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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. F. H. Elliot to G. H. Darwin   [before 11 March 1873?]1

expression of Emotions in animals” the other day & how certain ideas produce mechanical actions in animals, such as a cat shaking her feet if she was near water though her feet were dry— We were carrying one of our dogs across the river at home sometime ago, directly he got suspended over the water he went through the whole pantomime of swimming though removed considerably above the water.2

The swimming stopped as soon as he was over dry land. I think this as good an instance of the sort as could well be found— I do not know whether you have heard that Balfour3 has not been very well— He & Spencer Lyttelton are [several lines excised] the religious feelings [half a line excised] university. The university ought to be the body to elucidate difficulties, & settle disputes, if religious disputes can be settled at all. I believe the Bill will pass but it is uncertain yet. If it does not I suppose parliament will be dissolved.4

I read the book the review of which you saw—Joshua Davidson. I do not think you would care for it.5 Some people consider it very profane, but I think it is simply very tiresome & like an enormous tract. Religious enthusiasm seems to be at a high pitch in London

CD annotations

1.3 We were … water. 1.5] ‘not known to be inherited’ added pencil
1.5 removed] del pencil; ‘removed’ added pencil
2.2 I do … London 3.4] crossed ink


The date is conjectured from the reference to Expression, which was published in November 1872, from the likelihood that this letter was sent to CD enclosed with a letter from George to Emma Darwin that can be dated to early March 1873 (see n. 2, below), and from the reference to a bill passing through Parliament; the third Irish bill was defeated on 11 March 1873 (see n. 4, below).
CD had given a number of examples of habitual but purposeless movements in animals in Expression, pp. 42–9; a note in the second edition, published by Francis Darwin after CD’s death, refers to Elliot’s letter and his description of the dog (Expression 2d ed., p. 48 n. 20). This letter was probably enclosed with George’s letter to Emma of [early March 1873] (DAR 210.2: 27). George wrote, ‘I send an anecdote for Father wh. Elliot sent me & I’ve no doubt he might use it if he liked’.
Elliot may refer either to Francis Maitland Balfour or to Arthur James Balfour, both of whom, together with George Darwin, had been his contemporaries at Trinity College, Cambridge.
The third Irish bill, ‘a bill to reform Irish universities by broadening the basis of Roman Catholic attendance’, was defeated in a vote in Parliament on 11 March 1873, forcing the resignation of the prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone (ODNB). George William Spencer Lyttelton was Gladstone’s assistant principal private secretary.
The novel The true history of Joshua Davidson, Christian and communist by Elizabeth Linton (also known as Eliza Lynn Linton) was published between 16 November and 9 December 1872 by Strahan & Co. (Publishers’ Circular 1872, p. 805). The book’s central character, Joshua Davidson, was a reincarnation of Jesus, who had returned to Victorian England as a communist; it was written as an attack on the Anglican Church. An annotation probably in George Darwin’s hand reads, ‘It is written I believe by the same author as Jinx’s Baby’: Ginx’s baby: his birth and other misfortunes had been published by the same company in 1870 but was written by John Edward Jenkins.


Expression 2d ed.: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. Edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1890.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.


Instinctive responses in animals.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hugh Frederic Hislop Elliot
George Howard Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 163: 17
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7422,” accessed on 24 November 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21