Darwin readings: Most of what you need to know is on this page. For greater details, follow up on the links. The Wallace and Darwin theory of evolution is summarized in the 4 steps elsewhere in the readings.



All of Darwin's work-- and related stuff -- is now likely to be online at



Descent of Man (1871) is online at the above locations. Skim the chapters assigned with the aim of being able to answer questions about Darwin's use of anecdotes about ape and other primate abilities in explaining human evolution. You should also be able to summarize Darwin's ideas on the relationship between humans and other animals. Finally, you should know where Darwin thought humans first evolved. See daily notes on this and See Darwin's own summary below.

Also ch. 1, 3 and 4, along with the original Wallace and Darwin papers (1859) outlining their theory are available off my webpage. Chapter 3 contains his brief discussion of the evolution of language alluded to in the summary below.

Darwin's summary on ape -human differences -- tool use, abstract thought, language and the "golden rule" of reciprocal morality. Note his occasional reliance on "Lamarckism" - the inherited effects of use.

"Summary of the last two Chapters (3 & 4).- There can be no doubt that the difference between the mind of the lowest man and that of the highest animal is immense. An anthropomorphous ape, if he could take a dispassionate view of his own case, would admit that though he could form an artful plan to plunder a garden- though he could use stones for fighting or for breaking open nuts, yet that the thought of fashioning a stone into a tool was quite beyond his scope. Still less, as he would admit, could he follow out a train of metaphysical reasoning, or solve a mathematical problem, or reflect on God, or admire a grand natural scene. Some apes, however, would probably declare that they could and did admire the beauty of the coloured skin and fur of their partners in marriage. They would admit, that though they could make other apes understand by cries some of their perceptions and simpler wants, the notion of expressing definite ideas by definite sounds had never crossed their minds. They might insist that they were ready to aid their fellow-apes of the same troop in many ways, to risk their lives for them, and to take charge of their orphans; but they would be forced to acknowledge that disinterested love for all living creatures, the most noble attribute of man, was quite beyond their comprehension.

Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind. We have seen that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, &c., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals. They are also capable of some inherited improvement, as we see in the domestic dog compared with the wolf or jackal. If it could be proved that certain high mental powers, such as the formation of general concepts, self-consciousness, &c., were absolutely peculiar to man, which seems extremely doubtful, it is not improbable that these qualities are merely the incidental results of other highly-advanced intellectual faculties; and these again mainly the result of the continued use of a perfect language. At what age does the new-born infant possess the power of abstraction, or become self-conscious, and reflect on its own existence? We cannot answer; nor can we answer in regard to the ascending organic scale. The half-art, half-instinct of language still bears the stamp of its gradual evolution. The ennobling belief in God is not universal with man; and the belief in spiritual agencies naturally follows from other mental powers. The moral sense perhaps affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals; but I need say nothing on this head, as I have so lately endeavoured to shew that the social instincts,- the prime principle of man's moral constitution* - with the aid of active intellectual powers and the effects of habit, naturally lead to the golden rule, "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye to them likewise"; and this lies at the foundation of morality.

* Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Bk. V, sect. 55.

In the next chapter I shall make some few remarks on the probable steps and means by which the several mental and moral faculties of man have been gradually evolved. That such evolution is at least possible, ought not to be denied, for we daily see these faculties developing in every infant; and we may trace a perfect gradation from the mind of an utter idiot, lower than that of an animal low in the scale, to the mind of a Newton."

Ch. 6 Darwin on human origins -- why he held the first "out of Africa" theory!

On the Birthplace and Antiquity of Man.- We are naturally led to enquire, where was the birthplace of man at that stage of descent when our progenitors diverged from the catarhine stock? The fact that they belonged to the stock clearly shews that they inhabited the Old World; but not Australia nor any oceanic island, as we may infer from the laws of geographical distribution. In each great region of the world the living mammals are closely related to the extinct species of the same region. It is therefore probable that Africa was formerly inhabited by extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee; and as these two species are now man's nearest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere. (Ch.6, Descent of Man….)

Sexual selection

[page] 421

Sexual selection implies that the more attractive individuals are preferred by the opposite sex; and as with insects, when the sexes differ, it is the male which, with rare exceptions, is the most ornamented and departs most from the type to which the species belongs;—and as it is the male which searches eagerly for the female, we must suppose that the females habitually or occasionally prefer the more beautiful males, and that these have thus acquired their beauty. That in most or all the orders the females have the power of rejecting any particular male, we may safely infer from the many singular contrivances possessed by the males, such as great jaws, adhesive cushions, spines, elongated legs, &c., for seizing the female; for these contrivances shew that there is some difficulty in the act. In the case of unions between distinct species, of which many instances have been recorded, the female must have been a consenting party. Judging from what we know of the perceptive powers and affections of various insects, there is no antecedent improbability in sexual selection having come largely into action; but we have as yet no direct evidence on this head, and some facts are opposed to the belief. Nevertheless, when we see many males pursuing the same female, we can hardly believe that the pairing is left to blind chance—that the female exerts no choice, and is not influenced by the gorgeous colours or other ornaments, with which the male alone is decorated.


With respect to birds in a state of nature, the first and most obvious supposition which will occur to everyone is that the female at the proper season accepts the first male whom she may encounter; but she has at least the opportunity for exerting a choice, as she is almost invariably pursued by many males. Audubon—and we must remember that he spent a long life in prowling about the forests of the United States and observing the birds—does not doubt that the female deliberately chooses her mate; thus, speaking of a wood-pecker, he says the hen is followed by half-a-dozen gay suitors, who continue performing strange antics, "until a marked preference is shewn for one."


In regard to the general hairyness of the body, the women in all races are less hairy than the men, and in some few Quadrumana the under side of the body of the female is less hairy than that of the male.10 Lastly, male monkeys, like men, are bolder and fiercer than the females. They lead the troop, and when there is danger, come to the front. We thus see how close is the parallelism between the sexual differences of man and the Quadrumana. With some few species, however, as with certain baboons, the gorilla and orang, there is a considerably greater difference between the sexes, in the size of the canine teeth, in the development and colour of the hair, and especially in the colour of the naked parts of the skin, than in the case of mankind.

[page] 343 BEAUTY. CHAP. XIX.

Lastly it is a remarkable fact, as proved by the foregoing quotations, that the same fashions in modifying the shape of the head, in ornamenting the hair, in painting, tattooing, perforating the nose, lips, or ears, in removing or filing the teeth, &c., now prevail and have long prevailed in the most distant quarters of the world. It is extremely improbable that these practices which are followed by so many distinct nations are due to tradition from any common source. They rather indicate the close similarity of the mind of man, to whatever race he may belong, in the same manner as the almost universal habits of dancing, masquerading, and making rude pictures.

[page] 353 BEAUTY. CHAP. XIX.

No doubt the perceptive powers of man and the lower animals are so constituted that brilliant colours and certain forms, as well as harmonious and rhythmical sounds, give pleasure and are called beautiful; but why this should be so, we know no more than why certain bodily sensations are agreeable and others disagreeable. It is certainly not true that there is in the mind of man any universal standard of beauty with respect to the human body. It is, however, possible that certain tastes may in the course of time become inherited, though I know of no evidence in favour of this belief;

With mankind, especially with savages, many causes interfere with the action of sexual selection as far as the bodily frame is concerned. Civilised men are largely

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attracted by the mental charms of women, by their wealth, and especially by their social position; for men rarely marry into a much lower rank of life. The men who succeed in obtaining the more beautiful women, will not have a better chance of leaving a long line of descendants than other men with plainer wives, with the exception of the few who bequeath their fortunes according to primogeniture. With respect to the opposite form of selection, namely of the more attractive men by the women, although in civilised nations women have free or almost free choice, which is not the case with barbarous races, yet their choice is largely influenced by the social position and wealth of the men; and the success of the latter in life largely depends on their intellectual powers and energy, or on the fruits of these same powers in their forefathers.


On the Causes which prevent or check the Action of Sexual Selection with Savages.—The chief causes are, firstly, so-called communal marriages or promiscuous intercourse; secondly, infanticide, especially of female infants; thirdly, early betrothals; and lastly, the low estimation in which women are held, as mere slaves. These four points must be considered in some detail.

(JL- Darwin goes on to describe non-human primate examples)

We may indeed conclude from what we know of the jealousy of all male quadrupeds, armed, as many of them are, with special weapons for battling with their rivals, that promiscuous intercourse in a state of nature is extremely improbable. The pairing may not last for life, but only for each birth; yet if the males which are the strongest and best able to defend or otherwise assist their females and young offspring, were to select the more attractive females, this would suffice for the work of sexual selection.

Therefore, if we look far enough back in the stream of time, it is extremely improbable that primeval men and women lived promiscuously together. Judging from the social habits of man as he now exists, and from most savages being polygamists, the most probable view is that primeval man aboriginally lived in small communities, each with as many wives as he could support and obtain, whom he would have jealously guarded against all other men. Or he may have lived with several wives by himself, like the Gorilla; for all the natives "agree that but one adult male is seen in a band; when the young male grows up, a contest takes place for mastery, and the strongest, b


killing and driving out the others, establishes himself as the head of the community."8 The younger males, being thus expelled and wandering about, would, when at last successful in finding a partner, prevent too close interbreeding within the limits of the same family.

The very ugly men would perhaps altogether fail in getting a wife, or get one later in life, but the handsomer men, although the most successful in obtaining wives, would not, as far as we can see, leave more offspring to inherit their beauty than the less handsome husbands of the same women.

Thus during these primordial times all the conditions for sexual selection would have been much more favourable than at a later period, when man had advanced in his intellectual powers, but had retrograded in his instincts. Therefore, whatever influence sexual selection may have had in producing the differences between the races of man, and between man and the higher Quadrumana, this influence would have been much more powerful at a very remote period than at the present day.

Women are everywhere conscious of the value of their beauty; and when they have the means, they take more delight in decorating themselves with all sorts of ornaments than do

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men. They borrow the plumes of male birds, with which nature decked this sex in order to charm the females. As women have long been selected for beauty, it is not surprising that some of the successive variations should have been transmitted in a limited manner; and consequently that women should have transmitted their beauty in a somewhat higher degree to their female than to their male offspring. Hence women have become more beautiful, as most persons will admit, than men.

For my own part I conclude that of all the causes which have led to the differences in external appearance between the races of man, and to a certain extent between man and the lower animals, sexual selection has been by far the most efficient.




Everyone who admits the principle of evolution, and yet feels great difficulty in admitting that female mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish, could have acquired the high standard of taste which is implied by the beauty of the males, and which generally coincides with our own standard, should reflect that in each member of the vertebrate series the nerve-cells of the brain are the direct offshoots of those possessed by the common progenitor of the whole group. It thus becomes intelligible that the brain and mental faculties should be capable under similar conditions of nearly the same course of development, and consequently of performing nearly the same functions.


He who admits the principle of sexual selection will be led to the remarkable conclusion that the cerebral system not only regulates most of the existing functions of the body, but has indirectly influenced the progressive development of various bodily structures and of certain mental qualities. Courage, pugnacity, perseverance, strength and size of body, weapons of all kinds, musical organs, both vocal and instrumental, bright colours, stripes and marks, and ornamental appendages, have all been indirectly gained by the one sex or the other, through the influence of love and jealousy, through the appreciation of the beautiful in sound, colour or form, and through the exertion of a choice; and these powers of the mind manifestly depend on the development of the cerebral system.

Man scans with scrupulous care the character and pedigree of his horses, cattle, and dogs before he matches them; but when he comes to his own marriage he rarely, or never, takes any such care. He is impelled by nearly the same motives as are the lower animals when left to their own free choice, though he is in so far superior to them that he highly values mental charms


and virtues. On the other hand he is strongly attracted by mere wealth or rank. Yet he might by selection do something not only for the bodily constitution and frame of his offspring, but for their intellectual and moral qualities.


Sexual selection depends on the success of certain individuals over others of the same sex in relation to the propagation of the species; whilst natural selection depends on the success of both sexes, at all ages, in relation to the general conditions of life. The sexual struggle is of two kinds; in the one it is between the individuals of the same sex, generally the male sex, in order to drive away or kill their rivals, the females remaining passive; whilst in the other, the struggle is likewise between the individuals of the same sex, in order to excite or charm those of the opposite sex, generally the females, which no longer remain passive, but select the more agreeable partners. This latter kind of selection is closely analogous to that which man unintentionally, yet effectually, brings to bear on his domesticated productions, when he continues for a long time choosing the most pleasing or useful individuals, without any wish to modify the breed.