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Letter 7216

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

4 June 1870


The Negro’s idea of beauty is the same as white man’s.

Believes the Jollops select for blackness.

Native immunity from coast fever is not complete.

Has found stone instruments.


cre His Excellency | The Administrator | Lagos

June 4th. ’70

My dear Sir

I put my future address above but do not start from here (Accra) tilltomorrow. I came down from the hills yesterday—f1

The other day I took a trip with a German missionary to have a lookat the Volta, wh. is the largest river on the Gold Coast; on taking ourlunch out of a newspaper the word Darwinismus caught my eye. I foundit was an article on a work justifying your theory as regardsscripture much in the style of Asa Gray’s article. The work was Ithink by a Dr. Jäger.f2 But you have doubtless many correspondentsin Germany who keep you au courant with the Darwinian controversy inthat country.

After a series of very cautious inquiries I am able to assert thatthe negro’s idea of beauty is the same as ours, & not exactly oppositeas so many have supposed— I hope to give you details shd yourequire them when I return.—f3 They admire a black skin more thanthe lighter varieties (I do not mean European mixtures but purenative) which are so common here & almost everywhere.f4 But theJollofs are I think without exception of a bottle blackness.— Iformerly ascribed this blackness to the fact that they lived in thehottest part of Western Africa; on the Senegal which borders on theSahara; of course the Sahara itself is hotter: but I was supposingthat the greatest amount of heat with moisture produced the blackskin. Since the black skin is a beauty, however, it is possible thatthe Jollofs in their process of selection, rogued out the reds &yellows.f5 But I have since met with other jet-black tribes. Theyinhabit a country which is swampy & moist in the rainy season, andfebrile: intensely hot in the day. Dr. Wells’ idea is I believepossible; although the immunity of the negroes from coast fever is byno means so complete as is usually supposed.f6

Respecting the thick scull. Children a few days after birth are putbehind their mothers’ backs & exposed bare-headed to the sun. Themortality is great. Would not the children with thick sculls beselected and so on according to your theory? Then the udder-likebreast was I think originally produced by long periods of suckling(usually 3 years) & this once established, the peculiar feature wouldI imagine appear in young women at the suckling period even if theyhad not suckled— The capacity of cows & goats to give more & moremilk as the udder is systematically teased is curious: by milking thegoats twice a day instead of only once the quantity is muchincreased. Among instances of habit you may have noticed the goats’love for any stone log of wood or hillock on wh. he can stand howeverlittle it may be above the level.

I have found stone implements here. My attention was called to theirexistence by a German missionary who said he had sent some to themission house at Basle but had heard nothing concerning them. I sendthem by this mail to the cre. of Mr. Swanzy 122 Cannon StCity. This is his expedition. I write to apprise Huxley D. ForbesBates &c. of the fact.f7 I hope it will be an addition to existingfacts on the Stone Age but am not sufficiently up in the science toknow much about that.

The negroes are also fond of pigeons. I met with them in the houseof a chief who lived interior of Sa. Leonef8 beyond the Niger,almost at the boundaries of the S. Leone trade. The travellers whocome down to S. Leone often buy English fowls to take home to breedfrom. At Falaba I noticed a horse wh. was decidedly above theaverage. said so to the King who replied that the master of the horsewas noted among them for his skill in breeding horses.f9 This I thinkillustrates yr statement chapter 1. p. 36 (edit of ’66)f10 Nopeople cd be more pure of European influences than they are. Thepoverty of the Africans generally prevents them from doing much in theway of rejecting & selecting.

The more I see & hear of these people; the more I am convinced thatthey are acquainted with the principles of breeding. A West Indianemigrated to Akropong where I have be⟨en⟩ staying: the natives afterexamining her toe⟨s⟩ said that she came from their country & this waspartly corroborated by her recollections of the circumstances of hersale & export. This story may be laughed at; but no people cd evenmake such an assertion or dream of making it unless they were in thehabit of closely studying race or rather tribe peculiarities   Thegirls of Croboe near Akropong have a reputation for strength & beauty;when for a certain offence against the laws of their country they arebanished, the Akropong people are delighted to get them to breed from.

I lately read a learned article by Ehrenberg on earth eating in thiscountry.f11 As far as my investigations go, the earths in questionare argillaceous with a pleasant odour & are used by young people as akind of sweetmeat, & by others as a medicine. But the idea of usingearth as a food has not entered their heads here at all events. Healso writes about the famous red sand of the Cape de Verdes.f12Certainly there is abundance of red soil from Sa. Leone downwardsmore than he supposes but would it not require a desert of red sand ⟨to⟩send off such quantities? There is one desert not yet visited;probably a small one: behind Ashanti, & just where geographers usuallyplace the mythical Kong Mountains.f13

The astonishment expression of the hand to the mouth is alsoexpressed in words in Croboe. The man who uses this gesture will say“my mouth cleaves to me” (ie to my hand).f14 I hope to be home nowin a few months, so any other point of inquiry you must please notifyin your next, which ⟨wi⟩ll probably come to hand on my return fromthe Nigerf15

I remain | My dear Sir | yours very truly | Winwood Reade

DAR 176: 38
CD note:



Reade had been staying at a missionary station at Akropong (seeletter from W. W. Reade, [c. 8 or 9 April 1870] and n. 11).
The German missionary has not been identified. The article in thenewspaper was presumably a review of Gustav Jäger’s Die Darwin’scheTheorie und ihre Stellung zur Moral und Religion (Jäger[1869]). See also the letter to Gustav Jäger, 17 February1870. Reade also refers to Gray’s pamphlet, Natural selection notinconsistent with natural theology (A. Gray 1861). For more on Gray’spamphlet, see Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix III.
CD had asked Reade to observe what style of beauty was admired bynatives in his letter of 21 May [1868] (Correspondence vol. 16). CDreported Reade’s views in Descent 2: 350.
CD reported this observation in Descent 2: 346.
The Wolof people (also spelled Ouolof) now live primarily inSenegal, Gambia, and Mauritania (Appiah and Gates eds. 2005, 5:430). On the Wolof’s ‘process of selection’, see Correspondencevol. 17, letter from W. W. Reade, 26 December 1869 and n. 7.
Reade refers to William Charles Wells and Wells 1818. CD discussedthe idea of Wells, and others, that darker skinned peoples were immuneto various fevers, poisons, and parasites in Descent 1:242–6. ‘Coast fever’ is not the cattle disease (East Coast fever),but the illness or illnesses described by CD inDescent 1: 243 as ‘the fatal intermittent fevers thatprevail along, at least, 2600 miles of the shores of Africa, and whichannually cause one-fifth of the white settlers to die, and anotherfifth to return home invalided’.
Reade described and provided a woodcut of some of the stone toolsin Reade 1873, 2: 167–9. Andrew Swanzy, the London-based merchant whosponsored Reade’s 1868 and 1869 expeditions into the Niger region,gave them to the Christy Collection (Reade 1873, 2: 168 n. 1,352–3). Reade also refers to Thomas Henry Huxley, David Forbes, andHenry Walter Bates. John Lubbock described these and other finds inLubbock 1870b; according to his account, the implements, mostly axes,were found at Akropong and Aburi on the Gold Coast (now in Ghana) andat Odumassie on the Volta (Lubbock 1870b, p. xciv). Odumassie was inthe region of modern-day Akuse, Ghana.
Sierra Leone.
The King of Falaba was Manga Sewa. CD cited Reade for this story inVariation 2d ed., 2: 191.
In Origin 4th ed., p. 36, CD discussed ‘unconscious selection’,which he said resulted from ‘every one trying to possess and breed fromthe best individual animals’.
Reade refers to Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg and Ehrenberg 1868.
Cape Verde is an archipelago off the coast of West Africa. SeeEhrenberg 1868, p. 20.
On the mythical Kong mountains, see Bassett and Porter 1991.
CD cited Reade for this information in Expression, p. 289. Theexpression of astonishment was the first asked about in CD’s list ofqueries about expression, which he had sent to Reade with his letterof 21 May [1868] (see Correspondence vol. 16).
Reade did not make another expedition to the Niger; in Reade 1873,2: 509, he explains, ‘commercial jealousy prevented me from obtaininga passage, and my work was therefore left in some degree incomplete’.
The notes are on a slip of paper that was filed with theletter in the archive. The page numbers are references to the pages ofReade’s letter.
In Descent 2: 358, CD commented, ‘negroes fully appreciate theimportance of selection in the breeding of their domestic animals, andI could give from Mr. Reade additional evidence on this head.’ Seealso n. 9, above.
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