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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. B. Bowles   17 May 1877

Paris, | No. 5 Rue Scribe.

May 17th. 1877.

Dear Sir,

During a late visit to the U.S. I read a book by some german author, whose name I have not retained and which purported to be an exposition of the “Darwinian Theory”. Of that I can form no opinion as I have but a vague idea of what your theory really is. According to his statement, the chain of life, from the earliest and most most imperfect created animal, up to the latest and most perfect, is complete—with the exception of one missing link, viz: the link which connects the highest order of mammals with mankind.— This link he designates as a race of “Speechless Men”, and which race he declares has become extinct, having left no trace behind.1 Supposing the theory to be true, I think he is mistaken in his last position. I think I can point out this missing race, show where and how it lives, and that it is owing to its influence upon humanity that the enlightenment of the 19th. Century is not what it ought to be, or what we might expect of it considering the means for instruction and knowledge within easy reach of every man.—

The german author above referred to, has then, made a mistake, and that but a slight one, in the name by which he has called the missing race. He had the right idea, and had he said, instead of “Speechless Men”, what is practically the same thing—Speaking Monkies—he could have added—“My chain is perfect”. They live in our midst, these speaking monkeys, they marry our sons and our daughters, and by the intermingling of their impure and animal blood, they repress the strong tendency to good, which without such adulteration would develope to quick perfection in this century where progress is still made in spite of this and other drawbacks. Is it not within our daily experience to meet men and women—so called—who are cruel, selfish, licentious and imitative, having all or a portion of these monkey attributes—and no other qualifications to distinguish them from the money tribe, except the power of speech. And how much does that say?— Simply that they communicate their wants to each other by means of a different set of articulate sounds from those used by their true progenitors, the monkey tribes:—thoughts they have none; of course. This fact being established we can expunge from our language a remark often made and always repulsive i.e. “What a human expression that monkey has”—he has not—he merely resemblish some one of brothren, who can speak.—

Here now is a chance for the lights of science to illuminate our darkness. Let the skilled physician, Surgeon and perhaps the phrenologist apply themselves more deeply to their studies, and point out to us if they can, some way by which we may distinguish surely and at sight these creatures who contaminate our blood and thus keep back our civilization.—2

But a question now arises as to how this inferior race came to occupy the position it does in our midst? One solution occurs to me. We often see what we call retribution, overtaking us even here below, for the wrong we commit, and the infliction in question may have been sent as a punishment to the nations for the crime of slavery itself and those which it entails. I have read the works of du Chaillu, Livingston and others in which are described tribes of Africans who are not one whit superior in their intellectuality, in their manner of living or their habits to the monkey tribes of eaqual stature and intelligence by whom they are surrounded.3 What more likely than that co-habitation should take place between the females of these inferior tribes and the male monkeys—by rape probably. Perhaps some of these travellors could enlighten us on this point. The ofspring of such connection, would in its turn mingle its mixed blood with that of its own tribe & these tribes being continually at war with each other, make captives who are sold into slavery to various countries where the females become the mistresses & often the wives of men of the white race. I have seen it myself in the Southern United States of America, in the West Indian Islands and on the Spanish Main. In this way the blood & nature of the monkey may have been introduced into that of mankind and in this way we may account for the existence of Speaking Monkeys among us—and—the “Missing Link”.—4

Very truly yours | Wm. B Bowles

Charles Darwin. Esq F.R.S. etc. etc. | London.


The German author was Ernst Haeckel. In his Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (History of creation), Haeckel had posited twenty-two stages in human evolution, the twenty-first of which, Pithecanthropus alalus (or speechless ape-man) was missing (see Haeckel 1870, pp. 590–1, and 1876a, 2: 293–4 (English translation)). For more on nineteenth-century debates over the ‘missing link’, see Kjærgaard 2011.
On race and degeneration in nineteeth-century phrenology, medicine, and anthropology, see Pick 1989 and A. Desmond and Moore 2009.
Paul Belloni Du Chaillu argued that a ‘vast chasm’ lay ‘between even the lowest forms of the human race and the highest of apes’ (Du Chaillu 1861, p. 376). David Livingstone did not make comparisons between apes and humans but he commented on the intelligence of South African people (see D. Livingstone 1857, pp. 19–20).
On ideas about bestiality and cross-breeding between humans and apes in the nineteenth century, see Durbach 2010, pp. 89–114; on miscegenation, slavery, and the colonies, see Young 1995, pp. 133–42.


Du Chaillu, Paul Belloni. 1861. Explorations & adventures in equatorial Africa; with accounts of the manners and customs of the people, and of the chace of the gorilla, crocodile, leopard, elephant, hippopotamus, and other animals. 2d edition. London: John Murray.

Durbach, Nadja. 2010. Spectacle of deformity: freak shows and modern British culture. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

Kjærgaard, Peter C. 2011. ‘Hurrah for the missing link!’: a history of apes, ancestors and a crucial piece of evidence. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 65: 83–98.

Livingstone, David. 1857. Missionary travels and researches in South Africa; including a sketch of sixteen years’ residence in the interior of Africa, and a journey from the Cape of Good Hope to Loanda on the west coast; thence across the Continent, down the river Zambesi, to the Eastern Ocean. London: John Murray.

Young, Robert J. C. 1995. Colonial desire: hybridity in theory, culture and race. London: Routledge.


Has read a German author’s exposition of CD’s theory.

Believes "missing link" between higher mammals and man consists of a race of "speaking monkeys" – akin to Africans – who pollute blood of better race and impede civilisation.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Burrows Bowles
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 263
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10963,” accessed on 1 April 2023,