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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Jeremiah   11 March 1871

43, Red Lion Street. | Clerkenwell. E.C.

March 11th. 1871.


Having perused your excellent book on The Descent of Man,1 with much pleasure, and an increased belief in the general principles of Natural Selection, I feel induced to send you this as a mark of gratitude, and while engaging you with this letter, I beg to contribute the following fact regarding the transmission of a habit from a female cat to her offspring, which of course will confirm the truthfulness of its possibility, so well advocated by you in the “Origin of Species”.2

A Female Cat, had a partiality for Milk, and was fed on it daily. At times, the servant, used unknowingly place the milk mug, which had a contracted mouth, within reach of her. The cat finding it impossible to insert her head, would invariably, if undisturbed, put its paw into the milk, withdrawing it, lick the milk off, and so continue this process. She had a kitten which in course of a short time did the same, and now that the mother is dead, he still retains this trick and feeds himself with his paw as often as the milk mug is within reach. No doubt you are in possession of stronger facts than this one, but I trust you will pardon me, if I have uselessly trespassed upon Your valuable time

Again expressing my sincere gratitude for the pleasure and instruction derived from your last work

I remain | Yours very respectfully | John Jeremiah Jr

C. Darwin Esqre

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Imitation | Kitten learning to dip paw in jug’3blue crayon
Verso of last page: ‘(Imitation)’ pencil, square brackets in MS; ‘see Bateman | Aphasia | on Imitation | p 110’4blue crayon


In Origin, pp. 209–16, CD discussed the relationship between habit and instinct, and admitted that habit could sometimes become fixed over time (p. 215).
CD’s annotation suggests that he regarded the case of the kitten as one of simple imitation rather than inheritance.
The reference is to Frederic Bateman and his On aphasia (Bateman 1870). CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 35). On page 110, CD scored a section of the text in which the author discussed the reversal of the signs for assent and dissent in aphasic patients.


Bateman, Frederic. 1870. On aphasia, or loss of speech: and the localisation of the faculty of articulate language. London: John Churchill and Sons. Norwich: Jarrold and Sons.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Case of cat transmitting a habit to her offspring.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Jeremiah
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 87: 101–2
Physical description
2pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7572,” accessed on 19 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19