From W. W. Reade 4 June 1870
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) till tomorrow. I came down from the hills yesterday—1
The other day I took a trip with a German missionary to have a look at the Volta, wh. is the largest river on the Gold Coast; on taking our lunch out of a newspaper the word Darwinismus caught my eye. I found it was an article on a work justifying your theory as regards scripture much in the style of Asa Gray’s article. The work was I think by a Dr. Jäger.2 But you have doubtless many correspondents in Germany who keep you au courant with the Darwinian controversy in that country.
After a series of very cautious inquiries I am able to assert that the negro’s idea of beauty is the same as ours, & not exactly opposite as so many have supposed— I hope to give you details shd you require them when I return.—3 They admire a black skin more than the lighter varieties (I do not mean European mixtures but pure native) which are so common here & almost everywhere.4 But the Jollofs are I think without exception of a bottle blackness.— I formerly ascribed this blackness to the fact that they lived in the hottest part of Western Africa; on the Senegal which borders on the Sahara; of course the Sahara itself is hotter: but I was supposing that the greatest amount of heat with moisture produced the black skin. Since the black skin is a beauty, however, it is possible that the Jollofs in their process of selection, rogued out the reds & yellows.5 But I have since met with other jet-black tribes. They inhabit a country which is swampy & moist in the rainy season, and febrile: intensely hot in the day. Dr. Wells’ idea is I believe possible; although the immunity of the negroes from coast fever is by no means so complete as is usually supposed.6
Respecting the thick scull. Children a few days after birth are put behind their mothers’ backs & exposed bare-headed to the sun. The mortality is great. Would not the children with thick sculls be selected and so on according to your theory? Then the udder-like breast was I think originally produced by long periods of suckling (usually 3 years) & this once established, the peculiar feature would I imagine appear in young women at the suckling period even if they had not suckled— The capacity of cows & goats to give more & more milk as the udder is systematically teased is curious: by milking the goats twice a day instead of only once the quantity is much increased. Among instances of habit you may have noticed the goats’ love for any stone log of wood or hillock on wh. he can stand however little it may be above the level.
I have found stone implements here. My attention was called to their existence by a German missionary who said he had sent some to the mission house at Basle but had heard nothing concerning them. I send them by this mail to the cre. of Mr. Swanzy 122 Cannon St City. This is his expedition. I write to apprise Huxley D. Forbes Bates &c. of the fact.7 I hope it will be an addition to existing facts on the Stone Age but am not sufficiently up in the science to know much about that.
The negroes are also fond of pigeons. I met with them in the house of a chief who lived interior of Sa. Leone8 beyond the Niger, almost at the boundaries of the S. Leone trade. The travellers who come down to S. Leone often buy English fowls to take home to breed from. At Falaba I noticed a horse wh. was decidedly above the average. said so to the King who replied that the master of the horse was noted among them for his skill in breeding horses.9 This I think illustrates yr statement chapter 1. p. 36 (edit of ’66)10 No people cd be more pure of European influences than they are. The poverty of the Africans generally prevents them from doing much in the way of rejecting & selecting.
The more I see & hear of these people; the more I am convinced that they are acquainted with the principles of breeding. A West Indian emigrated to Akropong where I have be〈en〉 staying: the natives after examining her toe〈s〉 said that she came from their country & this was partly corroborated by her recollections of the circumstances of her sale & export. This story may be laughed at; but no people cd even make such an assertion or dream of making it unless they were in the habit of closely studying race or rather tribe peculiarities The girls of Croboe near Akropong have a reputation for strength & beauty; when for a certain offence against the laws of their country they are banished, the Akropong people are delighted to get them to breed from.
I lately read a learned article by Ehrenberg on earth eating in this country.11 As far as my investigations go, the earths in question are argillaceous with a pleasant odour & are used by young people as a kind of sweetmeat, & by others as a medicine. But the idea of using earth as a food has not entered their heads here at all events. He also writes about the famous red sand of the Cape de Verdes.12 Certainly there is abundance of red soil from Sa. Leone downwards more 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 usually place the mythical Kong Mountains.13
The astonishment expression of the hand to the mouth is also expressed in words in Croboe. The man who uses this gesture will say “my mouth cleaves to me” (ie to my hand).14 I hope to be home now in a few months, so any other point of inquiry you must please notify in your next, which 〈wi〉ll probably come to hand on my return from the Niger15
I remain | My dear Sir | yours very truly | Winwood Reade
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.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7216,” accessed on 23 January 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-7216