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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Ogle   25 December 1871

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Christmas Day 1871

My dear Dr Ogle,

I have read your paper with the greatest possible interest.1 It strikes me as admirably done, & what labour you have bestowed on your observations. I found an old memorandum the other day written between 30 & 40 years ago; in which I inferred that a young Orang was right handed from the manner in which it transferred a spoon that I had placed in its left hand to the right hand before using it.2 I enclose a few notes, but whether they are worth sending I am doubtful, so do not trouble yourself to acknowledge them

Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S | Your paper is so good it is a thousand pities it shd not be published also in some more popular periodical.—3


My father was lefthanded tho’ none of his children were. My wife is lefthanded & two of our sons are lefthanded. I expected that this wd. be the case, & therefore carefully observed my eldest son in the year 1840 when an infant.4 He is now lefthanded, but not extremely so, yet he plays billiards with his lefthand, but not cricket. Anything new & difficult he does with left-hand. Nevertheless when an infant he appeared to me to be certainly righthanded, as will appear from the following notes which I will copy as written down at the time. As I inferred he was righthanded I did not observe when the lefthanded tendency first shewed itself. The notes are as follows:—

“When exactly 11 weeks old he takes hold of his sucking-bottle with his right hand. This he does whether on the right or left arm of the nurse. He has no notion of clasping the bottle with his left hand, even when it is placed on his body.— (I suppose this means close to his left hand. He has as yet had no practice in using his arms.”

“Three or four days afterwards he used his left hand a little. When 11 weeks & 6 days old he took old of his aunt’s finger and drew it into his mouth.”

“When exactly 12 weeks old and on the following day he clasped his bottle with his left hand just like he did before with his right hand. Therefore his right hand is at least one week in advance of the left. I say at least for I am not quite sure that the first time of using the right hand was observed.”5

These are my notes, & I shd. add that I observed this baby incessantly and I think what I say may be trusted

C. Darwin


In Ogle 1871, Ogle discussed the predominance of right-handedness in humans, monkeys, and parrots, and argued that it was due not to convention or education but to the general predominance of the left hemisphere of the brain, which was itself due to its being better supplied with blood. See also letter to William Ogle, 21 December [1871].
The memorandum has not been found. CD had made observations of the orang-utans Jenny and Tommy in the Zoological Gardens of London in 1838 (see Notebooks, Notebook M, 137–40, and R. Keynes 2001, pp. 45–6).
Ogle’s paper appeared in the Transactions of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society.
Robert Waring Darwin had five children besides CD: Marianne Parker, Caroline Sarah Wedgwood, Susan Elizabeth Darwin, Erasmus Alvey Darwin, and Emily Catherine Darwin. CD’s eldest son was William Erasmus Darwin; the other left-handed son has not been identified.
The quotations are from CD’s observations on his children (DAR 210.17: 5, 8; see also Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix III). CD has added, ‘(I suppose this means close to his left hand’, and altered ‘Catherine’s’ in the original text to ‘his aunt’s’ in the quotation; the reference is to Emily Catherine Darwin.


Sends notes on left- and right-handedness from observations made on his eldest son as an infant.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Ogle
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.5: 13 (EH 88205911)
Physical description
3pp,memS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8120,” accessed on 23 June 2017,

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