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Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. P. Cobbe   28 November [1872]1

26. Hereford Sq. | S W

My dear Mr Darwin

You will know how pleased & proud your letter has made me.—2 I do not write to draw from you any more words, valuable though they be either as praise or as criticism, but just to say I have sent you the Cornhill just published to shew you another instance of what seems to me genuine superstition in dogs. Of course I rather turned the matter to jest in calling a stump a fetish—but the sentiment of vague awe at the incomprehensible is surely, I think, to be traced both in such freaks of dogs & in the shying of horses; & is very nearly akin to human superstition if not quite the same feeling.3

Your own & your dog’s similar behaviour after the commission of guilt, form delicious counterparts! Do you think the phenomenon can at all explain the exceeding religiosity of a great many arrant moral offenders?

Miss Lloyd entering agrees with you about the suicide of dogs & wished me not to insert the stories in my article—4 I did so in truth only hypothetically. Is there not some sort of radiate creature which casts off its own limbs, and strictly speaking causes its own dissolution when captured?—

I am sorry to hear of Jesse’s untrustworthiness.5 No doubt old stories of natural history are little to be relied on for scientific purposes. They only shew what men then thought their beasts might do—Would that those cruel old Jews had one such anecdote as that of Ulysses’ dog in all their literature6   It would have stopped a thousand Christian atrocities

We have just returned from the zoos where we paid a domiciliary visit to the Chimpanzee in his private study. The poor dear little beast took a fancy to me & stroked my dress & face affectionately. I must say the grasp of his strong warm hand,—gentle and cordial as any human handshaking, was quite awful to me. I should consider it every bit as much murder to kill him as an idiot— The nearer one feels in pity & sympathy to an ape or an idiot the more I think the vague sense presses on us that some positive thing—(a thing we may as well call a “soul” as anything else,—) is missing; & not that it is merely a rudimentary stage of development which we behold— This impression does not come from any theory—indeed it does not fit any theories at all—but it is one which comes to me with very vivid insistence

With many apologies for troubling you with this long letter & with my (very childish) article in the Cornhill, | believe me dear Mr Darwin | most truly yrs | Frances P Cobbe

Nov. 28


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to F. P. Cobbe, 28 November 1872.
In [Cobbe] 1872b, pp. 673–4, Cobbe described Nip, a dog of great physical courage who was nonetheless ‘abjectly superstitious and ready to grovel with terror in the presence of anything inexplicable to her mind’, such as an rubber cushion inflated or deflated in her presence, a monkey skin hung on a wall, or a garden hose. In [Cobbe] 1872a, pp. 437–8, Cobbe had described the behaviour of her own dog towards a stump that she was fearful of until Cobbe beat it (the stump) with her umbrella; Cobbe described the stump as a fetish.
Cobbe refers to Mary Charlotte Lloyd. See letter to F. P. Cobbe, 28 November 1872 and n. 5.
In book 17 of the Odyssey, Odysseus (or Ulysses) returns home after twenty years to find his dog Argos dying on a dung-heap. The dog recognises Odysseus and wags his tail, then dies. Cobbe later wrote, ‘Had it but been recorded of any eminent canonical Prophet or Apostle, as of the virtuous (but alas! apocryphal) Tobit, that he had had a Dog which followed him on his pious journeying, the fate of all the dogs in Christendom would have been improved’ (Cobbe 1889, p. 39).


More stories about dog behaviour.

Letter details

Letter no.
Frances Power Cobbe
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Hereford Square, 26
Source of text
DAR 161: 187
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8653,” accessed on 23 May 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20