skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To E. J. Pfeiffer   26 April [1871]1

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

April 26


I am much obliged for your kindness in writing to me.2 I think it wd. have been an advantage if I had used the word fascination, but I intended to express some such idea when I join to charm admire &c, the word excite.—3

I fear that it wd. be very rash to use the illustration of the snake, as very few naturalists believe in snakes having any such power; though I myself am inclined to be a believer.4

Madam | Your obliged servant | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the address, with ‘Bromley’ crossed out and ‘Beckenham’ added by hand, a form that CD used from April 1869 to May 1871, and by the reference to Descent (see n. 3, below), which was published in 1871.
CD refers to Descent 2: 124, where he states that male birds ‘best able by their various charms to please or excite the female, are under ordinary circumstances accepted’.


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


Thanks for EJP’s suggestion that it is fascination rather than aesthetic appreciation that drives sexual selection.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Emily Jane Pfeiffer
Source of text
Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (Misc. 14)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7719F,” accessed on 21 January 2022,

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