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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. H. Flower   12 October 1871

The Hill | Stratford on Avon

Oct 12th. 1871

My dear Mr. Darwin

You must have been surprised at receiving no answer to your letter of Sep 22d. and I am afraid may have been inconvenienced by my silence, but the fact is that I only returned yesterday from Germany, where, as I was rapidly moving from place to place, no letters were forwarded to me, and on passing through London to transact some Museum Business yesterday afternoon I found your letter with many others, awaiting replies, and have brought them on here, where I remain for a few days before beginning regular work in London again.1

As you know, it always gives me great pleasure to be able to give you any information in my power, and I hope you will always make use of it, with or without my name just as you think may suit your purpose, or advance the cause of science best.

With regard to the statement about the Cetacean larynx, there is however a difficulty in making use of it in any argument, the facts are not yet clear—though I have often as you say, suspected that the elongated glottis is withdrawn from the posterior nares during deglutition, I have no proof of it, and Huxley is, or was the last time I talked to him on the subject, of a contrary opinion.2

It is perfectly obvious that such an arrangement unless required for some other more important purpose, as in the young marsupials, must be inconvenient and would therefore in all probability disappear in the adult.3

I must again apologize for having kept your MS. so long, and remain | most truly yours | W. H. Flower.


See letter to W. H. Flower, 22 September [1871]. Flower was curator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and Hunterian Professor of comparative anatomy (DNB).
There are notes dated 27 June 1871 about Flower’s views on the whale’s larynx in DAR 69: A37. In T. H. Huxley 1871a, p. 395, Thomas Henry Huxley described the cetacean glottis as funnel-shaped and having its apex ‘embraced by the soft palate, in such a manner as to form a continuous air-passage from the posterior nares to the larynx’, on each side of which the food passed.
CD had probably sent Flower extracts of the new seventh chapter of Origin 6th ed. (see letter to W. H. Flower, 22 September [1871]). CD cited Flower in this chapter (Origin 6th ed., p. 190) for the suggestion that the elongated larynx of the young kangaroo, which prevented its choking on its mother’s milk, would interfere with its swallowing solid food.


DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.


On structure and function of the cetacean larynx.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Henry Flower
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 164: 139
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8005,” accessed on 8 June 2023,

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