RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1897. [Letter to William Pengelly, 1873]. In Hester Pengelly ed., A memoir of William Pengelly of Torquay, F.R.S., geologist, with a selection from his correspondence. London: John Murray, pp. 229-30.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 4.2022. RN1

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

Darwin had recently written to Nature on this phenomena, which prompted Pengelly to write to him. Darwin, C. R. 1873. Perception in the lower animals. Nature. A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science 7 (13 March): 360. See the full exchange in Correspondence vol. 21.

"Pengelly, William, 1812-94. Geologist. Explorer of Devon caves. 1861 Jul. CD met at Torquay. 1863 FRS. 1873 corresponded with CD.
Torquay, Devon. 1861 Jul. 1-Aug. 26 CD had family holiday at. CD's brother also joined the family but left on Aug. 22. CD made observations on flight paths of male humble bees there. CD wrote letters to many people from there. CCD9. CD began writing Orchids while there. See van Wyhe ed., 'Journal', (DAR158)." (Paul van Helvert & John van Wyhe, Darwin: A Companion, 2021)

Emma Darwin recorded in her diary on 2 July 1861 "moved into Hesketh Crescent". A plaque was erected in 2004 to commemorate this visit.

[page] 229

A letter of Darwin's in Nature, on "Perception in the Lower Animals," attracted Pengelly's attention. The well-authenticated stories alluded to in the following: letters were  verified with much care, and were included in a paper read by Pengelly before the Torquay Natural History Society, under the title of "Notes on the Sagacity of the Infra-Human  Animals."

Pengelly to Charles Darwin.

"Lamorna, Torquay, March 17, 1873.

"Your letter on 'Perception in the Lower Animals' in Nature of the 13th has induced me to send you the enclosed slip. I trust you will pardon this intrusion by an almost entire stranger."

"The Hotel Dog. — (Copy of a letter from Mr. R. Fry, formerly of Woodgate, now of Exeter.)

"Woodgate, near Wellington, 12th mo. 8, 1859.

"There is a very pretty light tawny-coloured dog, with a fine bushy tail, at the Queen's Hotel, Exeter, that has attracted my attention by his sagacity as well as his beauty.

"I watched his contrivance a week or two ago to get out of the coffee-room. The door is a double swinging door, opening either way, but so stiffly that the dog has not strength enough to put it open with his nose. He therefore walked back several yards, and ran against the door. This manoeuvre opened the door, but not wide enough to please him; he therefore repeated the act, taking a longer run than the first, and having acquired a greater impetus. This done, he opened the door wider, and then passed through.

"On speaking to his owner about the cleverness of the dog, he said the dog had learnt by experience that it was unsafe to attempt to pass through if the door was not pretty far opened, for he had twice had his tail caught and pinched from the door falling fast before he was completely through. Is not the above an exhibition of something more than instinct?" "The Isle of Wight Dog. — (Copy of two letters from Mr. Kirkpatrick, Banker, Honiton.)

"Honiton, November 19, 1868.

"In compliance with your wish expressed by you when I had the pleasure of meeting you in the train on Tuesday last, I will now

[page] 230

recapitulate the little anecdote I told you about the terrier dog belonging to my late father, Joseph Kirkpatrick, of St. Cross, Isle of Wight.

"About the commencement of the present century, before the days of quick coaches and railways, my father crossed from Cowes to Southampton with his horse and terrier, and rode to London via Basingstoke. On reaching town he put up his horse at an inn in Westminster, and, as he was going into the city, directed the ostler to tie up, and take care of, his dog. "When he returned from the city, he found the dog had broken loose and disappeared. Exactly twenty-four hours afterwards the dog arrived at St. Cross.

"About a month after this my father was at Cowes with the dog, and on meeting Captain Stevens of the Fox cutter, which plied as a passage vessel between Cowes and Portsmouth, Stevens remarked,' Is that your dog, sir?' *Yes,' was the reply. Stevens then added, 'He was my passenger a few weeks ago from Portsmouth to this place' (Cowes), 'and on the vessel sailing into Cowes harbour, without waiting to get into the boat, jumped overboard and swam ashore.'

"This is the story I have often heard my father relate."

"Honiton, November 20, 1868.

"I quite forgot to tell you in my note of yesterday that the terrier to which I referred was born in the Isle of Wight, and had never been out of the isle till the day my father rode to London by Southampton."

Charles Darwin to Pengelly.

"Down, Beckenham, Kent, March 19, 1873.

"I am much obliged to you for so kindly sending me the very curious account of the sagacity of dogs. I can believe almost anything about them. You must forgive me for differing from you on one point, when you call yourself 'an almost entire stranger,' for I, at least, have a lively and very pleasant remembrance of seeing you some dozen years ago at Torquay."


This document has been accessed 214 times

Return to homepage

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

File last updated 7 December, 2022