skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Nordhoff   27 February 1872

Santa Barbara | California

Feby 27th/ 72

To | Charles Darwin Esq

Dear Sir

Coming over to this state, from New York, this winter, I read in the cars your “Descent of Man”, & it occurs to me to tell you, apropos of the endeavors of birds to sing, to wh. you refer at page. 53 of vol. 1, (Am. Edition)1 that I once, on a voyage of 153 days from Port Louis in the Isle of France, to London, had a singular instance of this: We had on board, at sailing, a coop of fowls; among them, as it happened, was a young cockerel, the only bird of that sex. By chance, all were killed & eaten but he; & he was for some reason reserved, until we got into the English Channel. Before then he of course had become a good sized bird; but he never learned to crow rightly. He constantly practised; but never produced any sound but a very awkward & ludicrous squawk, which made him the sport of the ship’s company. I thought then that this was only because he had no pattern; no grown & accomplished cock crowed in his hearing.

It may interest you to know that in this State, where (in the Southern Counties) thousands of horses graze on the plains, it is customary for the owners to herd from twenty to twentyfive mares with a stallion. This the spaniards call a manada,2 and the male takes the utmost care of his companions. He leads them to the water, which he finds for them; he hunts up the best pastures for them; he keeps them together, will not allow a mare to stray off; and defends them & their colts agst wild animals. He is faithful to his harem, & will not allow strange mares to join them; nor will he tolerate the attentions or interference of other stallions. Cattle owners say, that it is easier, from this peculiarity to manage horses than cattle. The bull takes no such care; & cattle must be herded, more or less, while the manada of mares is freely trusted to the male.

I enclose you herein a slip which will show you that your last work is counted “popular reading” here.3 On our railroads boys are employed to sell books & newspapers; on the Pacific RRs. the boys bring around first such a brief Catalogue, & the books follow.

of course you concern yrself, in this book only with the animal part of man; but one cannot help wishing to know to what conclusions, as to the spiritual part, or soul, so careful & thoughtful an observer as yourself has come; & I for one shd. be glad if some day you shd be moved to publish something on that head.

I read your “Voyage of the Beagle” when I was a sailor, & with the greatest delight;4 & read it frequently now. Mr. Moran, the American Secretary of Legation, in London, by whom I venture to send you this, will tell you who I am.5

Yours Respectfully | Chas. Nordhoff


Nordhoff refers to Descent US ed., 1: 53–4.
Manada: herd.
The enclosure has not been found.
The reference is to Journal of researches; Nordhoff travelled around the world while in the US navy and later as a merchant seaman. He wrote several books based on his travels (DAB).
Benjamin Moran passed the letter on; it was enclosed with the letter from E. A. Darwin, 3 April [1872].


DAB: Dictionary of American biography. Under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies. 20 vols., index, and 10 supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons; Simon & Schuster Macmillan. London: Oxford University Press; Humphrey Milford. 1928–95.

Descent US ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton. 1871.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.


Reports the case of a cockerel raised in isolation from other cocks which repeatedly attempted, but failed, to crow properly.

Also discusses behaviour in horses; one male will "look after" 20–25 females.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Nordhoff
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Source of text
DAR 172: 72
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8225,” accessed on 21 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20