skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Andrew Smith   [November? 1862]1

last seven months more than usually out of order   in fact I was regarded by my medical attendants at one time as in sate of great danger—. violent rheumatic fever extending to the Heart was the illness and I dare say you will ere this have noticed from my writing that my fingers are not yet as they were before the attack.

I have just finished reading your most interesting volumes on the Orchids2   how you must have laboured— you will leave a name for yourself which were be named with admiration long after you and I shall have ceased to exist   I think you will give me credit for wishing you every good thing to which a person with claims such as you have may fairly expect.

My own health does not enable me to do much   still I go on amusing myself principally in enquiries about the natives of South Africa, their languages &c. also in endeavouring to trace if any connection between them and the population of Northern Africa is to found.3 I think I have made out some points of interest but the whole subject is one of such difficulty that I almost despair of any ones being able to ascertain how far the various tribes are related to each other.

With reference to a question of yours I do not recollect having seen that the natives of Australia in times of scarcety eat of the vegetable production natives of the soil, but I have no doubt they do   in fact all people who do not cultive the ground for their food trust not a little to what nature offers them.— the Bushmen when the young bulbs of a certain Gladiolus are in force and the larva of ants in season get quite independent & even fat. the whole year round these wild Hottentots have roots &. on which they depend for a portion of their diet4

I am | My Dear Darwin | Yours most faithfully | Andrew Smith


Dated by the reference to CD’s work on cultivated plants (see n. 4, below).
Orchids was offered for sale on 15 May 1862 (Freeman 1977, p. 112).
Smith, formerly superintendent and director-general of the Army Medical Department, retired in 1858 because of ill health. He served in South Africa between 1821 and 1837 and wrote many papers on the origin and history of bushmen (DNB).
Between 7 October and 11 December 1862, CD prepared a draft of the part of Variation dealing with ‘Facts of variation of Plants’ (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)); in the introduction to the section, he included ‘a few general remarks on the origin of cultivated plants’ (Variation 1: 306–12. CD countered the arguments of some botanists that for cultivated plants like cereals to have been ‘noticed and valued as objects of food’, their original state must have closely resembled their present one; he pointed to ‘the many accounts given by travellers of the wretched food collected by savages’, and cited Smith on the consumption by the natives of South Africa of roots, leaves, and other sources of meagre nutrition during times of scarcity or famine (Variation 1: 307–8). CD made a related inquiry in his letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 November [1862].


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

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

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


AS has been seriously ill with rheumatic fever.

Is studying the natives of South Africa to see whether he can trace any connection between them and the populations of North Africa.

Letter details

Letter no.
Andrew Smith
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 184
Physical description
ALS 3pp inc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3362,” accessed on 8 December 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10