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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   12 March 1872

11 St. Mary Abbot’s Terrace | Kensington

March 12—72

My dear Sir

I’ve been morn noon & night over my book & have only just this minute finished it or wd. have written before the Heads—of matter—in Descent of Man—1 There is really little to alter as far as my special knowledge is concerned—

  • 1. Negroes have whiskers.2
  • 2. Their music is sometimes agreeable.3
  • 3. The Caffres are negroes.4

This last statement is open to discussion no doubt: the first two are easily proved beyond a doubt.

I have come across some evidence on dark-haired Europeans surviving light-haired in tropics which I believe you will consider of some importance.5

As to beauty you have very fairly stated the evidence on both sides & I dont see what more you can do. That you have discovered a new law is quite clear though I doubt its application to the black skin of the negro—except as an accessory perhaps.6

I can let you have details on these subjects whenever you want them. My time will now be quite free. I become a gentleman of leisure. I shall go to work on my travels but shall take it quietly.7 By the way when you praised my style I ought to have told you that I often read a little of the Origin of Species before composing—especially in the scientific parts— I shall send you a copy I hope in a fortnight or so, and I can assure you that as my obligations to you, in respect to this book, are greater than they are to any other writer, dead or alive, so I am more desirous of your approval for it than for any one else’s—& I must own I think your approval will be considerably qualified.

I remain | with best wishes for your health | yours very truly | Winwood Reade

CD annotations

1.1 I’ve … concerned— 1.3] crossed blue crayon
1.5 agreeable.] ‘agreeable’ added pencil
3.1 I have … importance. 3.2] scored blue crayon; ‘(Will give me)’ added pencil
5.1 I … details.] underl blue crayon
5.2 I become … qualified. 5.9] crossed blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘Descent’ blue crayon


Reade was working on his Martyrdom of man (Reade 1872); it was published in May 1872 (Publishers’ circular, 16 May 1872). Reade’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Descent; he had already commented on parts of Descent in his letter of 16 February 1872.
In Descent 2: 321, CD wrote, ‘With negroes the beard is scanty or absent, and they have no whiskers’; in Descent 2d ed., he amended this to, ‘and they rarely have whiskers’. See also Correspondence vol. 19, letters from W. W. Reade, 21 February 1871 and 12 September 1871.
In Descent 1: 64, CD referred to the ‘hideous music admired by most savages’. See also Correspondence vol. 19, letter from W. W. Reade, 12 September 1871 and n. 3.
In Descent 1: 220, CD referred to the negroes of the eastern and western coasts of Africa, the Hottentots, and the Caffres as four different groups. See also letter from W. W. Reade, 13 February 1872. 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.
CD discussed the correlation of hair and skin colour with immunity from certain poisons and parasites in Descent 1: 242–5, but concluded that there was no foundation for the idea that different hair and skin colours had arisen because of any constitutional advantage that they gave.
CD discussed to what extent colour in mammals as well as birds was attributable to sexual selection in Descent 2: 294–7.
Reade refers to his African sketch-book (Reade 1873).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 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.

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

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

Reade, William Winwood. 1872. The martyrdom of man. London: Trübner & Co.

Reade, William Winwood. 1873. The African sketch-book. 2 vols. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.

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


Has just finished his work [? The martyrdom of man (1872)]. The new points are: (1) Negroes have whiskers; (2) their music is sometimes agreeable; (3) the Kaffirs are Negroes.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 55
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8241,” accessed on 9 June 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20