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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Andrew Smith   17 April 1871

16 Alexander Square | Brompton.

17 April 1871

My Dear Darwin

I have tried but in vain to find anything to enable me to state positively that the Hottentots blush—1 if I noticed them to do so I suspect I must have failed to record it. As regards the point however I have no doubt of their being liable under certain circumstances, to experience an increase or diminution of blood in the superficial vessels of the face and if their skins were not too dark and thick they would exhibit what we would designate a blush   I can with confidence say I have seen them grow pale when in difficulties or when detected guilty of some impropriety or crime and therefore if what is calculated to [dimish] the blood towards the surface is capable of producing such a condition in the Hottentot we may fairly conclude that what has an opposite tendency, that is to excite a blush in the white man, will do so also in the Hottentot did his colour not prevent it being very visible

I have over and over and over again heard people speak of the pallid condition of the Hottentot when frightened owing to some of his evil practices being detected

I wish I could have stated something more satisfactory on the subject

I think you must have forgotten a fact mentioned to you touching the sagacity or rather I think I may venture to say the reason of the Baboon, which I once say at Grahams Town.2 He was an unfortunate animal chained up in an Officers back yard and had a number of human enemies who used to pelt him with stones   Of those one of the most persevering was a Major Taylor3 and one sunday morning as the Major was proceeding to Parade he approached Jacko as usual and the animal knowing what his object was when he began to fill his pockets with stones, poured a basin-full of water, which was by him drink into a hole commenced rapidly in gathering dust &c and casting it into the hole when he mixed the content till the resembled gruel only not in colour. When the Major neared the hole Jacko stuck his paw into the gruel and scattered it beautifully over the Major   then he used with great glee his own language to the immense amusement of the bystanders. The parade was for church but the Major could not join as he had white trousers on him and was required to go home and change them before he could appear in public

I think you will admire Jacko’s wisdom and he did so himself for he always rejoiced when ever after he saw the Major who was kind to him from that time forward. I wish I were in better health and more equal to exertion   I should take great pleasure in writing you from time to time

Yours most faithfully | And⁠⟨⁠rew⁠⟩⁠ Smith

CD annotations

1.1 I have … subject 3.1] crossed pencil
4.9 &c] after comma added pencil
4.9 and casting] after comma added pencil
4.9 till] ‘t’ crossed pencil
4.10 stuck] ‘t’ crossed pencil
4.11 beautifully] ‘beautifully’ added pencil
5.4 from time] ‘t’ crossed pencil
6.1 And⁠⟨⁠rew⁠⟩⁠] ‘Andrew’ added pencil
End of letter: ‘Give perhaps after revenge, though wd come in perhaps *quite as [above del ‘more’] appropriately under Reason.— Give it saying that all who have known Sir A. Smith have been become aware of his scrupulous accuracy, [del illeg] verging on scepticism—’ ink


No letter from CD to Smith enquiring about blushing has been found, but see the letter from W. W. Reade, 1 February 1871 and nn. 1 and 2.
No other letter referring to a baboon in Grahamstown, South Africa, has been found. CD cited Smith for this story in Descent 2d ed., p. 69.
Major Taylor has not been identified.


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.


On Hottentots’ blushing.

Gives case of a baboon’s revenge. [See Descent, 2d ed. (1874), p. 69.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Andrew Smith
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 87: 109–10
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7694,” accessed on 2 March 2024,

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