RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1881. [Letter to Mrs. Emily Talbot on the mental and bodily development of infants, 1881]. Social science.—Infant education. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 15, no. 2 (April): 206-7.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, text prepared and edited by John van Wyhe. RN1

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The Committee on Education of the American Social Science Association has issued the following circular, with a view to draw the interest of parents to the stadia of mental development in their infant children. The project originated in the mind of the zealous and active Secretary of the committee, Mrs. Talbot, who has already collected a great mass of interesting facts, from which we hope to present selections from time to time in this Journal:

We have been made familiar with the habits of plants and animals from the careful investigations which have from time to time been published—the intelligence of animals, even, coming in for a due share of attention. One author alone contributes a book of one thousand pages upon "Mind in the Lower Animals." Recently some educators in this country have been quietly thinking that to study the natural development of a single child is worth more than a Noah's Ark full of animals. Little has been done in this study, at least little has been recorded. It is certain that a great many mothers might contribute observations of their own children's life and development that might be at some future time invaluable to the psychologist. In this belief the Education Department of the American Social Science Association has issued the accompanying register, and asks the parents of very young children to interest themselves in the subject.

1.  By recognizing the importance of the study of the youngest infants.

2.  By observing the simplest manifestations of their life and movements.

3.  By answering fully and carefully the questions asked in the register.

4.  By a careful record of the signs of development during the coming year, each observation to be verified, if possible, by other members of the family.

5.  By interesting their friends in the subject and forwarding the results to the secretary.

6.  Above all, by perseverance and exactness in recording these observations

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[In our January number we printed the circular of Mrs. Talbot, Secretary of the Educational Committee of the American Social Science Association. The following letter has been received from Mr. Darwin on the subject of interest.—EDITOR.]


S.-E. R., July 19, 1881.

Dear Madam:1 In response to your wish, I have much pleasure in expressing the interest which I feel in your proposed investigation on the mental and bodily development of infants. Very little is at present accurately known on this subject, and I believe that isolated observations will add but little to our knowledge; whereas, tabulated results from a very large number of observations systematically made would probably throw much light on the sequence and period of development of the several faculties.

This knowledge would probably give a foundation for some improvement in our education of young children, and would show us whether the same system ought to be followed in all cases.

I will venture to specify a few points of inquiry which, as it seems to me, possess some scientific interest. For instance, does the education of the parents 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 afterward 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 could 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 colored children at first learn as quickly as white children, but that they afterward fall off in progress.

If it could be proved that education acted 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

1 Emily Fairbanks Talbot (1834-1900), American reformer and secretary of the Education Department of the American Social Science Association, Boston, Mass. A circular and register were issued by the Department soliciting answers to various questions. See Nature (28 April 1881): 617. Calendar: 13249. Also published in E. Talbot ed., Papers on infant development. Education Department of the American Social Science Association, January, 1882. Boston: Tolman & White; Darwin 1882; extracts in Nature 24 (13 October): 565; ML 2: 54 and elsewhere.

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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.

I fear that this letter can be of no use to you; but it will serve to show my sympathy and good wishes in your researches.

I beg leave to remain, dear madam, yours faithfully,



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