skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. V. Carus   7 October 1871


Oct 7 | 1871.

My dear Sir,

When I had come home from Switzerland I heard from the publisher that your Essay on Expression would come out soon. The Athenaeum, he said, had given a notice of it.1 At the same time he asked me to write to you, to inquire if you had already disposed of it. He should like very much to publish a translation and I should be most happy if you would allow me to translate it.2 Pray be so kind as to let me know what your intentions are.

You asked me in one of your last letters how many copies of the Descent of Man had be sold in Germany.3 At the first an edition of 2000 copies was printed; that was sold very soon so that Mr Koch was obliged to make a reprint of 1000 copies. These again are nearly all sold; and now a second edition is printing. For that I revise the sheets with a copy of the Seventh thousand of the Original, which you kindly sent me through Mr Murray.4 Have you any thing to alter or are there still more recent additions? With respect of Vol. II. p 305 regarding the colour and stripes of horses you will be pleased I think to get the following quotation from Albertus Magnus (13th. century). There I found (Opera, ed. Jammy Tom. VI. p 587) the following words: “Color autem naturalis equi qui in sylvestribus deprehenditur est cinereus per dorsum linea fusca a capite usque ad caudam porrecta”   Cinereus is “dun”, if I am right.5

For the power of distinguishing and consequently of naming colours has been acquired by man very late. Would you allow me to make a suggestion with respect to the colours of aquatic birds? You say Vol II. p 229: “The cause of aquatic birds having acquired a white plumage .. probably depends on their large size … Consequently sexual selection has not here interfered with or guided for the sake of protection.” When I lived on the Scilly Isles some twenty years ago I was struck by the fact that all the boats of the Coast Guard Service were painted white, and on inquiring I was told that the reason was, white boats would not so easily be seen during the dark night as darker coloured objects. I think the physical explanation is right. And if so, then the white colour of sea birds could have been acquired through natural selection for the sake of protection.6

As soon as the new edition of the Descent of Man is printed a new edition of the “Origin” must be prepared. Is there a new english edition in preparation or have you anything to add or alter in the fifth english edition of 1869? The same applies to the “Variation of animals and plants”, of which we are obliged to print a new edition in the course of the next year.7

My health is pretty well restored, although I am rather too sensible of every change of temperature. Without the Descent of Man and your great kindness I should not have been able to do as much as I have done. So you will easily believe how gratefully we are always thinking of you.

Believe me | My dear Sir | Yours most sincerely | J. Victor Carus

P.S. | Mr Koch, the publisher, proud as he is of publishing your works, asks me if he could not publish a new translation of your Voyage. I must confess I am not quite sure, if the ‘Journal of Researches’ has ever been translated; for the bad translation of Dieffenbach gives only an abstract. Of the Journal Part I was published 1844 Part II 1845, and Dieffenbachs translation bears the date 1844.8 How is that? Can you recollect, if the publisher of Dieffenbach (Vieweg in Braunschweig) has got the right of translation? In former years that was not necessary. Excuse me for troubling you so much.

CD annotations

1.1 When … additions? 2.7] crossed blue crayon
3.3 “The … protection. 3.11] crossed pencil
4.1 As … you. 5.4] crossed blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘& Var under Domestication | Causes of white colour of Birds’ pencil; ‘P’ blue crayon


Carus’s publisher was Eduard Koch of E. Schweizerbart’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung. In the Science gossip section of the Athenæum, 30 September 1871, p. 435, a note appeared, ‘Mr. Darwin, we hear, is engaged on a work in which the facial expression of animals will be one of the chief topics discussed.’
Carus did translate Expression into German (Carus trans. 1872).
The seventh thousand was the third printing of Descent, issued in April 1871 (Freeman 1977). Carus refers to John Murray. See also letter to J. V. Carus, 25 April [1871].
‘However, the natural colour of a horse taken in the forest is ashy, with a tawny line stretching from its head to its tail.’ Pierre Jammy’s edition of Albertus Magnus’s works was published in 1651 (Albertus Magnus 1651).
Descent 2: 229: The cause of aquatic birds having acquired a white plumage so much more frequently than terrestrial birds, probably depends on their large size and strong powers of flight, so that they can easily defend themselves or escape from birds of prey, to which moreover they are not much exposed. Consequently sexual selection has not here been interfered with or guided for the sake of protection. CD did not add Carus’s suggestion to Descent 2d ed.
Carus published a fifth German edition (from the sixth English edition) of Origin in 1872 (Bronn and Carus trans. 1872), and a second German edition of Variation in 1873 (Carus trans. 1873).
Journal of researches was first published in 1839 and reprinted in 1840, with a second edition in 1845. CD had supplied Ernst Dieffenbach with notes for his translation (Dieffenbach trans. 1844) that he later used in the second edition (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Ernst Dieffenbach, 15 August [1843], and Correspondence vol. 3, letter to John Murray, 17 March [1845]). Carus’s translation was Carus trans. 1875b.


Albertus Magnus. 1651. Opera omnia. 21 vols. Edited by Pierre Jammy. Lyons: n.p.

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

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

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

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

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

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


Publisher would like to produce a translation of Expression. JVC offers to translate it.

Sends passage from Albertus Magnus on colour of horses.

Offers explanation of white colour of sea-birds.

Schweizerbart is now reprinting Descent, nearly all the first 3000 copies having been sold;

new editions of Origin

and of Variation are also planned.

Possibility of a new German translation of Journal of researches.

Letter details

Letter no.
Julius Victor Carus
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 161: 80, DAR 161: 81/2
Physical description
5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7991,” accessed on 26 September 2020,

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