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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   3 September 1870

Conservative Club | St. James’ Street

Seper. 3. ’70

My dear Sir

I have been back a fortnight & shd. have written to you before, but have been much out of sorts. I was disappointed of a passage up the Niger.1 The trading steamers would take no passengers suddenly smitten with the brilliant idea of the Phenicians & medieval Portugese &c—& are trying to keep their trade in the dark.2 Not good policy nowadays.

I have seen several albinoes in Africa but have never detected a blush. In fact one avoids these disagreeable objects.

I have often thought I have observed a kind of brown flush in the negro cheek— A German missionary declared to me he had seen a dark mahogany coloured blush— Bates3 a better observer than the missionary or myself said the same to me the other day.

I am also almost positive that on that part of the cheek where colour is most abundant with us who have colour there is a glowing brown tint in most negroes especially in children corresponding to it. The neck especially the nape appears more pigmentary than the face. I shd. like this to be investigated by an experienced observer. I mistrust my own eye.

I cd. have answered your inquiry about the chimpanzee a few months earlier.4 My friend Heddle at Sa. Leone had a tame one—5 I have not see one since. I think chimpanzees often come to Liverpool, live a short time but die before they can be taken to London. Liverpool is the African port & if you have a correspondent there he wd. be the best person to look out & observe for you. There is no one on that wretched coast who can be relied on in such matters— Trade & red tape & a low form of Christianity—such are the elements of West African Society.6

I hope that you will continue to honour me with further inquiries. I have amassed much new material any of which is at your disposal for any fact gathered by me & used by you will acquire a special value on that account. So my offer is perfectly selfish.

Will you allow me to offer one objection to your belief (if I understand it right) that there is no natural standard of beauty?7 How is it that the Africans men & women always admire long hair? I can positively assert that they do so. Both sexes wear false hair: & they say on the Gold Coast the Europeans would be good looking if they had better teeth; but their hair is beautifully long.8 I also know an instance of a young Mandingo9 having fallen in love with a European lady in Sa Leone.

Yours very truly | Winwood Reade

CD annotations

1.1 I have … objects. 2.2] crossed pencil
2.1 I have … objects. 2.2] double scored pencil
5.1 I cd.... Society. 5.7] crossed pencil
7.4 & they say … long. 7.5] triple scored pencil; ‘Length of Hair)’ added pencil
Top of letter: ‘Negros blushing.’ pencil


Reade had just returned from an expedition to Africa. He had hoped to discover the source of the Niger river (see letter from W. W. Reade, 24 April 1870, and Driver 2001, pp. 103–6).
Phoenicia was an ancient region, situated along the Mediterranean in what is now Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Palestine; it was known for its thriving maritime trade, as was Portugal (EB (1970)).
Henry Walter Bates.
Reade stayed with Charles Heddle in Sierra Leone (see Correspondence vol. 17, letter from W. W. Reade, 28 June [1869]).
For more on Reade’s views of African society, see Reade 1873.
CD had alluded to different standards of beauty in his letter to W. W. Reade, 21 May [1868] (Correspondence vol. 16).
CD cited Reade’s views on the similarity between European and African standards of beauty in Descent 2: 350.
The Mandingo (also known as Mandinka or Malinke) are an ethnic group in west Africa.


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

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

Driver, Felix. 2001. Geography militant: cultures of exploration and empire. Oxford: Blackwell.

EB (1970): Encyclopaedia Britannica. 24 vols. Chicago and London: Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1970.

Reade, William Winwood. 1873. The African sketch-book. 2 vols. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.


Could not go up the Niger, as trading steamers are trying to keep their trade in the dark.

Has seen several albinos, but no blushing. Thinks blacks do blush.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Conservative Club, London, St James’ St
Source of text
DAR 176: 39
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7315,” accessed on 13 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18