skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Jeffries Wyman   3 October [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent [Eastbourne]

Oct. 3d.

Dear Sir

I thank you sincerely for your letter which has interested & gratified me extremely.2 If you had had leisure or inclination to have made any general criticisms on the “Origin of Species”; they would have been very far from “superfluous”; for I know hardly anyone whose opinions I should be more inclined to defer to.— I will trouble you with a few remarks on some parts of your letter.

Few facts have interested me more than your case of the black Hogs; it shows such a marvellous relation of mere colour, (generally thought to be so unimportant) & constitution: I have long suspected that such correlation of colour & tendency to fevers, might possibly explain the origin of colour of negros; but I can get no facts to support this crude speculation.3 I have been the more glad to get your Hog case, as I was hardly able to credit the parallel case of sheep in Sicily.4

With respect to the Cave Rat; I knew that it was a strictly American form;5 but I did not at all know that the genus had large eyes.—   I know how busy you are, & that you do not much like writing letters; but if you could get me a little information about this Rat, it would be a great kindness.— Firstly, are the eyes of the Cave species not at all larger than in the other species? Secondly, may I trust Prof. Silliman, that the Rat was blind & when kept out of cave, it seemed to acquire some power of vision?6 And lastly does it inhabit the profoundest depths of caves, or less profound parts?—

As I am asking questions, I will ask one other; viz were you struck with any peculiarity in length of hind(?) legs (I am writing away from home, & cannot consult my notes) of the Nãta Cattle? I procured a skull; but it has never been described:7 would it not be worth your while to insert in some Journal a short description together with the parallel case of the Cod Fish? If you do will you inform me.—8 From various sources of information I cannot doubt that the breed is rather ancient, & extremely true: I have copious notes on subject, which I hope some day to use.—

Speaking of inheritance, I was long inclined to entirely disbelieve with you, that Mutilations are ever inherited; (& I got special enquiries made about the Jews); but I have of late been rather staggered; & now Brown-Sequard’s case of inherited epilepsy from mutilation seems to almost settle question.9 I have suspected from some facts that mutilations are inherited only when they produced disease. A clever young Surgeon carefully dissected the eyes of the Tucutucu, which I brought home in Spirits, & assured me that there were traces of inflammation.10 My Spanish informant had no motive, (for I asked no question) to tell me falsely how often they were blind. Does not the case of Cats with blue eyes being deaf (when one blue eye deaf on one side alone of head) strike you as a very odd case: I have lately observed that all kittens have blue eyes when they first open them; & before they open them, they seem to me after several trials, absolutely deaf;—so that I fancy there is at first some correlation between the blue eyes & deafness, & that the blueness is carried on in the old cats, by a sort of correlation or arrest of development the deafness continues; but my ideas are vague enough.—11

With respect to spinal stripe of Horse; I think it is much too common (& characteristic of every species of the genus) to be explained as your American informant supposes: the stripe seems to be commonest with with colts than with old Horses; in same manner as the foals of the E. Hemionus are well striped when first born.—

I have been very glad to hear your remarks on the Brain of Chimpanzee; as will Sir C. Lyell be.—12 Dr. Falconer tells me that Huxley gave Owen the most severe setting down at Oxford on this subject, that ever man received.—13 I fear the general opinion is true, that Owen truckles to the approbation of those high in church & state. I declare I believe, from some conversation with him that at the bottom of his heart he goes a long way with me on the origin of species, though he has attacked me so severely & not very ingenuously in the Edinburgh Review.—14 No one other person understands me so thoroughly as Asa Gray. If ever I doubt what I mean myself, I think I shall ask him! His generosity in getting my views a fair hearing, & not caring himself for unpopularity has been most unselfish,—I would say noble.

Forgive me for writing at such length & believe me Dear Sir, with cordial thanks & sincere respect. | Yours very faithfully | C. Darwin


The year is given by the relationship to the preceding letter and to the letter from Jeffries Wyman, [c. 15] September 1860.
Letter from Jeffries Wyman, [c. 15] September 1860.
See Correspondence vol. 7, letters to Asa Gray, 18 November [1858] and 11 November [1859]. CD had also asked William Freeman Daniell about the possible relation between skin colour and resistance to tropical diseases (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter from W. F. Daniell, 8 October – 7 November 1856).
Wyman had given CD information relating to the ability of black pigs to withstand poisons that affected white pigs. CD cited this information in Origin 3d ed., p. 12, and in Variation 2: 227, where he also mentioned the case of some races of Sicilian sheep that are similarly affected. See Dupree 1951, p. 106 n. 12.
See preceding letter.
CD cited Benjamin Silliman Jr’s study of the blind cave-rat from the Mammoth Cave (Silliman 1851) in Origin, p. 137. See also letter from Benjamin Silliman Jr, 27 October 1860.
Richard Owen described the skull of a niata cow in R. Owen 1853, p. 624. CD gave this reference when he came to write Variation 1: 89.
Wyman did not publish on these topics. CD cited the information given in the letter from Jeffries Wyman, [c. 15] September 1860, in Variation 1: 89 n. 64.
Brown-Séquard 1859–60. In this paper, Charles Édouard Brown-Séquard described his successful attempts to transmit experimentally induced epilepsy through several generations of guinea-pigs. CD discussed this work in Variation 2: 24.
CD refers to the burrowing rodent, Ctenomys, that he collected in Brazil. In Journal of researches 2d ed., p. 51, he stated: ‘The man who caught them asserted that very many are invariably found blind. A specimen which I preserved in spirits was in this state; Mr. Reid considers it to be the effect of inflammation in the nictitating membrane.’ Mr Reid has not been further identified.
See Origin, p. 12, and Variation 2: 329.
Wyman’s remarks were excised from his letter (letter from Jeffries Wyman, [c. 15] September 1860) and sent to Charles Lyell (see preceding letter). Wyman had published several important papers on the anatomy of primates (see Wyman 1849, 1850, and 1855).
See letters to T. H. Huxley, 3 July [1860] and [5 July 1860]. See also Appendix VI.
[R. Owen] 1860a.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Dupree, Anderson Hunter. 1951. Some letters from Charles Darwin to Jeffries Wyman. Isis 42: 104–10. [Vols. 8,9]

Journal of researches 2d ed.: Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. 2d edition, corrected, with additions. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1845.

Origin 3d ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 3d edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1861.

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.

Owen, Richard. 1853a. Description of some species of the extinct genus Nesodon, with remarks on the primary group (Toxodontia) of hoofed quadrupeds, to which that genus is referable. [Read 13 January 1853.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 143: 291–310.

Silliman, Benjamin, Jr. 1851. On the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 11: 332–9.

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

Wyman, Jeffries. 1849. A report on the cranium of the Engéena (Troglodytes gorilla). Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History 3 (1848–51): 179.


JW’s case of black hogs shows marvellous relation of colour and constitution.

Could JW get information about eyes of cave rat?

Was JW struck by length of hind legs of male cattle?

CD has long shared JW’s doubts that mutilations were ever inherited but Brown-Séquard’s case seems to settle question.

Is not case of cats with blue eyes being deaf very odd?

Spinal stripes on horse too common to explain in way informant supposes.

Believes Owen "goes a long way with us", though he attacked CD in Edinburgh Review.

"No one other person understands me so thoroughly as Asa Gray."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Jeffries Wyman
Sent from
Eastbourne [Down letterhead]
Source of text
Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine (Jeffries Wyman papers H MS c12)
Physical description
ALS 10pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2936,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8