skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   6 November 1870

11 St Mary Abbot’s Terrace | Kensington

Nov. 6. ’70

My dear Sir

I trust you got the note I sent you just after my return in August.1 Will you permit me to congratulate you on having completed a work which must have cost you so much labour? I see it announced.2 I do not know whether you considered the case of “rogueing” among the Jollofs worth quoting.3 If you require independent evidence as to the beauty of that tribe you will find it in Prichard; though he goes too far when he speaks of their European features.4

I am looking forward most eagerly to the appearance of your book because I anticipate that it will suggest points of research. I do not intend to write a narrative of my travels except as part of a work on Africa generally.5 I am ambitious of doing for negro Africa what Tennent has done for Ceylon;6 & I intend to read every book of travels relating to W & Central Africa & East Africa. I am now going through the Portuguese authorities. In wading through these chronicles of the old voyagers, which as you are aware, are very rich in detail I might hit upon facts which would be of value to men of science; the danger is that I might pass over some custom or incident insignificant in itself but most important for the solution of a problem with which I am unacquainted. I remember that in the Origin of Species you allude to something wh. you had not met with in the old voyagers, but that you had not completed the examination of them:7 I need scarcely say that if there is any class of facts in relation to savage people of which you require instances I would note them down, as I go on, & send them to you; and I should be very grateful to you for advice of any kind though I appreciate the value of your time, & the immense mass of correspondence which you have to dispose of.

I am | yours very truly | Winwood Reade

I see Forbes in his Aryamese Indians has spoken of natural selection taking place among the infants of the Indians who are exposed to all weathers.8 If you remember I suggested that possibly the thickness of the negro scull mt. be accounted for in that way as the infant is always bareheaded in Africa.9 By the bye the negro does not enjoy perfect immunity from malarious fever. Respecting yellow fever I cannot speak from experience: but I have had my own men, pure negroes, down with fever. It is rather curious though, that both the men who suffered from fever in my expedition were light coloured—as many pure Africans are—and the fact that negroes do suffer from fever more or less might indicate, not that Dr. Wells’ theory was baseless, but that Nat. Sel: is still going on.10 We want, not the mere passing notes of travellers, but a series of medical observations extended over years; but how get them in West Africa?


For an announcement of Descent, see the Academy, 22 October 1870, p. 8.
See letter from W. W. Reade, 4 June 1870 and n. 5. In Descent 2: 357, CD quoted Reade’s account of the Jollofs’ selection of fine-looking slaves.
An annotated copy of the third edition of James Cowles Prichard’s Researches into the physical history of mankind (Prichard 1836–7) is in the Darwin Library–CUL (Marginalia 1: 680–3); see ibid. 2: 78–9 for the comments on the beauty of the ‘Iolofs’, and their similarity to Europeans.
An annotated copy of Reade 1873 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 697–8).
James Emerson Tennent wrote on the natural history and peoples of Ceylon (Sri Lanka); see Tennent 1859 and 1861.
In Origin, p. 393, CD said that he had not found in the oldest voyages an unequivocal instance of a terrestrial mammal (except domesticated ones) inhabiting an island more than 300 miles from an continent or a continental island, but that he had not finished his search. In Origin 5th ed., p. 473, he omitted the phrase about not finishing his search.
See David Forbes’s ‘On the Aymara Indians of Bolivia and Peru’ (Forbes 1870a), p. 224. An inscribed and lightly annotated offprint, with a different pagination, is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
See letter from W. W. Reade, 4 June 1870 and n. 6. Reade refers to William Charles Wells and Wells 1818. Nat. Sel.: natural selection.


W. C. Wells’s theory relating black skin-colour and immunity to malaria may be true. Has seen Negroes come down with fever, but these were generally light in colour.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 40
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7359,” accessed on 25 March 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18