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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. M. Moorsom   10 September 1877


Sep: 10/77

Dear Sir,

In the Descent of Man Edition 1875 page 7. you give several instances of a taste for spirituous liquors among the lower animals. It would seem however that when once made thoroughly intoxicated the relish for these liquors is replaced by disgust for the future—1

Have you ever known a case in which one of the lower animals in a perfectly wild state and apparently otherwise healthy has displayed a taste for any article of food or drink by which it has become intoxicated more than once— I remember to have read in a Hunters book on South Africa published some 4 years ago, that there is a plant in South Africa of which the elephants are passionately fond and by eating which they are made quite drunk; that when in this state they are much feared by the native hunters, but the writer asserted that he had found them less dangerous when in this state than when sober, for though very quarrelsome & ready to attack they had not all their wits about them—2

If this be a fact it is, I think, confirmatory of the idea that the passion for intoxicating drink which so many men exhibit is in many cases purely physical & to be encountered by physical rather than other remedies— As such the fact if it be one would be of value to those interested in temperance reform— I hope you will pardon my intrusion upon you, my only excuse is that I am unable to find any more instances of the kind mentioned by the S. African hunter, and that you are the person in all England most likely to know such facts if they have really any existence—

If you are good enough to reply to me, I shall esteem it a great favour; if you are unable to throw any further light on the matter, I hope you will not trouble to reply at all, as I have no wish to occupy your time needlessly—

Yours truly | W M Moorsom | B.A. Trin: Coll: Cambridge | Engineer | Hon Treasurer Church of England Temperance Socy. | Whitehaven

C. Darwin Esqre | F.R.S. & & &


In Descent 2d ed., p. 7, published in 1874, CD gave accounts of a baboon and a spider monkey refusing alcohol after apparently getting drunk.
William Henry Drummond described elephants becoming intoxicated after eating the fruit of the Southern African umganu or marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea) in Drummond 1875, pp. 213–14. See letter from W. M. Moorsom, 28 October 1877, and enclosure.


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Drummond, William Henry. 1875. The large game and natural history of South and South-East Africa. From the journals of the Hon. W. H. Drummond. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas.


In Descent [1: 12] CD discusses intoxication among animals. South African elephants reportedly eat a plant that makes them wild.

Letter details

Letter no.
Warren Maude Moorsom
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 234
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11132,” accessed on 28 February 2021,