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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. B. Innes   26 May 1871

Milton Brodie | Forres | N.B.

26 May 1871—

Dear Darwin,

I have today finished reading your charming book, for so in truth I have found it, as all that have come from your pen, full of the most interesting facts of natural history.1 I am not a convert to the theory you found on them   I hold to the old belief that a man was made a man though developed into niggurs who must be made to work and better men able to make them, if those radicals did not interfere with the salutary chastisment needful, neglecting the lesson taught by the black ants slaves to the white. Also that a horse was made a horse though perhaps my old cart mare who is peacefully grazing before my windows and the Zephyr colt2 may have had a common ancestor in the dim distance. What a dolt you must think me! If you ever succeed in tracing our pedigrees back a few years further than we go, even in Scotland, I hope you will be merciful to our prejudices. I heard that Sir B Burke offered, for a consideration, to give Ld Seafield a pedigree from the Plantagenets, so a good deal may be done.3 I have an abhorrence of an ape, but in my boy days had a very favorite little ring tailed monkey, and I should much prefer one of that kind as my more immediate ancestor. Please think of my request favourably—

In the mean time one or two little notions crossed me as I read. I have heard the story of the retriever and wounded birds, and am quite convinced of its accuracy.4 Here is another for you. My Mother, at her house at Hythe, had as a pet a very wise old setter, who had been long my companion, crossed the Atlantic with me, and held a certificate for having been to Termination rock under Niagara—5 A hundred yards or so from our house was another, occupied by Mrs. Linhampton a widow lady,6 the grounds being separated by a five feet wall. One day, walking in the gardens with a friend, we saw Bob jump over the wall in great haste, deposit something, and jump back in a hurry; he had brought over four mutton chops, put them down on his own side, and gone back for four more with which he quickly returned. He had found Mrs. L’s kitchen door open and the dish standing handy; he could not carry all at once, and must have reasoned that if he was not quick about it the cook would be back, so he would secure all on his own premises before he ate any. I fear it did not say much for the cultivation of his moral sense, nor perhaps for mine, as in appreciation of his talent I allowed him to enjoy the fruits of his raid unmolested.

I see you state that pigeons of other colours are not liked by the blue ones7   I do not find it to be so here. I have a dove cot of domesticated blue rocks; there are hundreds of them, and among them a few white and occasionally a brown one, but they live in perfect peace. Probably the white would become more numerous but that when a hawk takes one it is almost always a white one.

I think I told you I had an albino partridge two years ago. I had it very carefully watched, it paired with a brown one, and there were four white birds and six brown ones in the covey. One got away and was killed on the next property, but four survived the season; I allowed no shooting on the farm where they lived, and I saw at least three of them paired, each with a brown mate; but whether they changed their plumage, or were all killed in some way I cannot tell, for not a white one old or young was about last autumn.

To my great sorrow I have given up and let my home farm. I have got it into capital order and had a little herd of fine beasts, but the wretched farm servants drove me to the verge of insanity. After some worse specimens, I had a grieve8 for two years, with more than the average amounts of honesty; but the most sulky pigheaded man in Europe; however I would have kept him if he had pleased, but he chose to go, and of others I heard of, this one was always drunk, that one a thief &c &c— They all shift about, every half year, or year at most, for no reason but folly, and are a thorough bad lot and ignorant to an extent you can hardly fancy. The schools rate-supported where they ought to be taught are given up to Latin & Greek for the Minister & others’ children, and the poor chew porridge, sit and are not taught. I wonder what they will develope into. I am in a state of despair when I think of all my four footed and feathered two footed friends which were sold last Wednesday, and am only consoled by thinking I have no more trouble with the unfeathered bipeds.—

Another dog story of a still earlier date occurs to me. I had a favorite white terrier at Hythe, bred at home which had never lived elsewhere. I went in my Father’s carriage to a tutor’s some 25 miles.9 Tartar jumped in and went with me returning the same afternoon in the carriage. He had never been more than five miles from home in his life. He stayed at home a week, and then ran away and came to me, preceding my Mother’s letter to tell me how distressed they were that Tartar was lost. He must have waited some days to see if I came back, then it passed through his little head that my luggage and general look indicated I should stay where he left me and he would cut off and see about it.

I think on consideration I had almost rather have a dog for an ancestor than even a ring tailed monkey, at any rate they have more attachment, more sense, and nearly as much morality as a good many of our labourers—

With our kindest regards to Mrs. Darwin and all your party | Believe me Dear Darwin | Yours faithfully | J Brodie Innes


Innes refers to Descent.
The Zephyr colt (Zephyr was his mother) won the Derby under the name Favonius in 1871 (The Times, 24 May 1871, p. 5, 25 May 1871, p. 6).
John Bernard Burke was the editor of a series of publications on British genealogy (ODNB). Innes also refers to the House of Plantagenet, a royal family originating with Henry II (ODNB), and to John Charles Ogilvie-Grant, seventh earl of Seafield.
In Descent 1: 48, CD described a retriever who had to fetch two shot birds, one of which was only wounded, and who killed the wounded bird in order to retrieve both.
Innes’s mother was Mary Innes. Hythe is a town on the south coast of Kent. Niagara Falls is a series of waterfalls on the border of Ontario, Canada, and New York, USA. Termination Rock was behind the waterfall known as Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. On nineteenth-century tourism to Niagara Falls, see Berton 1994.
Mrs Linhampton has not been further identified.
See Descent 2: 118.
Grieve: ‘the overseer, manager, or head-workman on a farm; a farm-bailiff’ (OED).
Innes’s father was John Innes. The tutor has not been identified.


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

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Has finished Descent, which charmed but did not convert him.

Sends examples of dogs’ reasoning.

Has given up his farm.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Brodie Innes
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Milton Brodie
Source of text
DAR 167: 29
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7768,” accessed on 29 January 2023,

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