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Darwin Correspondence Project

From David Forbes   13 June 1870

11, York Place, | Portman Square, | London. W.

13 June. 1870

My dear Mr Darwin

I have just returned from a two months residence in Poland and on Tuesday 21st. am to give my lecture on the Aymara Indians—1 It would give me profound pleasure to see you there if your health would permit you, for I believe I shall bring forward some very important points in support of your views— I took all my notes with me to Poland and accomplished there what I am sure I should not have done here, ie a somewhat complete memoir on the subject— I think it will be about 90 pages or so of 8vo print—and if I am not overrating its importance, I believe it contains some rather important data in fact I was surprised myself at the number of observations when I came to string them together. My intention was if time had allowed it to have placed the MS in your hands before the lecture but I have only just got back and find I have to copy out fair, some of it and fill in some references &c which I had not with me—so I shall not be able to do so— the measurements are all put in proper form and I have made out a sketch so as to compare them with other Nations. black & white—proving I think the case about the altitude &c completely & several other differences for which I at present can assign no reason2

Mr Squeer the Nicaraguan–Peruvian traveller is now in Paris and comes over the morning of my lecture expressly for it & has sent already a number of illustrations which will assist me—and I think that there will be others who can speak on the subject.—3 I shall of course only give an abstract of the more interesting and important conclusions vivâ voce—or otherwise it would take up far too much time—

I do not know whether your book is as yet so far advanced that it is too late to supply you with any data but now that I have got this matter off my hands at last—I think you will find in my MS. better or rather more correct data than what you noted down in the course of our conversation when I had to trust mainly to recollections4

Trusting that your health is better now that we have such fine weather | I remain my dear Mr Darwin | Yours most sincerely | David Forbes


Forbes’s lecture took place at the Ethnological Society of London and was published as Forbes 1870. CD visited London only from 24 June (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
In Forbes 1870a, pp. 213–15 (see also ibid., pp. 277–81), Forbes printed a table comparing relative average proportions of ‘normal’ Aymara men from high cold mountains; two ‘abnormal’ Aymara men from hot valleys; two Englishmen, one ‘Saxon’ and one ‘Celtic’, and three ‘Menas negroes’ from West Africa (presumably male). Forbes speculated that the larger chest measurement of the Aymara was due to the fact that they normally lived in the high tablelands of Bolivia and Peru, where the air was more rarefied, so that they needed greater lung capacity (ibid., p. 218). He also considered that various other differences between the highland and lowland Aymara were due to the change in altitude (ibid., p. 222). There is an offprint of Forbes 1870a, inscribed by the author, in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. It has one annotation on the back cover (‘p. 16 blushing’).
The discussion following Forbes’s paper, including remarks by Ephraim George Squier, is summarised in the Journal of the Ethnological Society of London following the paper.
It is not known when Forbes and CD had a conversation about the Aymara Indians. CD cited Forbes on the Aymara in Descent 1: 119, 246, 2: 320, 322, 348, and cited Forbes 1870a in Descent 1: 119 n. 32. Most of the information that CD cites is in the letter from David Forbes, 26 March 1868 (Correspondence vol. 16). CD also cited Forbes for information in Forbes 1870a and in his letter in Expression, pp. 232, 318, 336.


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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

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


Has completed a memoir on the Aymara Indians of Bolivia [J. Ethnol. Soc. n.s. 2 (1870): 193–305] and is going to lecture on them.

Believes he has data relevant to CD’s work on man.

Letter details

Letter no.
David Forbes
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, York Place, 11
Source of text
DAR 164: 144
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7228,” accessed on 9 February 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18