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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Preyer   13 May 1871

[Bassett, Southampton]

May 13. 1871

My dear Sir

I am much obliged for your interesting letter about the human ear.1 I do not know at all what to think about the higher position of the ear in the old Egyptians; but it is evidently a point worth attending to. The astronomer Jansen sent me a message the other day that he had observed something very curious about the ear-lap or ear-lobe (as I understood the message) in some of the native races of India.2 He said he would write to me; and if I hear, I will communicate with you, should the fact prove curious. Could you get any observations made at what period the ear of the human fœtus becomes folded? This seems to be worth enquiry, as in a photo. of an embryonic orang, the ear is pointed, i.e, not folded, like the outline of Rubens’ picture which you sent me.3 I thought Mr. Lankester was in Leipzig, and I sent him my thanks for his last letter through Dr. Nitzsche.4 Please to say to Mr. Lankester that his idea about the ear-lobe and the stretching of the ears by the Botocudos passed through my mind; but I banished it as too bold.5 Lastly be so kind as to thank Prof. Müller for his kind note, and book, which I have no doubt I shall find at home on my return next week.6 I am particularly obliged to him for having marked the passages which more especially concern me.

My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Letter from William Preyer, 8 May 1871.
The French astronomer Pierre Jules César Janssen had visited India in 1868. No correspondence with Janssen has been found.
The photograph of an embryonic orang-utan was sent to CD by Hinrich Nitsche (see 3d enclosure to letter from Hinrich Nitsche, 18 April 1871). CD also refers to Peter Paul Rubens; see letter from William Preyer, 8 May 1871 and n. 8.
See letter to Hinrich Nitsche, 25 April [1871]. Edwin Ray Lankester’s letter of 17 April [1871] had been sent from Leipzig, but Preyer said he was in Jena (letter from William Preyer, 8 May 1871 and n. 9).
See letter from William Preyer, 8 May 1871 and n. 9. CD had described the ears of the ‘Botocudos’ people of South America, enlarged by inserting ornaments in a pierced hole in the lobe, in Descent 2: 341.
CD refers to Wilhelm Müller and to W. Müller 1871.


Obliged for letter about human ear. Comments on ears and on E. R. Lankester’s idea about the ear-lobe.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Thierry (William) Preyer
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 147: 267–8
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7756,” accessed on 16 July 2019,

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