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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henrietta Emma Darwin1   [29 October 1862]

My cat Greysy deserted her 2nd kitten Bullsig when it was a month old, I suppose because she had no milk, as it was always thin & she neglected it so that we heard its remarkably loud mews from the cellar over the house. Bullsig always wished to play with his mother whilst she hated & repulsed him; till the night before her confinement when she let him get into the basket prepared for her & touzle her as much as he liked, though he didn’t try to suck her. We saved the kitten she had next day & ever after he used to suck her & stay in the basket at the same time with his younger brother. She was now a very good mother, & kept them very fat.—

My kitten Miss Legge I took from its mother when she was a month old & cd not eat meat, so that it was a great deprivation. At Hartfield where we were,2 there was an old cat & kittens & about 2 days after we got there she adopted this cat & sucked it with the others. She had this mother for a fortnight & then nearly 3 weeks interval till we came to Shanklin where there were two old cats giving milk & 3 kittens.3 She took to both these cats & played with the kittens. One day I observed her snowzling in the stomach of the kittens, & constantly beginning to purr as soon as she thought she had found the tit. She did not leave off till its whole stomach was quite wet.—

our Ilkley4 cat used to suck its own stomach when it was happy just like a child does its thumb. It did it a great part of the day, & used to purr over it as if it was so good.—

CD annotations

2.8 She … quite wet.— 2.9] ‘Strong experience affecting sucking instinct’ pencil
Top of letter: ‘Henrietta on Cats.— | Oct. 29/62/’ pencil


CD’s annotations suggest that Henrietta’s account of these incidents was intended as possible evidence for a planned treatment of instinct; however, her testimony on these points was not referred to by CD in any publication. In her manuscript autobiography (DAR 246: 11–12), Henrietta recalled that, as a child, she would sit ‘for long hours’ watching her cats, and ‘sympathising with the cat’s admiration of her kittens’.
Henrietta refers to the period from 2 to 16 July 1858 when the Darwin children stayed at The Ridge in Hartfield, Sussex, the home of their aunt, Sarah Elizabeth Wedgwood (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242); see also n. 3, below).
The Darwins were on holiday in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight from 27 July to 13 August 1858 (see Correspondence vol. 7, Appendix II).
The Darwins stayed in Ilkley, Yorkshire, in 1859 (see Correspondence vol. 7, Appendix II).


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


Instinct in cats.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henrietta Emma Darwin/Henrietta Emma Litchfield
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 68
Physical description
Amem 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3787,” accessed on 23 May 2024,

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