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

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe 2003-8, textual corrections by Sue Asscher 3.2007. RN3


[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.

CHARLES DARWIN

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

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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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