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Darwin Correspondence Project


To H. W. Bates   13 January [1862]1

Down Bromley Kent

Jan 13th

My dear Sir

I have been very bad for fortnight & could not read your M.S. before today & yesterday.2 It is, in my opinion excellent—style perfect—description first-rate (I quite enjoyed rambling in forests) & good dashes of original reflexions. I must write very briefly.— Remember that large sale of a Book depends much on chance,—on whether public mind occupied—other books coming out &c &c., but I feel assured that your Book will be a permanently good one, & that your friends will always feel a satisfaction at its publication.— I will write when you like to Murray.—3

Could you add a notion by simile to kind of mysterious sounds heard in forest? but be vague & very brief in any simile.—for description as it now stands is grand.— Did the native look round & shrink or hide when he trembled & heard sound?—4 This is capital.—

Matador very good—5 Better than very good.— at p. 9. ought you not to enlarge one sentence to show why the diversity of classes of Lianas interested you? Is it because as to showing that many Families have thus become modified—something in same way as Marsupials, Edentata, Carnivora, Rodentata, & Quadrumana have here in another manner become “climbers”.—6

How are moths & sphinxes in Tropics.7 Did you sugar? Is the little Heron insectivorous?8 State somewhere for me, whether any of the Mammals & Birds often & long kept in confinement in native home, breed?9 I like much discussion on Burmeister.10 I like all.— I am very weak & tired.— Do not think you have anything to thank me for— it has been pleasure.— Go on as you have begun & you will surely succeed.—

Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

Hooker is much interested by what I told him about your conclusion of colours. of Butterflies & Tropics.11

M.S. returned by the Post.


The year is established by the relationship to the letters from H. W. Bates, 6 January 1862 and 11 January 1862.
CD was reading the manuscript of the second chapter of Bates’s book The naturalist on the River Amazons (Bates 1863; see letters from H. W. Bates, 6 January 1862 and 11 January 1862).
CD had offered to write to his publisher, John Murray, on Bates’s behalf (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to H. W. Bates, 25 September [1861]).
In the published version of the passage to which CD refers (Bates 1863, 1: 72–3), Bates compared a sound he sometimes heard in the Brazilian forest with ‘the clang of an iron bar against a hard, hollow tree’. He described the mythical beliefs invoked by the native inhabitants of the forest to account for such sounds, and recounted the reaction to them of a native youth in his service: ‘He would crouch down behind me, and beg of me to turn back’.
In his second chapter, Bates described the Sipó Matador, or ‘Murderer Liana’, a parasitic vine that destroys its host tree as it grows, thus bringing about its own demise (Bates 1863, 1: 53–5).
In the published account (Bates 1863, 1: 49), Bates included the sentence: ‘The number and variety of climbing trees in the Amazon forests are interesting, taken in connection with the fact of the very general tendency of the animals, also, to become climbers.’ CD repeated the analogy in Climbing plants, stating (p. 205): ‘America, which so abounds with arboreal animals, as Mr. Bates remarks, likewise abounds … with climbing plants’.
Bates described the moths found at Pará in his third chapter (Bates 1863, 1: 104–5).
Bates 1863, 1: 82.
In a later chapter (Bates 1863, 1: 191–4), Bates described the absence among Brazilian aborigines of a ‘notion of domesticating animals for use’, and discussed the possible influence on human culture of the ‘presence or absence of domesticable animals in a country’. He noted that while there was ‘no lack in the Amazonian forests of tameable animals’, the animals were ‘useless from not breeding in confinement’. In a section of Variation entitled ‘Sterility from changed conditions of life’, CD discussed the failure of many animals to breed in captivity, even in their native country. Citing the above, he stated: ‘Mr. Bates … strongly insists on similar cases’ (Variation 2: 150, 153, 156; Bates 1863, 1: 99, 2: 113).
Bates had asked CD to comment on his treatment of remarks made by Karl Hermann Konrad Burmeister on the nature of tropical forests (see letter from H. W. Bates, 6 January 1862 and n. 10).
In his book Bates challenged the widely held view that the brilliant colouring of many birds and insects in the tropics was due to the climate (Bates 1863, 1: 21). See also letter from H. W. Bates, 6 January 1862 and nn. 5 and 6. No correspondence between CD and Joseph Dalton Hooker on this point has been found.


Has been in bad health and has just read HWB’s MS in the last two days. Praises the book; assured it will be successful. Offers to write to Murray. Hooker interested in conclusions on colour.

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Bates, H. W.
Sent from
Source of text
Cleveland Health Sciences Library (Robert M. Stecher collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3382,” accessed on 29 August 2016,