skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   26 December 1869

Cm Hon. C. Heddle   Sierra Leone

Decr. 26. 1869

My dear Sir

I received and read your letter of July 27 with very great pleasure. I wish I had brought from my journey to Bouré any information worth giving you. I fear I have not.

Respecting expression I have seen a curious method of expressing surprise of clapping the hand to the mouth. It does express it admirably, I suppose by suggesting the idea that the person is going to cry out. I saw it in one man only—the King of Falabe—when I returned. Major Laing observed it also in the King’s father.

I have not been able to discover anything of importance bearing on sexual selection but the following may interest you. The Jollofs a tribe of Senegambia are remarkable for their uniformly fine appearance. How is it said my informant to a Jollof that every one I meet is so fine looking not only your men but your women? Very easily explained said the Jollof.

It has always been our custom to pick out our worse looking slaves and to sell them”. This was not done of course to improve the race: but the negro’s knowledge of the power of selection is very suggestive.

I have seen a negress with blue eyes. I forget if I mentioned this to you in my previous letters. No possibility of white parentage.

There is a race of dogs on the banks of the Niger which has pendant ears: & I have seen dogs with ears apparently in a state of transition—the points of the ears only drooping.

I gave a Mohammedan friend of mine here instructions to make inquiries about the Guinea rams. The breeder told him the horns appeared at no particular time varying from two months to three months. Not a very satisfactory answer.

I see that your new book is about to appear, and no doubt all the world of Science is on tip toe and the world of theology also.

I fear it will have a very serious effect upon Agassiz’s health, but it will I know be as warmly welcomed by Wyman and by all the rising Naturalists of America, as it will be by Huxley & the naturalists of England. Darwinism is a fait accompli in the States: everyone when I was there in ’67 accepted your hypothesis, or at least “were investigating in that direction”. Asa Gray’s defence on religious grounds was not necessary—except for a very few—the New Englanders who with rare exceptions are the working men in science have been cured of all nonsense in religion by Theodore Parker, Emerson &c.

In all probability I shall remain out here another twelvemonth for the purpose of going up the Niger next July. Be sure my dear Sir that I will do my best to obtain any information you may require for your second edition or for future works | Yours very truly | Winwood Reade

CD annotations

2.00 have seen] ‘Expression’ blue crayon
2.00 method … father. 2.00] scored both margins blue crayon
4.00 It has always … suggestive. 4.00] crossed pencil
5.00 I have seen … theology also. 8.00] crossed blue crayon
9.00 I fear … Winwood Reade 10.00] crossed blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘Keep | Expression’ blue crayon


Has seen some natives who express surprise by clapping the hand to mouth.

Reports on a tribe that sells its ugliest slaves in order to maintain its uniformly fine appearance.

In America in 1867 Darwinism was a fait accompli. Asa Gray’s religious defence unnecessary after Theodore Parker and Emerson.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Sierra Leone
Source of text
DAR 176: 35
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7036,” accessed on 16 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17