RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1895. [Letter to Josef Wolf and recollections of Darwin] In Alfred H. Palmer, The Life of Joseph Wolf: Animal Painter. London: Longmans, pp. 192-8.
REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed and edited by John van Wyhe 11.2010. RN1
To have been in any way associated with Charles Darwin is an event in a man's life. Early in 1871 Darwin was preparing the materials for his Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals (published in the following year), and mentioned to Mr. Bartlett1 his wish to have some work done at The Gardens which required unusual care. The Superintendent spoke of Wolf's2 accuracy and closeness of observation in high terms, and in due course introduced the two
1 Abraham Dee Bartlett (1812-1897), taxidermist and Superintendent the Zoological Society's gardens, Regent's Park, London, 1859-1897.
2 Josef Wolf (1820-1899), German-born painter and illustrator of animals. He had a studio, together with Johann Baptist Zwecker, at 59 Berners Street, London. Wolf also drew the orangutans in Wallace's Malay archipelago (1869).
men to each other. Darwin, with a view to that section of his fifth chapter dealing with "Astonishment" and "Terror" in Monkeys, caused a living fresh-water Turtle to be placed in one of the cages. Wolf's account of the incident is this: — "One of the Turtles was put into a covered basket, and the keeper was asked to place it carefully under a heap of straw which was in the cage. Whilst that was being done, the Monkeys suspected something and kept looking down from on high. Clever fellows! I shall never forget that. The keeper then retired, and presently the heap of straw began to move. The Turtle came out, and instead of showing fear the Monkeys crept nearer. Then the Black Crested Ape [Cynopithecus niger]1 came and looked at it, and walked in front of the Turtle as it crept after him. Finally he went and sat on the Turtle." Darwin was much amused, and asked for a drawing of the incident.
At this time, Wolf began to suffer from the chronic rheumatism which has troubled his later years; and therefore he was delayed in completing Darwin's commissions. After a while he received the following letter: —
Down, Beckenham, Kent: March 3, 1871.
DEAR SIR,—You said that you would be so kind as to endeavour to make a sketch for a wood-cut of a monkey's face when laughing, as the keepers express it. The Barbary ape would have been incomparably the best, but is dead. I found, however, in the Zoological Gardens a species that does fairly well, viz. the Cyno-
1 The Celebes Crested Macaque (Macaca nigra) from the northeast of the island of Sulawesi (Celebes).
pithecus niger of Celebes, though it unfortunately has permanent transverse wrinkles on the face. It can be easily caught, and Mr. Bartlett said could be put in a separate cage to be drawn. There ought to be a drawing of the face when tranquil and the mouth closed; and another of the same size and in the same position, whilst laughing. When Sutton the keeper allows this monkey to play with his hair, it chuckles or laughs, and keeps moderately still. The face then becomes a good deal wrinkled, and as far as I could see under disadvantageous circumstances, the skin is especially raised and wrinkled under the lower eyelids. When I asked Mr. Bartlett whether he thought you could possibly draw the laughter of so restless an animal, he answered that "Mr. Wolf has got an eye like photographic paper, it will seize on anything!"
I enclose the size of my page for any figures.
Also a drawing of a leopard which (excepting that the mouth is here more widely opened) shows fairly well the appearance of a cat when savage, and not at all frightened, as I have occasionally though rarely seen.
I hope to get a photograph of Herring's picture of a savage horse and another of a pleased one. Your willingness to assist me as far as lies in your power has relieved me from much difficulty.
—Dear Sir, Yours very faithfully, CH. DARWIN.1
Wolf afterwards received other letters referring, in Darwin's habitually courteous terms, to eleven sketches of Dogs, Cats, and Monkeys he had sent him. Two of the latter were rather badly engraved in The Expressions; both being heads of Cynopithecus niger.2 I have reproduced one of the series of sketches (made from the living animal) which was retained by the artist, representing the "Laughing Monkey."
"I have already had occasion to remark," says Darwin, "on the curious manner in which two or three species of Macacus and the Cynopithecus niger draw back their ears and utter a slight jabbering noise, when they are pleased by being caressed. With the Cynopithecus (fig. 17), the corners of the mouth are at the same time
2 Expression p. 136.
"drawn backwards and upwards, so that the teeth are exposed. Hence this expression would never be recognised by a stranger as one of pleasure. The crest of long hairs on the forehead is depressed, and apparently the whole skin of the head drawn backwards. The eyebrows are then raised a little, and the eyes assume a staring appearance. The lower eyelids also become slightly wrinkled; but this wrinkling is not conspicuous, owing to the permanent transverse furrows on the face."
On showing the reproduction of his sketch of this Monkey to Wolf, he said, "I never believed that that fellow was laughing, although Darwin said he was.
The Laughing Monkey
Darwin occasionally called upon Wolf in Berners Street, who says that his visitor "was not like many great men who would put you down with a look or a sentence. A child might have talked to that man."
"He was wonderful in that respect."
Now among the artist's birds at that time was a particularly tame piping Bullfinch, which had learned, among many accomplishments, to distinguish the note of his master's bell from the others. At the first tinkle, he would fly to a chair-back near the door of the studio, where he would sit and bow and pipe to a favourite visitor, but would attack any person he mistrusted. One day Darwin called; and the Bullfinch, not liking the look of his long white beard, flew straight at it.
"pulling with all his little might, while the old man laughed and chuckled."
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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
File last updated 2 July, 2012