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Darwin Correspondence Project

From S. J. Housley   20 December 1872

70 Boundary Road. N.W.

20th. December 1872.


For a whole year I have delayed communicating to you a variation which has occurred in the ear of one of my children, because not being an anatomist I did not know whether the form was important or not—

About this time last year I had a son born to me and my first observation on seeing him was, “Why, he has the primeval point to his right ear!” I had previously read in your Descent of Man of this point being more or less developed in ears and was astonished to find not merely the rudiment but the actual point itself fully developed.1 The edge of the ear folds over all round; therefore at this point, the cartilage of the ear gives the appearance of something having been placed under the fold to force the top of the ear out—

I felt doubtful whether this really was a reversion to the Ancestral form; but when reading your “Expressions” I found the drawing of the ear of the Cynopithecus niger so closely represent the ear of my child that I could no longer be in doubt.2 Another fact which impelled me to write to you was, that I see that Mr. Bree denies the existence of what he calls the “Woolner Ear”—3


The accompanying sketch will give some idea of the form— It possesses the characteristics but does not pretend to acccuracy— The red lines give the forms in the left ear of the same child—4

I am, Sir, | Yours faithfully | Samuel John Housley

C. Darwin Esqre


CD had discussed this ‘primeval’ or Woolnerian point in Descent 1: 22.
See Expression, p. 136 fig. 16.
This claim was made by Charles Robert Bree in his An exposition of fallacies in the hypothesis of Mr. Darwin (Bree 1872, p. 122). For CD’s view of Bree, see the letter to Nature, 3 August [1872].
The red lines in the diagram are represented here by dotted lines.


Bree, Charles Robert. 1872. An exposition of fallacies in the hypothesis of Mr. Darwin. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

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

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.


Describes the pointed right ear of his son.

Letter details

Letter no.
Samuel John Housley
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Boundary Rd, 70
Source of text
DAR 87: 54–5
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8689,” accessed on 28 September 2021,

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