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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. B. D. Mantell   10 April [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

Ap. 10th

My dear Sir

I am very much obliged to for finding time, amidst all your avocations, to answer my questions so fully.—

With regard to the erratic blocks, the most suspicious circumstance in regard to their truly erratic character, is, as it strikes me, their all consisting of the quartz rock.— Generally, but certainly not always, one finds several kinds of rock; nor do I quite understand that you are sure that they are separate fragments, & not rock in situ peeping out. Did Mr Harris refer to them as loose or separate blocks?2 if so I shd. think the evidence was in favour of their belonging to the so-called erratic class.—3

Perhaps when you send me the iceberg sketch, you will answer this about Mr. Harris.—

If I have not utterly exhausted your patience, I shd be particularly obliged if you would inform me whether you think the evidence is really good that there formerly existed some animal (with hair?) like an otter or Beaver: I am much surprised at this. Could it not have been any water bird or reptile?4

Lastly, I fear you cannot answer my question whether the beau ideal of beauty amongst the less civilised natives (ie those least influenced by being accustomed to European faces) would agree with ours; viz whether we & they would pick out the same kind of beauty.—5 Forgive me if you can, & believe me,

Your’s truly obliged | Charles Darwin


See letter to W. B. D. Mantell, 3 April [1856], n. 1, for the basis of the date.
Before the arrival of Polynesian settlers, the only native land mammals in New Zealand were two species of bats (Encyclopedia of New Zealand 2: 380).
CD wanted to compare the criteria affecting selection of mates among different species (see also letter from C. J. Andersson, [6 April 1856]). In Descent 2: 369, he wrote: ‘Until recently, as I hear from Mr. Mantell, almost every girl in New Zealand, who was pretty, or promised to be pretty, was tapu to some chief.’ ‘Tapu’ is a Maori variant of taboo, meaning set apart for a special use or purpose or restricted to the use of a god or chief (OED).


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

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Thanks WBDM for his reply [missing] to CD’s previous letter [1603].

Asks for more details on the erratic blocks.

Asks also if there is good evidence that there formerly existed [in New Zealand] some animal with hair, like an otter or beaver.

Finally, do the uncivilised natives have the same ideal of [human] beauty as Europeans?

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Walter Baldock Durrant Mantell
Sent from
Source of text
Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand (Mantell papers, MS-Papers-0083-268)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1663,” accessed on 13 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6