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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Alphonse de Candolle1   8 March 1871

Genève

8 Mars 1871.

Mon cher Monsieur

J’ai commencé avec infiniment de plaisir la lecture de votre ouvrage sur l’Homme et ne veux pas tarder davantage à vous remercier de me l’avoir adressé.2 Si je differais je serais trop tenté de vous envoyer des reflexions incidentes que chaque chapitre me fait naitre. Ce serait à n’en pas finir et vous me traiteriez de babillard.

Vogt m’a abordé l’autre jour et m’a demandé quelle est la famille où le cuir chevelu se meut héréditairement depuis si longtemps.3 Pris à l’improviste je n’ai pu que lever mon chapeau et lui montrer le fait sur l’original luimême. Ayant trahi l’incognito avec lui, j’en fais autant avec vous, mais par égard pour mon cousin éloigné qui n’est point naturaliste, je vous prie de ne jamais publier le nom.4

Le sens de l’odorat est bien plus inégal parmi les hommes civilisés que ceux de l’ouie ou de la vue. Comme je l’ai fort développé, j’ai remarqué souvent la quantité d’individus des deux sexes qui en sont comme dépourvus; ce qu’on appelait en vieux francais punais. S’il y a 1 individu Daltonien sur 20 ou 21, je crois que c’est davantage pour les odorats nuls ou indistincts et avec toutes sortes d’imperfections qui n’ont pas été constatées et classées.5 L’impression causée par les odeurs sur les chiens me parait singulière. J’ai un chien bull-terrier qui ne fait aucune attention aux odeurs végétales, même aux plus vives, comme la Rue, le Thym, le céleri, tandis que la moindre odeur animale l’arrête et l’occupe un moment. Est-ce qu’il ne sent pas ce qui est végétal ou que l’idée d’un gibier etant liée à celle d’une odeur animale il aime la retrouver? Je ne sais. Quant aux hommes il est certain qu’on pourrait beaucoup perfectionner ce sens, le seul pour le quel on n’ait rien fait de methodique. Les parfumeurs lancent au nez telle masse d’une odeur, c’est comme si les musiciens se contentaient de vous accabler d’un seul bruit ou les peintres de vous montrer une feuille d’une seule couleur. La succession de certaines odeurs et leur combinaison devraient avoir leur art, comme la musique et la peinture. Je suis persuadé que les odorats fins s’y plaira〈ien〉t. Du reste l’habitude de fumer eteint ce sens. La génération prochaine aura beaucoup moins besoin que nous d’etre propre: elle s’apercevra moins de la saleté. Mr Chevreul a conservé quoique octogénaire, une finesse extrême de vue (pour les nuances de couleur), de goût et d’odorat.6 Il estime le devoir beaucoup à cequil n’a jamais fumé et n’a bu en général que de l’eau. Pour moi qui n’ai jamais pu supporter le tabac et qui pendant 25 ans n’ai bu d’ordinaire que de l’eau (crainte de la goutte paternelle) j’ai eu les mêmes avantages jusqu’a présent. La finesse du goût et de l’odorat est un bénéfice, malgré certaines privations ou desagréments dont on est frappé. Cela permet, par exemple, de fuir les émanations nuisibles de gaz, de miasmes d’égoûts ou d’hopitaux, de refuser les viandes gatées, etc. J’ai vu des ateliers d’ouvriers souffrir de ce que les chefs ne s’apercevaient pas d’un air vicié.

Les calamités de la guerre m’ont empêché de publier le 17ème et dernier volume du Prodromus dont les matériaux se préparent surtout en France.7 Heureusement mes collaborateurs pourront encore consulter l’herbier du Muséum épargné par les bombes de Bismark!8 Avec ce volume seront finies les Dicotyledones et je m’en tiens là. C’est assez que deux générations successives se soient appliquées à une œuvre pareille—véritable série de monographies, dont les premières ont deja beaucoup vieilli.9

Profitant du loisir que cette interruption forcée me donnait je me suis mis à rédiger des mélanges historiques et philosophiques sur divers points des Sciences naturelles. Un de mes articles devra probablement être supprimé d’après certains de vos chapitres sur l’homme ou s’il reste ce ne sera surement pas pour vous contredire mais pour vous appuier.10 Au surplus je n’ai aucun plan pour la publication. Il faut laisser les libraires rentrer dans leurs magasins et se reconnaitre. Il faut donner au public francais le temps de se remettre et voir si les allemands laisseront l’Europe en paix.

Recevez, mon cher Monsieur, l’assurance de mon ancien et sincère dévouement | Alph. de Candolle

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Correspondence vol. 19, Appendix I.
Candolle’s name is on CD’s presentation list for Descent (see Correspondence vol. 19, Appendix IV).
Candolle refers to Carl Vogt and to Descent 1: 20.
In Descent 2d ed., p. 13, CD added a remark on the mobility of the scalp in many monkeys, but did not reveal that the human family that shared the trait was Candolle’s. For Candolle’s earlier correspondence on the mobility of the scalp, see Correspondence vol. 16, letter from Alphonse de Candolle, 2 July 1868 and n. 6.
Daltonism is colour-blindness, especially the inability to distinguish between red and green (OED).
Michel Eugène Chevreul was best known for his colour studies.
The seventeenth and last volume of Prodromus systematis naturalis regni vegetabilis (A. P. de Candolle and Candolle 1824–73) appeared in 1873. Candolle refers to the Franco-Prussian war (see also n. 8, below).
The siege of Paris culminated in a bombardment of the city that began in early January 1871 and lasted until the armistice was signed on 26 January (Wawro 2003, pp. 281–2 and 296). Candolle refers to Otto von Bismarck.
A. P. de Candolle and Candolle 1824–73 was begun by Candolle’s father, Augustin Pyramus de Candolle. Descriptions of individual families (‘Ordines’) were written as monographs by various authors.
Candolle later published Histoire des sciences et des savants depuis deux siècles (A. de Candolle 1873), in which he approached the history of scientific development from a sociological perspective.

Translation

From Alphonse de Candolle1   8 March 1871

Geneva

8 March 1871.

My dear Sir

I have begun reading your work on Man with infinite pleasure and do not want to delay excessively in thanking you for having sent it to me.2 If I were to put it off I should be too tempted to send you the incidental thoughts provoked by each chapter. In that way I should never finish and you would think me a chatterbox.

Vogt stopped me the other day and asked me which was the family whose scalp has possessed hereditary mobility for so long.3 Taken unawares, all I could do was to raise my hat and show him the fact on the original himself. Having betrayed the incognito with him, I shall do the same with you, but out of regard for my distant cousin who is not a naturalist, I beg you never to publish the name.4

The sense of smell is far more variable among civilised men than the senses of hearing or sight. As I have a well-developed one, I have often remarked on the number of individuals of both sexes who are virtually deprived of it; what one used to call in Old French stinkers. If there is one Daltonian individual in 20 or 21, I think there are more with no sense of smell, or a faint one, and with all kinds of imperfections which have not been confirmed and classified.5 The impression made by smells on dogs seems singular to me. I have a bull-terrier who pays no attention at all to plant odours, even the strongest ones, such as Rue, Thyme, or celery, while the least animal odour stops him and occupies him for a moment. Is it that he doesn’t smell that which is of plant origin or that the idea of game is linked to that of an animal odour so that he wants to find it? I don’t know. As for men, it is certain that this sense, the only one on which nothing methodical has been done, could be greatly perfected. Perfumers hurl such a mass of odour at the nose, it is as if musicians were to be satisfied with burdening you with a single noise, or painters with showing you a sheet of a single colour. The sequence of certain odours, and their combination, ought to have their own art, like music and painting. I am persuaded that those with a fine sense of smell would delight in it. Moreover, the habit of smoking stifles this sense. The next generation will have far less need to be clean than ourselves: it will be less aware of dirt. Mr Chevreul, though an octogenarian, has retained extremely sharp sight (for colour nuances), taste and smell.6 He reckons that he owes this largely to having never smoked and to having only drunk water in general. For my part, I have never been able to stand tobacco, and for 25 years I have usually only drunk water (anxiety about paternal gout) and I have had the same advantages up to now. The acuity of taste and smell is an advantage, despite certain privations or disagreements which affect one. It allows one, for example, to escape harmful emanations of gases and miasmata from sewers or hospitals, to refuse spoilt meat, etc. I have seen workshops full of workers suffering because the cooks were not aware of the tainted air.

The disasters of the war have prevented me from publishing the 17th and final volume of the Prodromus, whose materials are mostly being prepared in France.7 Luckily my collaborators can still consult the Muséum’s herbarium, which has been spared by Bismarck’s bombs!8 With this volume the Dicotyledons are complete, and I shall stop there. It’s enough that two successive generations have applied themselves to such a work, a true series of monographs, the earliest of which are already very dated.9

Profiting from the leisure given to me by this forced interruption, I have set myself to writing historical and philosophical miscellanies on various topics of natural science. One of my articles probably ought to be suppressed, given certain of your chapters on man, or if it remains it will surely not be to contradict you but to support you.10 In addition I have no plans at all for publication. It will be necessary to allow the booksellers to return to their shops and get their bearings. It will be necessary to give the French public the time to recover and to see if the Germans will leave Europe in peace.

My dear Sir, please accept the assurances of my old and sincere devotion | Alph. de Candolle

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original French, see pp. 144–6.
Candolle’s name is on CD’s presentation list for Descent (see Correspondence vol. 19, Appendix IV).
Candolle refers to Carl Vogt and to Descent 1: 20.
In Descent 2d ed., p. 13, CD added a remark on the mobility of the scalp in many monkeys, but did not reveal that the human family that shared the trait was Candolle’s. For Candolle’s earlier correspondence on the mobility of the scalp, see Correspondence vol. 16, letter from Alphonse de Candolle, 2 July 1868 and n. 6.
Daltonism is colour-blindness, especially the inability to distinguish between red and green (OED).
Michel Eugène Chevreul was best known for his colour studies.
The seventeenth and last volume of Prodromus systematis naturalis regni vegetabilis (A. P. de Candolle and Candolle 1824–73) appeared in 1873. Candolle refers to the Franco-Prussian war (see also n. 8, below).
The siege of Paris culminated in a bombardment of the city that began in early January 1871 and lasted until the armistice was signed on 26 January (Wawro 2003, pp. 281–2 and 296). Candolle refers to Otto von Bismarck.
A. P. de Candolle and Candolle 1824–73 was begun by Candolle’s father, Augustin Pyramus de Candolle. Descriptions of individual families (‘Ordines’) were written as monographs by various authors.
Candolle later published Histoire des sciences et des savants depuis deux siècles (A. de Candolle 1873), in which he approached the history of scientific development from a sociological perspective.

Summary

Thanks for Descent.

Reveals that it is his own family that has the movable scalp.

The Franco-Prussian war has held up the publication of the 17th and last volume of the Prodromus.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-7557
From
Alphonse de Candolle
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Geneva
Source of text
DAR 161: 16
Physical description
3pp (French)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7557,” accessed on 22 July 2019, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-7557.xml

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

letter