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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Albert Günther   14 November 1872



My dear Sir

For some time past I have had the intention of writing to you, not because I had anything particular to say, but merely because I cannot afford to drop out of the mind of one of the few men, for whom my esteem has ever been growing since I have had the pleasure of becoming personally acquainted with them.

I did not carry out that intention because I knew that I should soon have an opportunity in thanking you for a copy of your new work which I knew would soon appear.

It arrived last Friday, and I have read it, not without a feeling of shame (being by myself I did not blush), because I found here a field of enquiry opened before my eyes, of the existence and bearings of which I had been hitherto entirely ignorant.1 In reading it not a few facts which I formerly observed, recurred to my memory, & now only I have found an explanation. How often have I watched my gulls in the garden patting the ground in a ludicrous manner, and I never fancied that they were begging for food.2

In my boy the soles of the feet were indifferent to tickling, until he was nearly 212 years old.3 I have seen at that age his face reddening, not from anger, but before crying when reproved. I then thought, this reddening must be blushing from shame.4

My two dogs (a Scotch Terrier and a Black & Tan) have ticklish feet; especially the web between the toes appears to be the seat of sensitiveness. When I gently rub or work it, both dogs commence to lick the hand most vigourously, although one of them is not at all given to licking.

I was surprised that you have scarcely alluded to what by courtesy is called “dancing’ of savage people. I believe it is the almost universal expression of joy or elation among savages; if it were not innate, or not one of the most tenacious emotional expressions, I could hardly understand that the “wheeling-round” of modern times, to which the savage “dancing” has degenerated, could hold its own among civilized nations. I have had twice an opportunity of observing this expression in its primitive form under very similar circumstances, both times after medical examinations (at Tübingen & at the College of Surgeons),5 where two candidates who did not think of having the shadow of a chance of passing, did pass nevertheless. When hearing of their good luck they jumped higher than decency permitted.

My new post gives me so much administrative work that I consider it a good day, on which I can get two hours for scientific work.6 Among other things I went through Dr. Gray’s correspondence and pamphlets, some of which brought me back some 50 years (selecting according to his wish for preservation those documents which are of interest to the history of our department).7 I derived great benefit & comfort from this labour hurtful as it was to my eyes. I saw that the quarrels between the men of science of our days are tame when compared to those of the preceding generation. I say this was a comfort to me because I had commenced to lose heart under the infliction of the Kew-affair & other matters arising out of the R. Commission of Science.8

I trust you will be able to tell me that you are in a better state of health, than when I last heard of you in the summer. With kindest regards to Mrs Darwin | Yours most truly | A Günther


Günther’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Expression (see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix V). He alludes to CD’s remarks on blushing in Expression, pp. 336–7.
See Expression, pp. 47–8.
In Expression, p. 201, CD had written that one of his children reacted to a touch on the sole of the foot at the age of seven days. Günther’s son was Robert William Theodore Gunther.
On blushing due to guilt, see Expression, pp. 333–4.
Tübingen University in Germany and the Royal College of Surgeons, London.
Günther had been appointed assistant keeper in the zoological department at the British Museum (letter from Albert Günther, 19 June 1872).
John Edward Gray was keeper of the zoological collections at the British Museum; he had suffered a stroke in 1869 (ODNB).
Acton Smee Ayrton and Joseph Dalton Hooker had been in dispute over the running of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew since 1869. Ayrton was also involved in the dispute between Hooker and Richard Owen over the future location of the herbaria at Kew and at the British Museum; this matter was discussed by the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction. (See letter from J. D. Hooker, 1 January 1872 and n. 1, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 November [1872].)


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

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

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.


Many thanks for Expression. AG relates some relevant observations, the significance of which had previously escaped him.

Letter details

Letter no.
Albrecht Carl Ludwig Gotthilf (Albert) Günther
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 165: 253
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8625,” accessed on 30 October 2020,

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