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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Arthur Nicols   8 December 1875

11. Church Row | Hampstead | N.W

Decr. 8th. 75.

Dear Sir.

Many thanks for your sympathy.1 If I am ever able to do anything it will be greatly owing to the encouragement you have given me.

Do not trouble yourself about the notes on the sense of smell in cats if they do not come to hand easily.2 I remember perfectly the details of the experiment but am not quite certain that I remember the results with absolute fidelity. I will however procure a couple of kittens and bring them up myself, so that I shall be familiar with any peculiarities of disposition or habit which might import an element of doubt or error into the experiments and repeat the trial of the sense of smell in two or three different ways.

I sent you the notes about March 20 1873, as I know from the date of your letter in answer to mine.3

You make no remark upon the case of the rats gnawing through the leaden pipe to get at the water, so I suppose you overlooked it: or it may be familiar to you.4

It seems to me to be a very intelligent act: for as in my experience rats never make an experimental hole or waste their energies in any way (I have observed their habits rather carefully during several very long voyages) I think they must have discovered the existence of water in the pipe: but how I cannot conceive. I can easily understand that on board ship they may be led to the knowledge that a cask contains water from the accidental leakage of one and then generalize about others.

I am Dear Sir. | Yours faithfully | Arthur Nicols

Chas Darwin Esq F.R.S etc


CD’s letter has not been found.
Nicols had suggested that the sense of smell was less developed in cats than in dogs on the basis of their ability to find food in a darkened room (see Correspondence vol. 21, letter from Arthur Nicols, [before 20 March 1873]).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.


He will repeat his experiments on the cat’s sense of smell.

The intelligence of rats is shown by their gnawing through lead pipes to find water.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Arthur (Arthur) Nicols
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 172: 64
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10290,” accessed on 23 February 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23