skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. W. Spengel   4 November 1871

Berlin, | Dorotheenstrasse 18.

November 4. 1871

Dear Sir,

I beg to acknoledge receipt of your esteamed favor of August 28. and am very sorry to learn of it your indisposition and sincerely hope, you are now quite restored.1

Meantimes I had the pleasure to receive from you the book by Mr Wright on Mr. Mivart’s “Genesis of Species” and present to you my best thanks for this new prove of your benevolence.2

Today I am glad to send you some new additions to my list,3 most of which I took from a work by Prof. Seidlitz at Dorpat “Die Darwin’sche Theorie”, which contains a list of books and papers published on your theory. At the end of this book there is a “Tabellarische Uebersicht der Descendenztheorie”, which seems to me very good.4 Specimens of it were distributed at the “Versammlung deutscher Naturforscher” at Rostock to the members of the zoological and botanical sections.5

I do not know whether it is of interest to you to hear particulars about observations made on the chimpansee by the keeper and other persons in our Zoological garden at Hamburg.6 We keep two of these anthropomorphs, one of which is suffering by phthisis pulmonum7 and is lying in a melancholy state in the straw of his cage. One day the ill one got a bread, which soon the other healthy and well disposed animal took from the hands of its companion and ran away with it to the other side of the cage. The ill animal wept bitterly and blew its face with its hands, till the other came back and was breaking the bread into two halfs and returned one. When the ill monkey is coughing, the other one puts its hands on its shoulders and regards it with sympathizing looks.8

Any further bibliographical news will follow as soon as I shall have collected them. Believe me, Dear Sir, | your very obedient servant | J W Spengel. | stud. med.


CD’s letter to Spengel has not been found.
CD had arranged for Chauncey Wright’s review of St George Jackson Mivart’s Genesis of species (Mivart 1871a) to be published as a pamphlet (Wright 1871b).
Spengel had sent CD a bibliography of works on Darwinian theory published mainly in German (Spengel 1871; see letter from J. W. Spengel, 10 May 1871 and nn. 1 and 2). A copy dated 24 August 1871 with numerous additions in the author’s hand is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Georg von Seidlitz’s Die Darwin’sche Theorie was a collection of lectures given at the University of Dorpat, It contained appendices on the literature of descent theory since 1859, and a table illustrating descent theories from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Ernst Haeckel roughly in the form of a taxonomic tree (Seidlitz 1871). CD’s annotated copy of the book is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 753).
Versammlung deutscher Naturforscher: meeting of German naturalists. Spengel refers to the forty-fourth meeting of the association of German naturalists and doctors (Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Aertze) held in Rostock in September 1871.
On the Hamburg Zoological Garden, see Reichenbach 1996. The keeper has not been identified.
Phthisis pulmonum or pulmonalis: pulmonary tuberculosis.
CD discussed forms of sociability and moral sensibility in the non-human primates in Descent 1: 75–9.


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

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Reichenbach, Herman. 1996. A tale of two zoos: the Hamburg Zoological Garden and Carl Hagenbeck’s Tierpark. In New worlds, new animals: from menagerie to zoological park in the nineteenth century, edited by R. J. Hoage and William A. Deiss. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Spengel, Johann Wilhelm. 1871. Die Darwinsche Theorie. Verzeichniss der in Deutschland über die Darwinsche Theorie erschienenen Werke und Aufsätze. Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 3: 56–67.


Sends CD additions to his bibliographical list [missing].

Reports observations indicating that chimpanzees show compassion.

Letter details

Letter no.
Johann Wilhelm Spengel
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 236
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8053,” accessed on 27 January 2021,

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