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- More Letters of Charles Darwin Volume II - 10/133 -


Printed in "Chips from a German Workshop," Volume IV., 1875, page 473.), which is a reply to Professor Whitney's "Darwinism and Language" in the "North American Review," July 1874. This essay had been brought before the "general reader" in England by an article of Mr. G. Darwin's in the "Contemporary Review," November, 1874, page 894, entitled, "Professor Whitney on the Origin of Language." The article was followed by "My reply to Mr. Darwin," contributed by Professor Muller to the "Contemporary Review," January, 1875, page 305.)

LETTER 414. G. ROLLESTON TO CHARLES DARWIN. British Association, Bristol, August 30th, 1875.

(414/1. In the first edition of the "Descent of Man" Mr. Darwin wrote: "It is a more curious fact that savages did not formerly waste away, as Mr. Bagehot has remarked, before the classical nations, as they now do before modern civilised nations...(414/2. Bagehot, "Physics and Politics," "Fortnightly Review," April, 1868, page 455.) In the second edition (page 183) the statement remains, but a mass of evidence (pages 183-92) is added, to which reference occurs in the reply to the following letter.)

At pages 4-5 of the enclosed Address (414/3. "British Association Reports," 1875, page 142.) you will find that I have controverted Mr. Bagehot's view as to the extinction of the barbarians in the times of classical antiquity, as also the view of Poppig as to there being some occult influence exercised by civilisation to the disadvantage of savagery when the two come into contact.

I write to say that I took up this subject without any wish to impugn any views of yours as such, but with the desire of having my say upon certain anti-sanitarian transactions and malfeasance of which I had had a painful experience.

On reading however what I said, and had written somewhat hastily, it has struck me that what I have said might bear the former interpretation in the eyes of persons who might not read other papers of mine, and indeed other parts of the same Address, in which my adhesion, whatever it is worth, to your views in general is plainly enough implied. I have ventured to write this explanation to you for several reasons.

LETTER 415. TO G. ROLLESTON. Bassett, Southampton, September 2nd [1875].

I am much obliged to you for having sent me your Address, which has interested me greatly. I quite subscribe to what you say about Mr. Bagehot's striking remark, and wish I had not quoted it. I can perceive no sort of reflection or blame on anything which I have written, and I know well that I deserve many a good slap on the face. The decrease of savage populations interests me much, and I should like you some time to look at a discussion on this subject which I have introduced in the second edition of the "Descent of Man," and which you can find (for I have no copy here) in the list of additions. The facts have convinced me that lessened fertility and the poor constitution of the children is one chief cause of such decrease; and that the case is strictly parallel to the sterility of many wild animals when made captive, the civilisation of savages and the captivity of wild animals leading to the same result.

LETTER 416. TO ERNST KRAUSE. Down, June 30th, 1877.

I have been much interested by your able argument against the belief that the sense of colour has been recently acquired by man. (416/1. See "Kosmos," June 1877, page 264, a review of Dr. Hugo Magnus' "Die Geschichtliche Entwickelung des Farbensinnes," 1877. The first part is chiefly an account of the author's views; Dr. Krause's argument begins at page 269. The interest felt by Mr. Darwin is recorded by the numerous pencil-marks on the margin of his copy.) The following observation bears on this subject.

I attended carefully to the mental development of my young children, and with two, or as I believe three of them, soon after they had come to the age when they knew the names of all common objects, I was startled by observing that they seemed quite incapable of affixing the right names to the colours in coloured engravings, although I tried repeatedly to teach them. I distinctly remember declaring that they were colour-blind, but this afterwards proved a groundless fear.

On communicating this fact to another person he told me that he had observed a nearly similar case. Therefore the difficulty which young children experience either in distinguishing, or more probably in naming colours, seems to deserve further investigation. I will add that it formerly appeared to me that the gustatory sense, at least in the case of my own infants, and very young children, differed from that of grown-up persons. This was shown by their not disliking rhubarb mixed with a little sugar and milk, which is to us abominably nauseous; and in their strong taste for the sourest and most austere fruits, such as unripe gooseberries and crabapples.

(PLATE: G.J. ROMANES, 1891. Elliott & Fry, photo. Walker and Cockerell, ph. sc.)

LETTER 417. TO G.J. ROMANES. [Barlaston], August 20th, 1878.

(417/1. Part of this letter (here omitted) is published in "Life and Letters," III., page 225, and the whole in the "Life and Letters of G.J. Romanes," page 74. The lecture referred to was on animal intelligence, and was given at the Dublin meeting of the British Association.)

...The sole fault which I find with your lecture is that it is too short, and this is a rare fault. It strikes me as admirably clear and interesting. I meant to have remonstrated that you had not discussed sufficiently the necessity of signs for the formation of abstract ideas of any complexity, and then I came on the discussion on deaf mutes. This latter seems to me one of the richest of all the mines, and is worth working carefully for years, and very deeply. I should like to read whole chapters on this one head, and others on the minds of the higher idiots. Nothing can be better, as it seems to me, than your several lines or sources of evidence, and the manner in which you have arranged the whole subject. Your book will assuredly be worth years of hard labour; and stick to your subject. By the way, I was pleased at your discussing the selection of varying instincts or mental tendencies; for I have often been disappointed by no one having ever noticed this notion.

I have just finished "La Psychologie, son Present et son Avenir," 1876, by Delboeuf (a mathematician and physicist of Belgium) in about a hundred pages. It has interested me a good deal, but why I hardly know; it is rather like Herbert Spencer. If you do not know it, and would care to see it, send me a postcard.

Thank Heaven, we return home on Thursday, and I shall be able to go on with my humdrum work, and that makes me forget my daily discomfort.

Have you ever thought of keeping a young monkey, so as to observe its mind? At a house where we have been staying there were Sir A. and Lady Hobhouse, not long ago returned from India, and she and he kept [a] young monkey and told me some curious particulars. One was that her monkey was very fond of looking through her eyeglass at objects, and moved the glass nearer and further so as to vary the focus. This struck me, as Frank's son, nearly two years old (and we think much of his intellect!!) is very fond of looking through my pocket lens, and I have quite in vain endeavoured to teach him not to put the glass close down on the object, but he always will do so. Therefore I conclude that a child under two years is inferior in intellect to a monkey.

Once again I heartily congratulate you on your well-earned present, and I feel assured, grand future success.

(417/2. Later in the year Mr. Darwin wrote: "I am delighted to hear that you mean to work the comparative Psychology well. I thought your letter to the "Times" very good indeed. (417/3. Romanes wrote to the "Times" August 28th, 1878, expressing his views regarding the distinction between man and the lower animals, in reply to criticisms contained in a leading article in the "Times" of August 23rd on his lecture at the Dublin meeting of the British Association.) Bartlett, at the Zoological Gardens, I feel sure, would advise you infinitely better about hardiness, intellect, price, etc., of monkey than F. Buckland; but with him it must be viva voce.

"Frank says you ought to keep a idiot, a deaf mute, a monkey, and a baby in your house.")

LETTER 418. TO G.A. GASKELL. Down, November 15th, 1878.

(418/1. This letter has been published in Clapperton's "Scientific Meliorism," 1885, page 340, together with Mr. Gaskell's letter of November 13th (page 337). Mr. Gaskell's laws are given in his letter of November 13th, 1878. They are:--

I. The Organological Law: Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest.

II. The Sociological Law: Sympathetic Selection, or Indiscriminate Survival.

III. The Moral Law: Social Selection, or the Birth of the Fittest.)

Your letter seems to me very interesting and clearly expressed, and I hope that you are in the right. Your second law appears to be largely acted on in all civilised countries, and I just alluded to it in my remarks to the effect (as far as I remember) that the evil which would follow by checking benevolence and sympathy in not fostering the weak and diseased would be greater than by allowing them to survive and then to procreate.

With regard to your third law, I do not know whether you have read an article (I forget when published) by F. Galton, in which he proposes certificates of health, etc., for marriage, and that the best should be matched. I have lately been led to reflect a little, (for, now that I am growing old, my work has become [word indecipherable] special) on the artificial checks, but doubt greatly whether such would be advantageous to the world at large at present, however it may be in the distant future. Suppose that such checks had been in action during the last two or three centuries, or even for a shorter time in Britain, what a difference it would have made in the world, when we consider America, Australia, New Zealand, and S. Africa! No words can exaggerate the importance, in my opinion, of our colonisation for the future history of the world.

If it were universally known that the birth of children could be prevented, and this were not thought immoral by married persons, would there not be great danger of extreme profligacy amongst unmarried women, and might we not become like the "arreoi" societies in the Pacific? In the course of a century France will tell us the result in many ways, and we can already see that the French nation does not spread or increase much.


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