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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Robert Swinhoe   [September 1866]1

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Cordial Thanks for so kindly remembering my wish— when I come to subject—Apis Indica—,2 Your kindness will lead you to be glad to hear that my health much improved, though yet far from strong—3 my eternal book, you a copy, if not returned before this date.4 I am delighted to hear that you keep on your zealous love & work for Nat History & British Assoc—5 New discussion—on modification of species

President’s address—6   Hooker capital lecture7—but I hear Wallace’s paper best—8

I wish I could tell you any news, but I have not been in L. since Spring9 & seen nobody socially except Sir J. Lubbock—who was down chiefly comparing his collection to Archaeologs.10

I suppose you see Zoolog Proc—the case of the N American antelopes so intermediate between hollow & solid-horned ruminants, is one of more curious facts I have lately heard with respect to higher animals.—11


The date is established by the reference to the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (see nn. 5–7, below). The draft was written on the back of Swinhoe’s letter to CD of 28 March 1866.
CD had recently told his cousin William Darwin Fox that he attributed his improved health to the diet and exercise recommended by his doctor (see letter to W. D. Fox, 24 August [1866]). He had started riding for exercise on 4 June 1866 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
CD began work on Variation in 1860; he had been unable to complete it because of long intervals of poor health and numerous interruptions revising or writing other works (see letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 16 January [1866] and n. 1). Variation was not published until 1868. Presumably CD planned to send a copy of Variation to Swinhoe in China if he had not returned to England before the book appeared.
Swinhoe had been a member of the British Association since 1863 and had presented a paper at the 1865 meeting (Swinhoe 1865).
The annual meeting of the British Association took place in Nottingham from 22 to 30 August 1866 (Athenæum, 11 August 1866, p. 161). In his presidential address, William Robert Grove had discussed CD’s theory of the transmutation of species and recent work in the field (W. R. Grove 1866). For CD’s reaction to the address, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 August [1866] and n. 6.
On 27 August 1866, Joseph Dalton Hooker gave an evening lecture on insular flora at the British Association meeting (J. D. Hooker 1866a; see letter from J. D. Hooker, [28 August] 1866 and n. 3).
Alfred Russel Wallace presented a paper, ‘On reversed sexual characters in a butterfly, and their interpretation on the theory of modifications and adaptive mimicry (illustrated by specimens)’, at the British Association meeting on 27 August 1866 (A. R. Wallace 1866a; see also A. R. Wallace 1866b). An abstract, including a report of related discussion, appeared in the Athenæum, 8 September 1866, p. 309, and the paper was also reported in the Reader, 6 October 1866, p. 847; see also C. H. Smith ed. 1991, p. 485. Earlier, Hooker told CD that he had recommended Wallace’s research on Malayan butterflies to Grove as among the work providing the best evidence for the transmutation theory (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 29 May 1866 and n. 6; see also W. R. Grove 1866, p. lxxiv).
The Darwins were in London from 21 April to 1 May 1866 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Over the preceding five years, John Lubbock, CD’s neighbour, had made several trips to sites of archaeological interest in Denmark, Switzerland, France, and Scotland and had written a book in which he summarised recent archaeological evidence for the antiquity of the human race (Lubbock 1865). Lubbock evidently had a large collection of specimens. While he was on an expedition to France, Ellen Frances Lubbock noted that he said that they ‘filled two carriages in one day’ with flints (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from E. F. Lubbock, [27 August – 1 September 1865]; see also Hutchinson 1914, 1: 135–6).
CD refers to a paper in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London in which the author claimed that, contrary to the then prevalent view that the prongbuck (Antilocapra americana) had permanent horns, the horns were shed annually (Canfield 1866, p. 108; CD’s lightly annotated copy is in the collection of unbound journals, Darwin Library–CUL). Hollow-horned ruminants like antelope have horns made of a permanent bony inner layer covered with an outer layer of keratin, which are never shed. Solid-horned ruminants like deer have antlers made entirely of bone and shed their horns annually. The prongbuck, now more commonly known as the pronghorn, is not a true antelope but is the only member of a separate family, Antilocapridae. Its horns are like those of antelope in that they consist of a keratinous sheath over a bony inner layer, but differ because the sheath is shed periodically. (Nowak 1999.)


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

Canfield, Colbert A. 1866. On the habits of the prongbuck (Antilocapra americana), and the periodical shedding of its horns. [Read 27 February 1866.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1866): 105–10.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Grove, William Robert. 1866. Address of the president. Report of the thirty-sixth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Nottingham, pp. liii–lxxxii.

Hutchinson, Horace Gordon. 1914. Life of Sir John Lubbock, Lord Avebury. 2 vols. London: Macmillan.

Nowak, Ronald M. 1999. Walker’s mammals of the world. 6th edition. 2 vols. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Swinhoe, Robert. 1865. Notes on the aborigines of Formosa. Report of the thirty- fifth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Birmingham, Transactions of the sections, pp. 129–30.

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


Hooker’s lecture to BAAS ["Insular floras"] was capital,

but hears Wallace’s paper [Address to Anthropology Section, Rep. BAAS 36 (1866): 93–4] was best.

Pleased RS continues zealous work for natural history.

CD considers the report that N. American antelopes’ horns are intermediate between hollow and solid horns of ruminants to be one of the more curious facts he has lately heard of with respect to higher animals [C. A. Canfield, "On the habits of the prongbuck", Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. (1866): 105–11].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Robert Swinhoe
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 329r
Physical description
Adraft 2pp (on 5041)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5202,” accessed on 20 January 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14