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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henry Reeks   3 March 1873

North End, | East Woodhay, | Newbury—

March 3rd. 1873

My dear Mr. Darwin,

I have just closed your Volume on “Expression” with the deepest regret— regret, because I have arrived at the conclusion of another of your most valuable and interesting works. As I read page after page I occasionally jotted down confirmatory and additional footnotes. True these are but scanty and far between, but I trust that some of them, at least, may prove interesting to you as I can safely vouch for their accuracy. As it will save me a good deal of writing & reference I send you the book and beg to refer your notice to the following pages:— 35— 46— 65— 67— 73— 98— 101— 113— 171— 173— 175— 214— 227— 230— 233— 233— 236— 238— 319— 345 and 364.1 Two of these footnotes require a fuller explanation. At page 46 you give an admirable description of the manner in which young puppies and kittens keep “kneading” their mothers while in the act of sucking:2 Now I think the following instances with regard to the human species are perfectly analogous cases:—

My second brother3—with whom I often slept when a boy—used, in his sleep to invariably suck his tongue and at the same time to keep on kneading my legs with his toes, alternately using one foot and then the other. The modus operandi consisted in first placing the sole of the foot flat against my leg then gradually raising the heel and at the same time doubling down the toes so as almost to pinch up the skin with them. This he would repeatedly do in his sleep for hours unless his legs were forcibly pushed away! The other case is that of a poor little crippled niece of mine who has suffered amputation of one of her legs, and who is now thirteen years old. This poor little afflicted girl often falls asleep on my knee, and as she does so one hand most assuredly finds its way to my neck, where she continues during sleep to knead with her fingers. She also sucks her tongue at the same time. Now it strikes me that both of these cases are greatly confirmatory of your theory.

I now pass on to another and quite distinct subject. At page 319 you quote an observation of Von Spix & Martius on the theory of blushing—4 Previous to reading that quotation I never knew that it had been penned, yet, strange to say, when I was in Newfoundland in 1867 I noted down an almost similar observation in my note-book.5 It occurred under the following circumstance:— During that year eleven Micmac Indians arrived at the settlement where I was staying; these consisted of nine men and two young girls (sisters).6 One of the settlers invited all the Indians and the rest of the settlers to a dance at his house: I also joined the party as a looker-on, being then, as now, a cripple from frostbite.7 During the evening our host, who was not one of the most refined men that I have had the pleasure of meeting, made use of a most indelicate expression. Now I have no doubt that I blushed considerably myself, as I am very apt to do so, but I was then too much engrossed watching the countenances of the two Indian girls to notice my own confusion. One of the sisters—I believe the elder—immediately burst into a roaring fit of laughter, while the other as quickly cast down her eyes and blushed excessively; not even venturing to meet the gaze of any male person present, for some little time. Now I was informed by some of the Indian men that this modest girl could both read and write, and was a most zealous Roman Catholic; while the other was a very ignorant girl; and much more masculine in her whole demeanour. Again, the Indian men asked me to accompany them on a six week’s tour, salmon spearing and beaver hunting, and their invitation was most earnestly supplemented by the brazen, ignorant girl, while her sister only cast down her eyes and spoke not a word until I appealed to her, calling her by her name. She again blushed very perceptibly and answered “We will try and make you comfortable Mr. Reeks”! How could I possibly make any note otherwise than corroborative of that of Von Spix & Martius? There is yet another kind of hereditary habit, which I consider greatly helps your theory, but it is one that you have almost ignored, viz, that of scratching. Scratching undoubtedly is a much earlier acquired habit than blushing. The latter evidently advances with civilasation and good breeding, while the former as truly recedes before both. You, yourself, have noticed the constant habit of scratching the head among ignorant men when feeling at all puzzled.8 Why do not you and I resort to the same practice? Simply because we know that it is an indelicate act, calling forth in our own minds, and in those of others, an unpleasant association! Now this was certainly not the case when the usages of good society were not so studied as at present.

If I remember rightly it was one of the early French Kings who said (when he had the itch) that scratching ought to be reserved as a Royal pastime! What should we say now if either of our much beloved Royal family so amused himself, or herself during a Levee? It then appears that even human beings derive great gratification from scratching, and we are fully aware how pleased almost all of our domesticated animals are when scratched, especially on the head, and, in the case of cows, on the rump. With regard to wild and semi-domesticated animals we need travel no further than the houses for monkeys and parrots in our own Zoological Gardens! Evidently then scratching must have been transmitted to us for countless ages through our barbarous and semi-barbarous progenitors— You most properly value the actions of idiots as giving us the truest and most reliable instances of reversion to ancestral habits.9 I have very often noticed how monkey-like are some of the actions of those poor human beings deprived of the power of reasoning. In this parish, and not many hundred yards from where I write, resides a poor idiotic youth. I see him almost daily, and have often noticed some of his most striking and characteristic actions: one of the the most notable being a constant habit of stopping suddenly in the road, pulling up the leg of his trousers catching an imaginary flea, killing it (or rather fancying that he was doing so) with both hands and close up to his eyes, although not at all short-sighted, and then scratching in quite a different place from where the supposed flea was troubling him, and this all in winter when fleas are usually dormant! I also recently had occasion to sit up with a friend who was suffering from delirium tremens, and he was persistently catching fleas and scratching himself, especially about the forearms and lower extremity of the body.

Reverting to page 113 of “Expression” you seem to doubt on the authority of Mr. Bartlett that domestic pigs “crop” or draw back the ears when fighting.10 Now Mr. Bartlett is a most excellent observer, and I know few men whose opinions I would accept in preference to his, yet I doubt if even he is so good an authority on this matter as myself, having been a farmer all my life, and I can unhesitatingly state that domestic pigs do crop, or lay back their ears when fighting: so do also the semi-feral breeds of pigs in America.

I must now give you two additional instances of the effect of colour on animals. The first is that of a celebrated shorthorn bull (roan, if I remember rightly) which belonged to my father,11 and which invariably refused to be mated with a black cow! The other refers to some parti-coloured and brown rabbits. On my return from Newfoundland in 1868 I had a large white and brown doe rabbit given me, which fortunately at the time proved to be in young. I turned her into a burrow in my orchard at Thruxton, which is very large and surrounded by a high thatched wall, and in which at the time there were many couples of the ordinary brown rabbits. These for a long time refused to associate with the new importation, but eventually overcame their predudices, and she brought forth her young in safety. In the course of eighteen months these parti-coloured rabbits had increased to about thirty couples, and within the next six, or eight months all had disappeared, although I had not shot more than a dozen of them! The extinction was caused by similarly coloured cats, which used to lay at the mouths of the burrows and catch and kill my rabbits as they came out to feed. Not only did the cats exterminate all the white and brown rabbits, but also nearly all those of the normal colour. These latter after becoming accustomed to the proximity of the white and brown rabbits were not sufficiently wary to detect a crouched cat when of a similar colour to the white and brown rabbits. Since the latter have all disappeared the brown rabbits are again increasing rapidly.

That they were destroyed by cats was evident from the quantity of skins, feet and intestines lying about all over the orchard. I could easily have trapped the cats and saved my rabbits, but that one of them was a splendid Persian cat that I had given my mother, and some of the others—white and white and yellow—belonged to a lady friend living at the Rectory.12

I fear that you will be tired before reading all that I have written: I have also to bear in mind that “Greater Britain” will be impatient of my wasting so much of your valuable time.13

Trusting therefore that you are feeling stronger than when I last heard from you,14 and with kind regards, | Believe me, dear Mr Darwin | very faithfully yours. | Henry Reeks

P.S. Now that you have my copy of “Expression” by you would you kindly gratify a whim of mine and write my name on the title page?

C. Darwin Esqre. F.R.S. &c.


p 35. Also with lambs and calves.15

67. I have often experienced same sensation after shooting some rare and much coveted specimen, even so lately as my recent stay in Newfoundland.16

214. I have also observed many Europeans especially children do the same.17

227. I have seen the black bear (U. Americanus) sit on it’s haunches and shade its eyes with both fore paws when trying to make out a distant object and I hear that it is a frequent habit of that species.18

233. I doubt whether any race of human beings exists with whom pouting is not common with the children, and it is certainly not infrequent with adult Europeans, Micmac and Mountaineer Indians.19

238. Riflemen will tell you that they hold their breath whilst firing at a target. I invariably do so myself when shooting at a dead mark, and also when examining any minute object through a microscope of high powers.20

CD annotations

1.7 46— 65—] del pencil
1.7 73— … 175— 1.8] del pencil]
1.8 230—] del pencil
1.8 236–] del pencil
1.9 319— … 364.] del pencil
5.1 Reverting … life, 5.5] ‘life, & I can unhesitatingly state that domesticated pigs do “crop” or lay back their ears when fighting,—so do also the semi-feral pigs [del illeg] in America.—’ added ink
5.5 and … cow! 6.3] crossed ink
6.1 I … cow!] 6.3] crossed pencil
6.1 I must now] opening square bracket pencil
6.1 I must … cow! 6.3] ‘Bull [2 words illeg] Colour Cow’ added blue crayon
6.2 The first … Cow! 6.3] scored blue crayon
6.4 The other refers] opening square bracket pencil
6.3 The other … Rectory. 7.5] ‘Curious case of failure of Protection’ added blue crayon
8.1 I fear … page? 10.2] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘From Henry Reeks.—’ ink
1.1 p 35.... calves.] ‘p. 35 [interl] (on infants sneezing when born)’ ink
2.1 67.... Newfoundland 2.2] ‘(trembling for Excitement)’ ink
3.1 214.... same.] ‘(Sucking down air, as if swallowing savoury food)’ ink
4.1 I … species. 4.3] crossed ink
Top of enclosure: ‘Remarks by Henry Reeks (see his letter) March 3d 1873 on my Book on Expression.—’ ink


Reeks’s copy of Expression was returned to him and has not been found; however, CD had some of Reeks’s notes copied out, and it is these copied notes that are transcribed here as an enclosure (see letter to Henry Reeks, 5 March [1873]).
In Expression, p. 46, CD described how some young animals pushed alternately with their forefeet against their mothers’ mammary glands to stimulate milk flow.
William L. P. Reeks.
In a discussion of whether blushing was innate, CD quoted the assertion made by Johann Baptist von Spix and Karl von Martius, that blushing among the native peoples of Brazil began only after long association with settlers; CD argued that increased self-attention arising from education and a changed way of life had enhanced an existing tendency (Expression, p. 319 and n. 15).
Reeks undertook an expedition to Newfoundland from August 1866 to August 1868 and published accounts of the birds and plants (Reeks 1869 and Reeks 1873).
The Mi’kmaq are native inhabitants of the Maritime Provinces and the Gaspé peninsula who settled in New England and Newfoundland in the nineteenth century.
Reeks suffered severe frostbite after an accident soon after arriving in Newfoundland in 1867 (Reeks 1869, p. 1854; Reeks 1873, p. 1).
See Expression, p. 32.
See Expression, p. 13.
Abraham Dee Bartlett was the superintendent of the Zoological Gardens in London.
John Reeks.
Reeks’s mother was Julia Ann Reeks; his friend was probably Ann Maria Baynes, whose husband, Donald Baynes, was patron of the parish of Thruxton, Hampshire, where the Reeks family were farmers, and built the rectory (Census returns of England and Wales 1871 (The National Archives: Public Record Office RG10/1241/65); History of Hampshire 4: 387–91).
‘Greater Britain’ was a term for the British empire popularised by Charles Wentworth Dilke’s Greater Britain: a record of travel in English-speaking countries, during 1866–7 (Dilke 1868).
CD’s letters to Reeks have not been found; Reeks’s last known correspondence with CD was in 1871, when he sent similar notes after the publication of Descent (see Correspondence, vol. 19).
Expression, p. 35, contains a discussion of reflex actions such as the sneezing of newborn infants taking their first breath.
In Expression, p. 67, CD described a boy, identified in his letter to Reeks of 5 March [1873] as himself, trembling so much from joy on shooting his first snipe that he could not immediately reload his gun (see also ‘Recollections’, p. 369).
In Expression, pp. 213–14, CD referred to gestures of satisfaction in some cultures apparently derived from mimicking pleasure in eating (see also CD’s annotation).
Reeks refers to the discussion in Expression, pp. 226–8, of the relationship between frowning and the contraction of the eyebrows to shade the eyes when concentrating on a distant object. This paragraph in the enclosure is crossed and annotated ‘done FD’: Francis Darwin incorporated Reeks’s information about Ursus americanus (the American black bear) into the second edition of Expression, published after CD’s death (Expression 2d ed., p. 237 n. 5).
In Expression, pp. 232–3, CD described pouting as a universal expression, particularly of children, although he believed it to be less common in Europeans. Mountaineer Indians, usually known as the Montagnais or Innu, were native inhabitants of the Nitassinan, roughly equivalent to modern Quebec and Labrador.
CD had suggested that one possible origin for expressions in which the mouth is firmly closed lay in the need to hold one’s breath when performing certain delicate actions in order to minimise interference from the movement of the chest (Expression, pp. 235–8).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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

Dilke, Charles Wentworth. 1868. Greater Britain: a record of travel in English-speaking countries, during 1866–7. 2 vols. London: Macmillan.

Expression 2d ed.: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. Edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1890.

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

History of Hampshire: A history of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Edited by H. Arthur Doubleday et al. 5 vols. London: Archibald Constable and Company. 1900–12.

‘Recollections’: Recollections of the development of my mind and character. By Charles Darwin. In Evolutionary writings, edited by James A. Secord. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008.

Reeks, Henry. 1869. Notes on the zoology of Newfoundland. Zoologist 2d ser. 4: 1609–14, 1689–95, 1741–59, 1849–58.

Reeks, Henry. 1873. A list of the flowering plants & ferns of Newfoundland with meteorological observations. Newbury: n.p.


Praise for and detailed comments on Expression.

Two cases of coloration in animals – one from sexual selection, the other helping to procure prey [see Descent, 2d ed., pp. 542–3].

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Stephen (Henry) Reeks
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 88: 105
Physical description
11pp †, encl †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8703,” accessed on 23 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21