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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. H. Scott   13 November 1875

Wanderers’ Club, | Pall Mall.

13th Nov 1875

Chas Darwin Esq MA. FRS &c &c

Sir,

Upon the several occasions of my reading your admirable work on “The Descent of Man”, I was always much struck with your remarks on the Powers of Reasoning in animals, yet, I always thought that the instance you gave in which such powers had been demonstrated in dogs were not quite as startling as one would have imagined.1

I have often since first reading your interesting work, intended writing you of a clear case of reasoning which took place with a Dog, which I knew well, belonging to a very old friend of my father (Dr Scott of Exeter),2 but I have delayed doing so, thinking, I should only be taking up your time which I know is so exeedingly valuable, without doing a corresponding amount of good.

To make quite sure of the facts I wrote my friend, (Mr Wentworth of Beckhampton Wilts)3 the owner of the dog, a short time since, setting out the circumstances as I remembered them, & he replied stating they were correct as related by me.

They are as follows; To begin with I should state, that the dog was a cross between a Retriever & Newfoundland, taking after, in appearance, more of the latter than the former. He was an exceedingly intelligent animal and had been taught by his owner to do several tricks & also make himself useful and among other things would ring the Bell, which was one of the old fashioned ones having a pulley & tassel; shut the door, take the slippers put them into the cupboard & bring back the Boots etc etc. The dog had however one bad habit, as a sporting dog, & that was he would persist in chasing a hare when he saw one. The day when my friend was going out shooting & not wishing to take “Shot” as the dog was called with him, he shut him up in the Dining room giving strict injunctions to the Housemaid not to let him out. My friend had not however gone very far on his road before “Shot” overtook him. When Mr Wentworth returned home in the evening he naturally made enquiries as to who had let the dog out, when the Housemaid stated that hearing the Dining room Bell ring she answered it & on her opening the door “Shot” jumped out over her shoulder & made his escape.

That this was a clear case of reasoning I think cannot be questioned, and as to its truth I have not the least particle of doubt, as my friend Mr Wentworth is a gentleman well known in Wiltshire having resided there for a large number of years. Furthermore I knew the dog myself & can testify as to the great amount of intelligence he always displayed.

I trust you will excuse the liberty I have taking in writing to you, but, I thought the above an interesting illustration of Reasoning in a dog & one you would like to be acquainted with. Believe me Sir | Yours obedly | W H Scott

Footnotes

CD discussed the mental powers of dogs in Descent 1: 40–2, 44–7, 50.
William Robson Scott had supplied CD with information on sign language and had assisted George Howard Darwin with his research on cousin marriage (see Correspondence vol. 18, letter from W. R. Scott to E. B. Tylor, 28 June 1870, and Correspondence vol. 22, letter from G. H. Darwin, 18 April 1874 and n. 7).
John Wentworth was a farmer in Beckhampton, Avebury, Wiltshire (Census returns of England and Wales 1851 (The National Archives: Public Record Office RG10/1904/20/31)).

Bibliography

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Summary

Gives an example of the power of reasoning shown by dogs.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-10259
From
William Henry Scott
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Wanderers’ Club
Source of text
DAR 177: 123
Physical description
3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10259,” accessed on 28 September 2021, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-10259.xml

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23

letter