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Darwin Correspondence Project

To George Maw   4 June [1865]

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

June 4

My dear Sir

The monstrosity of a proboscis-like prolongation of the snout occurs much more frequently as stated by Isidore Geoffroy than with any other animal; & therefore I presume is not rare.1 Should you wish to present the specimen to the Coll. of Surgeons you had better write to enquire whether it wd be acceptable, to—W. H. Flower Esq the Curator who occupies Professor Owen’s former place.2 I have attended a little to the belief of the effects of the imagination of the mother on the offspring, & must believe that the coincidence of the visit of the elephant & the birth of the monster was a simple accident.3

If you can find organic remains in the beds under the Drift in N. Wales, you will make a very interesting discovery.4

Pray excuse brevity as I am far from well5 & believe me my dear Sir | yours sincerely. | Ch. Darwin


Maw had written about a case of animal monstrosity in his letter of 1 June 1865. CD refers to Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and to Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 1836, 3: 353. CD marked the sentence referring to pigs in his copy of the volume and also noted that a trunk was a common aberrant occurrence in pigs. CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 312–14). CD mentioned the frequency of the occurrence of a monstrous proboscis in pigs in Variation 2: 57–8 and cited Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 1836.
William Henry Flower became curator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1861. See also letter from George Maw, 1 June 1865, n. 5.
See letter from George Maw, 1 June 1865 and n. 6. In 1842, CD had visited many locations in north Wales and had written on the evidence of ancient glaciers there (‘Ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire’). In a chapter written for a scientific manual, CD had emphasised the importance of using fossil remains to determine the age of geological deposits (Herschel ed. 1851).
Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) records CD’s health on 4 June 1865 as ‘languid and uncomf all day slight sick.’ See also letter to [Richard Kippist], 4 June [1865] and n. 4.


Believes GM’s reported monstrosity is not rare. Does not believe it resulted from the effect of the imagination of the mother on her offspring.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Maw
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Horticultural Society, Lindley Library (MAW/1/12)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4853,” accessed on 21 August 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13