From William Winwood Reade [c. 8 or 9 April 1870]1
Swanzy’s Factory | Accra | West Coast of Africa
My dear Sir
I read your last letter with very great pleasure. I should consider a letter from Darwin a treat anywhere—how much more so out here!2
Alex Agassiz has the reputation in the U.S. of being a patient & earnest investigator.3 I knew he differed from his father who has a perfect right to believe in the immutability of species but who has no right (scientifically speaking) to say “we are the children of God not the children of monkeys”, & other such catch-penny or catch-parson statements.4 I am pleased & surprised he has written something contrary to his previously expressed opinions.5 To tell the truth I feared he was not honest enough, & brave enough to change his assertions even if he changed his opinions. What is a naturalist if he is not sincere? Sincerity is to him what faith hope & charity are to the religieux; if he shows a deficiency in that the most splendid talents can scarcely save him from contempt.
I thought you wd like the Jollof instance—6 I need scarcely say that anything I write to you is fully at your disposal. My only fear is that I cannot send you anything worth having—
The hand to mouth expression of astonishment I am told is common on the coast. 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 the act of blowing.7
I discovered a small fly in the Niger country (ie near Kankan)8 which makes honey in holes of trees. It does not sting. I found a nest & identified the species, specimens of which I sent to Mr. Swanzy of 122 Cannon St. E.C.9 I also sent an insect which carries a load of rubbish on its back perhaps to imitate dead leaves. Perhaps Bates can tell you something about these insects if they are worth inquiring about, for he knows Swanzy & I have asked him to look at them.10 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.11 I shall moreover be among Europeans who really live among the natives, speak their language & know something of their inner life. In this country the traveller gets little profit from the experience of residents. Most men come out for a few years; & those who do spend their lives here are usually traders who take no interest in anything but trade. As regards natural history there is not to my knowledge an observer on the coast, except perhaps the present Governor of the Gold Coast who has little time for science—if indeed he can boast of anything beyond a taste for it.12 Since the days of Adanson naturalists (especially in his branch) have come out from time to time—13 I see you gleaned one fact of importance from Mann’s energetic researches.14 Do you know if Rohlfs15 made any discovery of a scientific nature apart from geography?
I hope to have the pleasure of being personally questioned by you when I return wh. will be probably next autumn.16 In the mean-time any hint as to ethnological inquiry will be welcome to me. I forget whether I told you that I had seen a blue-eyed negress (not an albino nor cd. she have had European blood) in the interior.17 This instance I believe stands alone. I hope you will not delay your work too long.18 The best way & the surest to get information upon the points which are detaining you is I imagine to publish; facts will then stream in you can then add to subsequent editions— I conjecture it is painful to you to put forward anything in an incomplete form; there is a finish about your work in a literary sense which cd hardly I think have been achieved without much pains. But consider your disciples. Your new work will doubtless prove a revelation to many; and will certainly suggest to ethnologists fresh methods of investigation. I know for my own part that it will be a great loss to me not to have seen your book till after I have left my present field to which I shall never return— I shall have spent probably 3 or 4 years in Africa; to spend more would be to enslave myself to one idea. I am beginning to understand this race; that is up to a certain point. The complex man of civilization is quite undecipherable: women & savages are a little easier; & there is less variety among them. But still the laws of 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.
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.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7069,” accessed on 22 February 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-7069