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Darwin Correspondence Project

From C. L. Bernays   25 February 1871

St Louis, Missouri, | 1104 Chambers Street.

Febr. 25th. 1871

Dear Sir

In the 1st. volume of your admirable book on the descent of man (American edition, page 237. you speak of the slight but extraordinarily rapid change undergone by European settlers in the United States.1 To the various observations made in this respect I will add one of my own. The immigrants rarely buy ready made clothing, but they have it made to order whenever they can. They do so for various reasons. First, because ordered clothing is better made than that which is purchased in clothing houses. Second, because clothing business is mainly carried on by Jews and the immigrants have a stonger apprehension against dealing with Jews than the native population of Anglo Saxon origin. Third, because they can not be so well fitted in the clothing houses as the older settlers. Ready made clothing is almost exclusively manufactured in the Eastern States, where the Anglo-saxon old immigration predominates. This population generally is taller and thinner and has certainly longer legs and arms than the new comers from Europe. Whatever ready made clothing the new comers purchase in “clothing stores”, they are much too long for them in the sleeves and in the legs and even in the taille, (the waist).

There is no doubt in my mind, that the people of every race, gathering in this country, have a tendency to elongate or become taller and thinner   I, however, do not attribute this circumstance to the climate, but to the ruling capacity of Americans in general, which is their will-power. The immediate tools of the will-power are the legs and arms of men. Whatever they plan, they have to execute it by the aid of their arms and legs. While in older nations, where reason and reflection predominate, the head gets larger, the legs and arms of will-peoples such, as the Americans, become longer. Americans do things first, and they commense by experimenting, and only afterwards they think the matter over. In the third generations the Germans, more than the French, ressemble the native born Americans of Anglosaxon origin and they become just as tall in most cases. In the first generation the difference is visible to every common observer. When the war broke out various regiments of German born in Germany were formed in this city.2 They received federal uniforms, made in Eastern manufactories according to the ordinary American sizes. They looked ridiculously absurd, because the uniforms did not fit one man in a hundred. Afterwards I saw various New England Regiments who had received the same sizes of clothing, and they were as fine looking troops as one could see, because their uniforms fitted them well.

I beg you to receive this note for what it is worth,— I am not a naturalist by profession, but an amateur student of your works, which gave such a wonderful turn to the modern Welt-Anschauung.3 I am of German origin, as the idiomatic expressions in this letter will show you, and use my leisure in keeping up with the progress of sciences. Could I be useful to you in any manner, I beg you to honor me by addressing me precise questions, which I will try to answer faithfully. I have reviewed your book in various newspapers4 and although a work like yours needs no recommendations, I nevertheless believe that my notions are for something in the rapid sale of upwards of 200 copies in this city during the first week after its appearance.

I am, Sir, with great respect and gratitude | your obedient servant | Chs. L. Bernays, Brevet Lt Colonel U.S. on the retired list.

Charles Darwin Esq. | England.

CD note:

‘The only fact good evidence from Col. Bernays from ready made clothing that Americans are elongated in limbs & body— German regiments in 1st generation looked ridiculous.— Certainly this is probable from Goulds Statistics’5 ink


Bernays refers to Descent US ed., which was published on 18 February 1871 (New York Daily Tribune, 18 February 1871, p. 6); in the English first edition, the statement referred to is in Descent 1: 246.
Bernays refers to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 to 1871. Many German immigrants settled in and around St Louis in the 1840s and 1850s (Columbia gazetteer of the world s.v. Missouri).
Welt-Anschauung: world-view.
The newspapers have not been identified, but Bernays worked, at times, for the St Louis Anzeiger des Westens and the Republican (Bernays 1912).
CD cited Benjamin Apthorp Gould’s Investigations in military and anthropological statistics (B. A. Gould 1869) a number of times in Descent.


Bernays, Thekla. 1912. Augustus Charles Bernays: a memoir. St Louis: C. V. Mosby Company.

Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Descent US ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton. 1871.

Gould, Benjamin Apthorp. 1869. Investigations in the military and anthropological statistics of American soldiers. New York: Hurd & Houghton.


Older settlers in U. S. are taller and thinner than recent immigrants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Louis Bernays
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
St Louis, Mo.
Source of text
DAR 90: 18–19
Physical description
2pp, CD note

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7515,” accessed on 13 November 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19