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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Ernst Krause   30 June 1877

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. [Bassett. Southampton.]

June 30. 1877

Dear Sir,

I have been much interested by your able argument against the belief that the sense of colour has been recently acquired by man.1 The following observation bears on this subject.

I attended carefully to the mental developement of my young children, & with two or as I believe three of them, soon after they had come to the age when they knew the names of all common objects, I was startled by observing that they seemed quite incapable of affixing the right names to the colours in coloured engravings, although I tried repeatedly to teach them. I distinctly remember declaring that they were colour blind, but this afterwards proved a groundless fear. On communicating this fact to another person he told me that he had observed a nearly similar case. Therefore the difficulty which young children experience either in distinguishing, or more probably in naming colours, seems to deserve further investigation. I will add that it formerly appeared to me that the gustatory sense, at least in the case of my own infants & very young children, differed from that of grown-up persons: this was shown by their not disliking rhubarb mixed with a little sugar & milk, which is to us abominably nauseous, & in their strong taste for the sourest & most austere fruits such as unripe gooseberries & crab-apples2

Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Charles Darwin


In the June 1877 issue of Kosmos, Krause argued that colour sense had developed in the animal kingdom at an early stage of evolutionary history, and therefore all human groups had the same physiology of colour perception. The lack of expressions for colour in ancient and primitive languages, he suggested, was due to linguistic deficiencies (Krause 1877a). Krause’s article was a review of Hugo Magnus’s Die geschichtliche Entwickelung des Farbensinnes (The historical development of colour perception; Magnus 1877a). CD’s copies of Kosmos are in the unbound journal collection in the Darwin Library–CUL; his copy of Krause 1877a contains scoring and underlining. For more on the German debate about the evolution of colour vision and colour language, see Krause 1877b, MacLaury et al. eds. 2007, pp. 107–21, and Sanders ed. 2007.
CD’s notebook of observations of his children (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix III) does not contain information on the development of colour sense or the sense of taste.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.


CD interested in EK’s argument against belief that sense of colour has been recently acquired by man. Describes his observations of the difficulty his own children had in distinguishing, or naming, colours.

Adds that it appeared to him the gustatory sense of his children, when young, differed from that of grown-up persons.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Ernst Ludwig (Ernst) Krause
Sent from
Bassett Down letterhead
Source of text
The Huntington Library (HM 36173)
Physical description
LS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11023,” accessed on 1 June 2023,