RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1881. [Letter to Mrs. Emily Talbot on the mental and bodily development of infants]. Nature. A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science 24 (13 October): 565.

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


[page] 565

A LETTER was read at the recent Social Science meeting at Saratoga1 from Mr. Charles Darwin to Mrs. Emily Talbot,2 in response to her inquiries as to the investigation of the mental and bodily development of infants. He specifies points of inquiry which it seems to him possess some scientific interest. "Does the education of the parents, for instance, influence the mental powers of their children at any age, either at a very early or somewhat more advanced stage? This could perhaps be learned by schoolmasters or mistresses, if a large number of children were first classed according to age and their mental attainments, and afterwards in accordance with the education of their parents, as far as this could be discovered. As observation is one of the earliest faculties developed in young children, and as this power would probably be exercised in an equal degree by the children of educated and uneducated persons, it seems not impossible that any transmitted effect from education would be displayed only at a somewhat advanced age. It would be desirable to test statistically, in a similar manner, the truth of the often-repeated statement that coloured children at first learn as quickly as white children, but that they afterwards fall off in progress. If it could be proved that education acts not only on the individual, but by transmission on the race, this would be a great encouragement to all working on this all-important subject. It is well known that children sometimes exhibit at a very early age strong special tastes, for which no cause can be assigned, although occasionally they may be accounted for by reversion to the taste or occupation of some progenitor; and it would be interesting to learn how far such early tastes are persistent and influence the future career of the individual. In some instances such tastes die away without apparently leaving any after effect; but it would be desirable to know how far this is commonly the case, as we should then know whether it were important to direct, as far as this is possible, the early tastes of our children. It may be more beneficial that a child should follow energetically some pursuit, of however trifling a nature, and thus acquire perseverance, than that he should be turned from it, because of no future advantage to him. I will mention one other small point of inquiry in relation to very young children, which may possibly prove important with respect to the origin of language, but it could be investigated only by persons possessing an accurate musical ear: children, even before they can articulate, express some of their feelings and desires by noises uttered in different notes. For instance, they make an interrogative noise, and others of assent and dissent in different tones, and it would, I think, be worth while to ascertain whether there is any uniformity in different children in the pitch of their voices under various frames of mind."

1 New York.

2 Emily Fairbanks Talbot (1834-1900), American reformer and secretary of the Education Department of the American Social Science Association, Boston, Massachusetts. A circular and register were issued by the Department soliciting answers to various questions. See Nature (28 April 1881): 617. More of Darwin's letter to Talbot was published in Darwin 1881, Darwin 1882 and ML 2: 54.


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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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