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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hugh Browne   June 1871

No〈    〉

〈    〉 J〈un〉e 1871

Dear Sir

I sent you my letter of 17 April (copied on account of bad writing) as it stands & as it was written & I think it maybe worth conside〈r〉ation perhaps as bearing on some parts of your first volume which when writing I had not read—1 I refer specially to what I said about moving my ear.

My father self & all or nearly all of my brothers & sisters have the power of moving the scalp (as described in your first vol)—2

Yesterday I noticed it in my son aged 4 months & it exists in some of our distant relatives.3 My doubt is whether the power is not too general to prove anything.—

Have you noticed that the likeness to the gorilla foot continues after the fœtal stage?4 My boy’s great toe is quite separate from the others & the foot would be quite prehensile if it were to escape boots & shoes. Indeed I fear that if all children’s brute likenesses were noted your next work might prove that the descent of man from monkey is not yet complete.—

My brother Walter says that he has seen the bower of the satin bower bird adorned not with shells but with fresh flowers.—5 On the passage to Sydney he caught a butterfly which he believes was 800 miles from land. He has the long. & lat. somewhere in his log & he thinks he has the butterfly.— In returning per Gr Britain Steamer something similar occurred but the distance from land was less & the man who caught this butterfly would not let him have it.—

Yours faithfully | Hugh Browne

P.S. I r〈    〉 this on seeing your name among the visitors to the Horticl.— I have placed a bed &c. at disposal for a visitor & if you will accept it shall be heartily glad.—6 If you are a wealthy luxurious man we shall hardly suit but I think you could hardly be such a genius without being poor, so if you will not be ashamed of a 35£ house with only two servants & if you can enjoy a bottle of good French light wine & a good cigar, my wife & I will make you as comfortable as we can & you shall be at liberty to go in & come out of the house as you please.—

C Darwin Esq | Down | Bromley | Kent | S.E.

CD annotations

1.1 I sent … please.— 7.7] crossed blue crayon
4.1 Have … others 4.2] scored blue crayon


Browne refers to his letter of 17 April [1871] and Descent.
Browne refers to Michael Browne (b. 1806/7), Janet Browne, Marion Browne, Walter Browne, Michael Browne (1839–1906), Ann Browne, and William Browne. CD described the inherited ability to move the scalp in Descent 1: 20.
Browne’s son was Oscar Browne.
CD discussed the feet of human foetuses in Descent 1: 14–16.
CD stated in Descent 2: 112–13 that the satin bower-bird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) decorated the entrance to its nest with brightly coloured feathers, bleached bones, and shells.
The Royal Horticultural Society met in London on 5 April (Gardener’s Chronicle (1871): 452); as CD was in London from 1 to 5 April, he may have attended this meeting (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). The Royal Horticultural Society also held an exhibition at Nottingham (where Browne lived) between 27 June and 1 July 1871 (Gardener’s Chronicle (1871): 839–43).


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


Believes his letter of 17 Apr bears also on vol. 1 of Descent.

Ability to move ears is common in his family.

Similarity of foot of man to that of gorilla continues beyond foetal stage.

Invites CD to stay overnight if visiting the area.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hugh Browne
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 330
Physical description
3pp † damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7696,” accessed on 28 September 2021,

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