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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Adam Elliot   5 April 1872

6 Dod’s Buildings | Liverpool.

5th. April 1872

Professor Darwin &c &c

Sir

The accompanying photograph of a group of people comes from Burmah with the following story,1 The King was offended with one of his women & punished her by having her confined in a large cage with an Ape, she was there for two years, during this time she became pregnant & brought forth figure No. 1, whose appearance cleared up in the King’s mind a suspicion that the keeper of the cage might be the father, but it was decided that the Ape must be the father, No. 2 is a convict whom in order to save his life accepted the alternative of marrying No. 1, Nos. 3 & 4 are the issue of this marriage. Such is the story, & I take the liberty of sending you the Photo, as I fully expect you will at once pronounce, whether it is reliable. Is it not probable that even had the woman become pregnant by a highly cultivated European & left confined with the ape, her progeny might have been as these are, & that the keeper in all likelihood is the father & not the Ape? Is it possible for the woman to become pregnant by an Ape or vice versa, an ape by a Man?2 If so, has the progeny a soul? Is it possible that the descendants of such, could again breed? or would they be sterile as the mule? If they did breed, say with human beings, in what generation would the soul have entered into their composition? & what would the probability be of a “cast back” in some future generation. Do you suppose a “missing link” of the kind of a gradual developement of the Ape species to have existed, though not yet discovered, with all our researches not a vestige I believe, If it be proven that Apes & human beings can breed, even now, when human beings have developed into a high state of perfection as compared with the Ape, why should we not have been at one time on most intimate terms or relationship, when it is proven that the difference between the lowest type of savage & the Ape is considerably less than between this low type & the most cultivated European— I have taken a great liberty in putting as many questions to you Sir, but I would beg a few lines on the group I send, which you can get copied if you think fit, but please return the original. If you pronounce the whole story a myth please excuse my boldness, but I feel a deep interest in what you & Professor Huxley3 have written—

Begging the favor of an opinion— I am, Sir, | Your obedient servant | Adam Elliot

No. 2 is apparently a low type, what if he had been a high caste? No. 4 seems less remote than No. 3, will No. 5 be still less remote?

The feet & hands seem so perfect—

Footnotes

The photograph has not been found. CD had discussed a Burmese family covered with hair in Variation 2: 77, 327, and Descent 2: 378, although in Descent he described them as being Siamese. On the family and their history, see Bondeson and Miles 1996.
The possibility of ape–human hybrids had been suggested by Charles White in the late eighteenth century (see Ritvo 2000, p. 849).
Thomas Henry Huxley.

Bibliography

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

Ritvo, Harriet. 2000. Animal consciousness: some historical perspective. American Zoologist 40: 847–52.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

Summary

Reports and asks questions about the offspring from the purported pairing of a woman with an ape.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-8276
From
Adam Elliot
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Liverpool
Source of text
DAR 163: 16
Physical description
3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8276,” accessed on 27 October 2021, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-8276.xml

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

letter