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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Thomas Bridges?   14 July [1868–70?]1

July | 14thsome text

Charles Darwin Esqr | Down. Bromley. Kent


I hope you will pardon my intruding on your fully occupied time in the hope of obtaining the solution of a question which has often puzzled me.

What prompts dogs of all kinds to roll themselves on decayed animal matter? is it an act〈u〉al present gratification or an in an inherited habit. Dog〈s〉 have been my daily compan〈ion〉s for years & they have all done whatever their bringing up has been, but the most 〈 23 line missing〉 in this 〈 23 line missing〉 known is 〈 23 line missing〉 poodle which we 〈have〉 had f〈rom〉 puppyhood & he 〈if〉 he can find nothing better will 〈ro〉ll himself on a dried up 〈fi〉g as dry as an old board. He cannot do this from any moisture communicated thereby to his own skin or by way of perfuming himself for I examined the thing & it had no smell but he certainly derived pleasure from the operation for on returning to the same spot after a weeks interval, he hunted out his [rollee] & began at once. My setters spaniels & other dogs never miss a chance in this way but 〈 12 line missing〉 poodle is the w〈 12 line missing〉 Foxes have the 〈 12 line missing〉 but prefer 〈    〉 remain 〈  〉 cat to anything else & 〈  〉 travel for miles for the c〈ha〉nce of a roll in these rema〈ins〉.

I do not think that I ev〈er〉 observed dogs follow this habit in China or elsewhere in the East but of this I am not certain.

Pray accept my thanks for the many hours of instructive & most amusing reading your published works have afforded me. & I have the honor to be | Yours faithfully | W Bridges


The date range is conjectured from the nature of Bridges’s enquiry and the publication dates of Variation and Descent. CD discussed the habit of dogs of rolling in carrion in Descent 2: 281; Descent was published in early 1871. Bridges may have surmised that CD would have considered the question after reading the chapter on dogs and cats in Variation 1: 15–48; Variation was published in early 1868. The identity of the author is conjectured from the allusion to residence in China; William Thomas Bridges was a lawyer in Hong Kong from 1851 to 1861 (Endacott 1962).


Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Endacott, George Beer. 1962. A biographical sketch-book of early Hong Kong. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Asks CD what prompts dogs of all kinds to roll themselves in decayed animal matter; inherited habit or immediate gratification?

Letter details

Letter no.
William Thomas Bridges
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 308
Physical description
3pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13782,” accessed on 27 September 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16