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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   1 February 1871

11 Saint Mary Abbot’s Terrace, | Kensington. W.

Feb. 1.– 71

My dear Sir

I saw Sir Andrew Smith to day, & asked him your question about the tears.1 He said he had certainly seen both Hottentots & Caffres laugh till they cried especially the women.. It seemed to be recalled vividly to his mind by the ludicrous appearance created from the tears running down the painted cheeks, and so forming streaks.2

I do not like to assert anything theoretical about the Africans—we really know so little of them—but I am quite persuaded in my own mind that the Caffres are identical with the West Africans erroneously called negroes.3 There is I believe no difference in their hair: and it is in the hair alone that the West Africans do not differ inter se. It is the one constant character—in contour & complexion there is great variety. When we consider how different are the climates of the healthy South Africa & those of West Africa & low lying Central Africa; & moreover that the Caffres live on milk & meat, & the others chiefly on vegetables it wd. be odd if there were no difference in physique.

Yours very truly | Winwood Reade


The twelfth question on CD’s Queries about expression (see Correspondence vol. 19, Appendix VII) was: ‘Is laughter ever carried to such an extreme as to bring tears into the eyes?’ CD enclosed a copy of the queries in his letter to Reade of 21 May [1868] (Correspondence vol. 16). As Reade had been a recent guest at Down (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 1 February [1871] and n. 6), the subject may have arisen in a conversation. Smith had been an army surgeon in South Africa between 1820 and 1836.
CD cited Smith for this information in Expression, p. 209. In the nineteenth century, the term ‘Caffre’ or Kafir was usually used to refer to some groups of the Xhosa people of south-eastern Africa, while ‘Hottentot’ was usually used to refer to peoples of south-western Africa (the Khoikhoi); for nineteenth-century uses of the term ‘Hottentot’ and ‘Caffre’, see Stocking 1987, Dubow 1995, and S. J. Gould 1997.
For a nineteenth-century polygenist classification of African peoples, see Nott and Gliddon 1854, pp. 180–210. Nott and Gliddon classified the ‘Mandingos, the Fulahs, and the Iolofs’, the West African peoples to whom Reade probably refers here, as negroes (Nott and Gliddon 1854, p. 188). See also Appiah and Gates 2005 s.v. Mandinka, Fulani, Wolof.


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

Dubow, Saul. 1995. Scientific racism in modern South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1997. The mismeasure of man. Revised and expanded edition. London: Penguin Books.

Stocking, George W., Jr. 1987. Victorian anthropology. New York: The Free Press. London: Collier Macmillan.


Sir Andrew Smith says Hottentots and Kaffirs laugh till they cry.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 45
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7473,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19