RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1883. [Letter to Octavius March, 1875]. In Henry Colley March, Darwinism and the evolution of man. 2d ed., enlarged and revised. London: John Heywood, p. 23.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed and edited by John van Wyhe 10.2022. RN1

NOTE: See record in the Freeman Bibliographical Database, enter its Identifier here.

This letter and correspondent were not previously known. Henry Colley March (1838-1916) was a physician and archaeologist who introduced the concept of the skeuomorph in 1889. Octavius March, possibly a relation of Henry Colley March, has not been identified but there was an Octavius March in Middlesex, a solicitor and inventor.


[page] 23

The couvade is a curious custom by which, when a mother gives birth to a child, the father goes to bed and is waited upon. It is practised in South America, in Greenland, Kamskatka, West Yunnan, Borneo, in the North of Spain, in Corsica, and in the South of France. Mr. Octavius March wrote to Mr. Darwin in 1875, asking him whether, in connection with the fact that male mammals possess mammæ, he thought it possible that the couvade had its origin in an early habit of the male sex to take part in the nourishment of the offspring. Mr. Darwin replied as follows. "The couvade has always seemed to me the most extraordinary of all the odd customs followed by man. Your idea is new to me, and very ingenious; but I do not think that it can be admitted, as the period when male mammals suckled their young must have been so immensely remote, seeing that rudimentary mammæ are common to all orders, including the marsupials."

Neither correspondent seems to have known that in some African villages, as attested by Livingstone and other travellers, elderly men with well-developed mammæ are employed as wet nurses in suckling the young.


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

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