RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1951. [Letters to Jeffries Wyman, 1860-66]. In A. H. Dupree, Some letters from Charles Darwin to Jeffries Wyman. Isis 42: 104-10.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 5.2022. RN1

NOTE: For complete letters with important editorial notes see:

3 October 1860, in Correspondence vol. 8, pp. 404-5.

3 December 1860, in Correspondence vol. 8, pp. 508-9.

3 February (1861), in Correspondence vol. 9, pp. 18-20.

8 October (1863?) [1865], in Correspondence vol. 13, pp. 265-6.

2 February 1866, in Correspondence vol. 14, pp. 33-4.

[page] 105

Down Bromley Kent

Oct. 3d [1860]

Dear Sir I thank you sincerely for your letter which has interested & gratified me extremely. If you had had leisure or inclination to have made any general criticism on the

[page] 106

"Origin of species"; they would have been very far from "superfluous"; for I know hardly anyone whose opinions I should be more inclined to defer to. — I will trouble you with a few remarks on some parts of your letter. Few facts have interested me more than your case of the black Hogs; it shows such a marvellous relation of mere colour, (generally thought to be so unimportant) & constitution: I have long suspected that such correlation of colour & tendency to fevers, might possibly explain the origin of colour of negros: but I can get no facts to support this crude speculation. I have been the more glad to get your Hog case, as I was hardly able to credit the parallel case, of sheep in Sicily. —With respect to the Cave Rat; I knew that it was a strictly American form; but I did not at all know that the genus had large eyes. —I know how busy you are, & that you do no much like writing letters; but if you could get me a little information about this Rat, it would be a great kindness. — Firstly, are the eyes of the Cave species not at all larger than in the other species? Secondly, may I trust Prof. Silliman that the Rat was blind & when kept out of cave, it seemed to acquire some power of vision? And lastly does it inhabit the profoundest depths of caves, or less profound parts? As I am asking questions, I will ask one other; viz were you struck with any peculiarity in length of hind(?) legs (I am writing away from home & cannot consult my notes) of the Nita cattle? I procured a skull; but it has never been described: would it not be worth your while to insert in some Journal a short description together with the parallel case of the Cod Fish? If you do will you inform me. — From various sources of information I cannot doubt that the breed is rather ancient, & extremely true: I have copious notes on subject, which I hope some day to use. — Speaking of inheritance, I was long inclined to entirely disbelieve with you, that mutilations are ever inherited; (& I got special enquiries made about the Jews); but I have of late been rather staggered; & now Brown-Sequard's case of inherited epilepsy from mutilations seems to almost settle question. I have suspected from some

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facts that mutilations are inherited only when they produce disease. A clever gun Surgeon carefully dissected the eyes of the Tucutucu, which I brought home in Spirits, & assured me that there were traces of inflammation. My Spanish informant had no motive, (for I asked no question) to tell me falsely how often they were blind. Does not the case of Cats with blue eyes being deaf (when one blue eye deaf on one side alone of head) strike you as a very odd case: I have lately observed that all kittens have blue eyes when they first open them; & before they open them, they seem to me after several trials, absolutely deaf; —so that I fancy there is at first some correlation between the blue eyes & deafness, & that the blueness is carried on in the old cats, by a sort of correlation or arrest of development the deafness continues; but my ideas are vague enough.— With respect to spinal stripes of Horse; I think it is much too common (& characteristic of every species of the genus) to be explained as your American informant supposes: the stripe seems to be commoner with with [sic] colts than with old Horses; in same manner as the foals of the E. Hemionus are well striped when first born. —I have been very glad to hear your remarks on the Brain of Chimpanzee; as will Sir C. Lyell be.—Dr. Falconer tells me that Huxley gave Owen the most severe setting down at Oxford on this subject, that ever man received. — I fear the general opinion is true, that Owen truckles to the approbation of those high in church & state. I declare I believe from some conversations with him that at the bottom of his heart he goes a long way with me on the origin of species, though he has attacked me so severely & not very ingenuously in the Edinburgh Review.— No one other person understands me so thoroughly as Asa Gray. If ever I doubt what I mean myself, I think I shall ask him! His generosity in getting my views a fair hearing, & not caring himself for unpopularity has been most unselfish,—I would say noble. Forgive me for writing at such length & believe me Dear Sir, with cordial thanks & sincere respect.—

Yours very faithfully C. DARWIN



Dec 3d [1860]

Down Bromley Kent

My dear Sir

I am very much obliged to you for your kindness in writing to me & for sending me the pamphlets. If you can at any time find out about the relative size of the eyes of the Cave Rat, it would be a very great favour. — You cannot tell how much your paper on Gestation has interested me. How facts do beat the wildest imagination! The case of the frogs has interested me particularly, because some time since I read up what I could find on subject, thinking it a good case against my

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notions, from absence of transitional states; but now your case is something on the road. But the unfortunate male fish with the load of eggs in their mouths exceeds everything; & what a curious fact about the foreign eggs in the mouths of some. It is quite a pity that there are not fish of the same group with cuckoo-like habits; your fact would so well have explained how the habit might have arisen. — Speaking of transitions Mr. MacDonnell of Dublin writes to me that he has made some curious discoveries on the electrical organs of the Rays, being led thereto by trying to make the case of the electrical organs, already so very difficult to me, still more unpleasant; but as I understand him his new facts help my views considerably. —I am very glad to hear that you are collecting facts on the "Bull-dog" fish: I suppose & hope you will bring in about the Nata cattle. I am now at work in bringing out a corrected edition of the "Origin" & I will do myself the great pleasure of sending you a copy when it is published: I could not resist giving briefly your Hog case. By the way I have received another analogous fact in case of Horses. — I once saw several years ago Dr. Ackland, & was charmed with him: I am pleased to hear that he defended me against so redoubtable an opposer as Agassiz. I was rather surprised that the latter did not attack me with more skill.— Will you kindly forward the enclosed to Prof. Silliman by any opportunity: the note is merely to thank him for so kindly writing & giving me information — Pray believe me, my dear sir, with sincere thanks & respect

Yours very truly


If you ever write again to me, can you refer me to any paper on the Rattle of Rattle-snake; I want to see some account of the tip of tail in the young before the skin has ever been moulted; & the relation of the rattle in the old to the act of moulting. I want to see what relation there is to the to the tail of Trigonocephalus, the habits of which I mention in my Journal as vibrating its tail.



Down Bromley Kent

Feb. 3d [1861]

My dear Sir

I have been extremely much interested by your letter on Rattle-snakes. — The subject has always rather fascinated me. By the way can there be an truth in the many accounts of Rattle-snakes fascinating their prey? Do they rattle when gazing at their prey & can the poor animals be paralised by fear? — I never could understand from drawing, the rattle, till seeing yours, which makes it quite clear. If not known, is it not a shame that you do not publish your diagram? The whole contrivance

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& structure is much more complex than I expected; & I fear it will be impossible to show amongst other snakes any gradation except the vibrating the tail (I did not know of your Black snake having this habit, & am glad to hear it) & the little knob at the end of tail of Trigonocephalus. Nevertheless I will have a look some day at the tails of the Viperidae in B. Museum for bare chance of any vestige of the of the concentric ridges which seem to play an important part in retaining the rattle. I presume each new rattle adheres closely to the "matrix" till the period of moulting. — It certainly is a very curious structure; & odiously wonderful to me if it serve merely to warn prey & so injure its possessor. — With respect to Electrical organs, have you seen M'Donnel's article in the new Nat. Hist. Review?  the discovery (if proved) of these organs in head of Skates seems very interesting. — Thank you much for telling me your observations as to marks on the face of Vespidae: I will show your sketch & consult our great authority on these insects F. Smith of B. Museum. I shall be curious to know whether anything analogous occurs with our Wasps. I particularly value such cases of variation & have already got a large series of cases, & very important they seem to me. Those who believe in creation, will have to say this mark in this animal was thus created; in this other other animal the very same mark is due to variation. With cordial thanks for your most interesting letter. Believe me, my dear sir

yours sincerely




[Except for signature, not in Darwin's handwriting]

Down Bromley Kent

Oct. 8 [1863?]

My dear Sir

I am very much obliged for your letter. I have tried the little experiment with the string, & it answered well; as did a very long narrow strip of elastic paper after having been scraped or compressed by being rubbed over a knife. I cannot see the difficulty of the mathematicians, the slip of paper when held at both ends, tends to form a regular bow, but as every part tends to contract into a small circle, if the contraction be not quite one part can pass by the side of the other, & the whole will bread up into a set of circles or spires, which will be reversed at the 2 ends on the self-twisting principle which I have explained. I am aware that you are much interested in the movements of plants for I have read your excellent paper on the bursting of certain gourds. I suppose you know Cohn's paper on the contraction of the stamens of certain Compositae:  I have seen the phenomenon & was much interested by the paper.

 I formerly made numerous observations shewing what an extraordinary small pressure is sufficient in certain cases to excite movement & as I believe contraction in the cells of some plants; I likewise found that certain re-agents such as Strychnine &c had a powerful influence on the movements. But my health has been so weak

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for several years that I have not been able to publish these observations, & I hardly know why I have mentioned them to you. With many thanks for your note, & with sincere respect believe me

My dear Sir

Yours sincerely




[Except for signature, not in Darwin's handwriting]

Down Bromley. Kent. S. E.

Feb 2 1866

Dear Sir

I am very much obliged to you for your interesting letter of Jan 11ith. I was aware that the cells of Bees varied a little in dimensions, but did not in the least know to what a degree the variability extended. Your statements make the proposition of some, I think, French savant that the size of the cell shd be the standard of all measurements, quite ludicrous. This variability of size agrees well with the view which we both I think take of all instincts. Your case of the 2 cells separated by a flat bottom appears to me particularly interesting. As so much has been written of late about Bees cells, I cannot but think that your facts wd be well worth publishing in a separate paper: should you intend doing so, I shd be grateful for a copy. I had not heard of the fossil tadpole-nests, nor of Mr Putnam's paper on the cells of humble bees;  I wish he had sent me a copy of it. With respect to your remark that the hexagonal cell always results from the cooperation of several bees, you must remember the comb began by the solitary female wasp. Mr F. Smith of the Brit. Museum has lately adduced in Proc of Ent. Soc. of London several cases of hexagonal combs made by single insects, & others with hexagonal cells at the extreme circumference; But in the specimens which I have seen, the hexagons were not very perfect at the circumference. I am glad that you have been attending a little to this subject; I formerly found it very interesting but I have not looked over my notes for several years. I may add that Prof. Miller carefully measured for me the thickness of the cell-walls & found great variability in their thickness.89 With my best thanks for your kindness in writing I remain dear Sir yours very faithfully


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