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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. R. Grove   4 July [1871]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

July 4th

Dear Grove

I never before noticed with any care the curious marks on our finger-ends.—2 I presume they vary, as my first finger differs somewhat from yours.—3 I apprehend the cause must be the same which leads to the hair, & more especially the fœtal lanugo, being arranged in wonderfully many & complex, whirl-pool sort of lines or spires on different parts of the body.— They are very complex on the upper lip.— Eschricht who has studied the subject, of the lanugo, & to whose work I allude in my Descent of Man, is inclined to attribute their positions & centres to the last points closed in, or over which the skin is finally developed, in the growing embryo.—4 But he speaks rather doubtfully on this head.— If the lines could be traced & coloured all over the body, what a splendidly tattooed animal, man would turn out.—

Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from W. R. Grove to Charles Lyell, 2 July 1871.
The modern forensic use of fingerprints was pioneered by Henry Faulds and Francis Galton; see letter from Henry Faulds, 16 February 1880 (Calendar no. 12488), letter to Francis Galton, 7 April 1880 (Calendar no. 12565), and Beavan 2002.
CD refers to Daniel Frederik Eschricht and Eschricht 1837, which he cited a number of times in Descent.


Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

Eschricht, Daniel Frederik. 1837. Ueber die Richtung der Haare am menschlichen Körper. Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und wissenschaftliche Medicin (1837): 37–62.


Has never before noticed with care the markings on finger-ends. Compares them to the complex whirl-pool patterns of human foetal lanugo.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Robert Grove
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Institution of Great Britain (Grove)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7849,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

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