skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. R. Grove   [5–8 July 1871]1

out & may not the arm &c & the direction of the hair on it be due to the same cause, of course it is transmitted hereditarily & in time becomes connected with the general organization.2 I once burned my fore finger terribly with Phosphorus & when the new flesh had granulated & the old skin was cut away I noticed the same creases beautifully marked on the new flesh—

As I am boring you with a letter I will mention a few points which occurred to me in reading the ‘Descent of Man’

1st In speaking of the teats in the male p 210. 211.3 you do not seem to have noticed the curious fact that the male teats yield milk or a secretion like it at the period of puberty. I have often seen boys at school from 14 to 15 years of age squeezing milk from their teats & have done it myself. The teats are very sore at that period & something like a button can be felt in them—

2d do you give enough credit to natural selection as to the beards & manes of animals?4 They generally occur in those which fight with the teeth & more in the male than the female eg Lions Men, &c protecting the glandular & delicate parts— Horses when fighting bite at the upper part of the neck, perhaps to nip the spine & there the wild horse or welch pony has a protection on both sides & not on one as our combing has made the mane grow—

3 I think you mention somewhere the induced but now hereditary habit of the pointer or setter standing to game5   I can give you positive personal testimony to a young setter whom I reared myself not only pointing but backing another dog the first time he was ever taken into the field & when less than a year old—6

4 Shooting one day at Ramsay Island St Davids Head,7 the birds puffins guillemots &c flew about us within 10 to 20 yds for an hour or two but gradually kept increasing this distance & in the afternoon seemed to have learned accurately the distance at which they were safe, how did they learn this? the dead told no tales & the wounded generally flew out far to sea—

5 Is the habit of dogs running & barking after carriages the remains of their progenitors habit of chasing large beasts? & do Cows sheep &c all unite & turn & face dogs now from a similar original habit of defence

6 I once took a young spaniel 5 miles in the pocket of my shooting coat on Horseback, lost her & in the evening I found she had got home   she had never been beyond the garden before, whence or what this faculty?

Ever yours sincerely | W R Grove

CD annotations

1.1 out … Man’ 2.2] crossed pencil
2.1 As … Man’ 2.2] ‘Mammæ secreting milk at puberty—’ pencil; ‘Pointer Backing [above del ‘baking’] by Instinct’ pencil, ringed pencil
3.1 1st … puberty. 3.3] ‘W. R. Grove & Journal of Anat & Phys 1872. p. 57— ♂ with 4 Mammæ’8 pencil
3.4 The teats … them— 3.5] scored blue crayon
4.1 2d … grow— 4.6] crossed pencil
5.3 backing … old— 5.4] scored blue crayon
6.1 4 … safe, 6.4] ‘W. R. Grove’ pencil
6.1 4 … Horseback, 8.2] crossed pencil


The date range is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters to W. R. Grove, 4 July [1871] and 9 July [1871].
Grove had asked CD about the origin of fingerprints (letter from W. R. Grove to Charles Lyell, 2 July 1871), and CD had suggested that they, and whorls of hair, might have the same origin, and that this might have to do with embryonic development. Grove had evidently suggested a different explanation, but what this was is not known.
Grove refers to Descent 1: 210–11. CD noted that mammary glands in male humans and other animals did sometimes secrete milk, and speculated that long after the progenitors of mammals had ceased to be androgynous, both sexes might have yielded milk and thus nourished their young.
CD discussed the development of hair in male mammals in Descent 2: 266–8 and 281–6.
See Descent 1: 79–80, 92.
Backing: following the lead of a pointing dog, by falling into the same posture (OED).
Ramsey Island is off the coast of south-west Wales, near the city of St David’s; St David’s Head is a promontory of the mainland near Ramsey Island.
The reference is to an article in the Journal of Anatomy and Physiology concerning a family in which two of the sons had four nipples (Handyside 1872); CD cited the article in Descent 2d ed., p. 37 n. 38.


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

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

Handyside, P. D. 1872. Notice of quadruple mammae,–the lower two rudimentary,–in two adult brothers. Journal of Anatomy and Physiology 7: 56–9, 380–5.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Mammae in human males.

The role of natural selection in the development of beards and manes of animals.

Hereditary pointing in setters.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Robert Grove
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 87: 190–2
Physical description
6pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7854,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

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