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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. M. Westropp   20 April [1871]1

The Villa | Ventnor | Isle of Wight

April 20.

Dear Sir

Allow me to mention to you a fact in natural history, which may not be uninteresting to you— Many years ago, when in the Zoological Gardens at Vienna, I saw a bear exhibit an amount of reason, which we could scarcely give the brute credit for. In the gardens the bears cage is built out into a little pond. Boys generally throw pieces of bread to the bear when in the water. Sometimes the bread was thrown in the water at some little distance from the bars of the cage, and out of reach of the bears paws   In this case, I saw the bear deliberately create a current with his paw and gradually draw the piece of bread within his reach—2

I feel quite flattered at your adopting my view at page 233, of your ‘Descent of Man.3 Some years ago I wrote a paper on the ‘Analogous forms of implements among different races’, putting forward a similar view, ascribing their similarity to the uniformity of the operations of instinct, and to the suggestive principle in the mind of man among all races and in all ages— When read at the Anthropological Soc., it was branded as “a wild speculation” a few years later I was glad to see the same view adopted by Nilsson in his Stone Age, and by Catlin, in his ‘Last Rambles’.4 I must claim priority here as my paper appeared in the Memoirs of the Anthropological Society two years before Nilsson’s work

I wrote another paper and sent it to the Anthropological Society, about two months ago on the ‘Analogies and Coincidences among unconnected natives’ containing a similar view tracing these analogies to the identity of the human mind, and to the uniformity in its development among all races—5 I am glad to see this view confirmed by your observations at page 343 Vol II of your ‘Descent of Man’6

Apologising for the liberty I have taken in writing to you | I remain | sincerely yours | Hodder M Westropp

CD annotations

2.6 a few … work 2.9] scored blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘ Anecdote of Bear making current in water—like elephant blowing beyond object in Z. Gardens.’ ink; ‘& Races of Man. | Westropp on analogous instinct [illeg] by savages’ pencil; ‘(Priority) case of’7 blue crayon


The year is established by the reference to Westropp’s paper, ‘Analogies and coincidences among unconnected natives’ (Westropp 1871).
CD added this anecdote to Descent 2d ed., p. 76.
CD referred to Westropp’s view that ancient arrowheads from around the world from similar periods are almost identical, and his article ‘On cromlechs and megalithic structures’ (Westropp 1869), in Descent 1: 233 n. 25. CD’s annotated copy of the first half of Westropp 1869 is in DAR 80: B176.
Westropp refers to Westropp 1866, to Sven Nilsson and Nilsson 1868 (Primitive inhabitants of Scandinavia), pp. 104–5, and to George Catlin and Catlin 1868 (Last rambles amongst the Indians of the Rocky Mountains and the Andes), pp. 309–10. CD cited Westropp 1866 and Nilsson 1868 in Descent 2d ed., p. 179 and n. 25, giving Westropp’s name first; in Descent 1: 233 and n. 24, he had given only the reference to Nilsson.
In Descent 2: 343, CD discussed the similarity in fashions of ornamentation of the body in distant parts of the world.
CD’s annotations are notes for his letter to Westropp of 22 April [1871].


Catlin, George. 1868. Last rambles amongst the Indians of the Rocky Mountains and the Andes. London: Samson Low, Son, and Marston.

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.

Nilsson, Sven. 1868. The primitive inhabitants of Scandanavia: an essay on comparative ethnography, and a contribution to the history of the development of mankind. Containing a description of the implements, dwellings, tombs, and mode of living of the savages in the north of Europe during the Stone Age. Edited by John Lubbock. 3d edition. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Westropp, Hodder Michael. 1866. On the analogous forms of implements among early and primitive races. Memoirs read before the Anthropological Society of London 2 (1865–6): 288–93.

Westropp, Hodder Michael. 1869. On cromlechs and megalithic structures. Scientific Opinion 2 (1869): 3.

Westropp, Hodder Michael. 1871. On the analogies and coincidences among unconnected nations. [Read 19 June 1871.] Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 1 (1872): 221–6.


Anecdote of bear reasoning [see Descent, 2d ed., p. 76].

Similarity of forms of ornamentation and implements in widely separate races and ages [Descent 1: 233].

Letter details

Letter no.
Hodder Michael Westropp
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 90: 38–9
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7703,” accessed on 19 September 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19