, London.

[page] 282

it. When a cart with a butcher's man came into the place where the dogs were kept, although they could not see him, they all were ready to break their chains.

A master-butcher, dressed privately, called one evening on Paris's master to see the dog. He hardly entered the house before the dog (though shut in) was so excited that he had to be put into a shed, and the butcher was forced to leave without seeing the dog.

The same dog at Hastings made a spring at a gentleman who came into the hotel. The owner caught the dog and apologised, and said he never knew him to do so, except when a butcher came to the house. The gentleman at once said that was his business.

So you see that they inherit these antipathies, and show a great deal of breed.'


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