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Letter 7069

Reade, W. W. to Darwin, C. R.

[c. 8 or 9 Apr 1870]


Brief observations on expression in Africa.

Alexander Agassiz is a good investigator, who differs with his father on evolution.

The behaviour of women and savages is a little easier to understand than that of civilised men.


Swanzy’s Factory | Accra | West Coast of Africa

My dear Sir

I read your last letter with very great pleasure. I should considera letter from Darwin a treat anywhere—how much more so out here!f2

Alex Agassiz has the reputation in the U.S. of being a patient &earnest investigator.f3 I knew he differed from his father who has aperfect right to believe in the immutability of species but who has noright (scientifically speaking) to say “we are the children of Godnot the children of monkeys”, & other such catch-penny orcatch-parson statements.f4 I am pleased & surprised he has writtensomething contrary to his previously expressed opinions.f5 To tellthe truth I feared he was not honest enough, & brave enough to changehis assertions even if he changed his opinions. What is a naturalistif he is not sincere? Sincerity is to him what faith hope & charityare to the religieux; if he shows a deficiency in that the mostsplendid talents can scarcely save him from contempt.

I thought you wd like the Jollof instance—f6 I need scarcelysay that anything I write to you is fully at your disposal. My only fearis that I cannot send you anything worth having—

The hand to mouth expression of astonishment I am told is common on thecoast. I made a statement about a girl in her presence wh. I knew wd.excite her astonishment & watched her face. She protruded her lips(much in that curious manner in wh. the chimpanzee does) as if in theact of blowing.f7

I discovered a small fly in the Niger country (ie near Kankan)f8 which makeshoney in holes of trees. It does not sting. I found a nest & identifiedthe species, specimens of which I sent to Mr. Swanzy of 122 Cannon St.E.C.f9 I also sent an insect which carries a load of rubbish on its backperhaps to imitate dead leaves. Perhaps Bates can tell you something aboutthese insects if they are worth inquiring about, for he knows Swanzy &I have asked him to look at them.f10 I am ignorant of things entomological.

I am going tomorrow to a German mission station 1500 ft above sea-level.There I shall stay for some weeks & recruit.f11 I shall moreover be amongEuropeans who really live among the natives, speak their language& know something of their inner life. In this country the travellergets little profit from the experience of residents. Most men come outfor a few years; & those who do spend their lives here are usuallytraders who take no interest in anything but trade. As regards naturalhistory there is not to my knowledge an observer on the coast, exceptperhaps the present Governor of the Gold Coast who has little timefor science—if indeed he can boast of anything beyond a taste forit.f12 Since the days of Adanson naturalists (especially in his branch) havecome out from time to time—f13 I see you gleaned one fact of importance from Mann’s energeticresearches.f14 Do you know if Rohlfsf15 made any discovery of a scientificnature apart from geography?

I hope to have the pleasure of being personally questioned byyou when I return wh. will be probably next autumn.f16 In the mean-timeany hint as to ethnological inquiry will be welcome to me. I forgetwhether I told you that I had seen a blue-eyed negress (not analbino nor cd. she have had European blood) in the interior.f17 Thisinstance I believe stands alone. I hope you will not delay yourwork too long.f18 The best way & the surest to get information upon thepoints which are detaining you is I imagine to publish; facts will thenstream in you can then add to subsequent editions— I conjecture it ispainful to you to put forward anything in an incomplete form; there isa finish about your work in a literary sense which cd hardly Ithink have been achieved without much pains. But consider your disciples.Your new work will doubtless prove a revelation to many; and will certainlysuggest to ethnologists fresh methods of investigation. I know for my ownpart that it will be a great loss to me not to haveseen your book till after I have left my present field to which I shallnever return— I shall have spent probably 312 or 4 years in Africa; tospend more would be to enslave myself to one idea. I am beginning tounderstand this race; that is up to a certain point. The complexman of civilization is quite undecipherable: women & savages are alittle easier; & there is less variety among them. But still the lawsof human nature are difficult to get at, even in their simplest form

Hoping to hear from you soon | I remain | Yours truly | Winwood Reade

The above address will find me.

DAR 176: 36


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