RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1882. [Letter to William Watson] In Watson, W., A letter from Mr. Charles Darwin. The Academy 21 (527) (10 June): 417.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed (single key) by AEL Data; corrections by John van Wyhe. RN1

[page] 417



Lathom, Ormskirk: June 3, 1882.

It has been suggested to me that a letter which I received from Mr. Darwin on the day before he died, though not important in itself, derives from the accident of being among the latest things he wrote an interest such as entitles it to publicity. Written by return of post in answer to the mere casual communication of a stranger, it has, at all events, the interest of being one of the many illustrations of that almost proverbial courtesy which characterised the greatest, since Newton, of "those who know." I had taken the liberty of pointing out to him what seemed to me, for certain reasons, a false conclusion arrived at in a paragraph of "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals," where Darwin certainly seems to imply that the familiar canine practice of throwing up earth by backward ejaculations of the hind-feet is a "purposeless remnant" of a habit, on the part of the dog's wilder progenitors, of "burying superfluous food." Mr. Darwin's reply was as follows:—

"Dear Sir,—You have misunderstood my meaning; but the mistake was a very natural one, and you criticism good. I ought not to have interpolated the sentence about the burying of food; and, if inserted at all, it ought to have been at end of paragraph, or in a separate one. The case was instanced solely to illustrate a long-continued habit, for, as far as I have seen, well-fed domestic dogs do not revisit their buried treasures. A do when burying food makes a hole (as far as I have seen) with his front-legs alone, and thrusts in the earth with his nose, so that there is no resemblance to the supposed excrement-covering movements.—Dear Sir, Yours faithfully, "CH. DARWIN.

"I see that I have omitted to thank you for your very courteous expressions towards me."

The foregoing letter Mr. Darwin wrote on April 17. It will be remembered that he was seized with his mortal illness on the 18th, and on the 19th he died. William Watson.

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