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Letter 2224

Darwin, C. R. to Huxley, T. H.

24 Feb [1858]

    Summary Add

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    Congratulations on birth of THH's daughter [Jessie].

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    On aboriginal dun colour of horses.

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    Examples of inaccuracies and perpetuation of errors [on hybrids] by "compilers, of which I am one".

Transcription

Down Bromley Kent

Feb. 24th

My dear Huxley

I congratulate you on birth of daughter, but I hope I shall not very often have to congratulate you; for it may be truly said of Babies, “that enough is as good as a feast”.—

Thank you much for taking trouble of informing me of your two facts. But it so happened that I had heard of them. All Duns I believe are Ponies or small horses, & I do not believe there is dun Cart-Horse or Arabians: nevertheless I vehe-mently suspect that the aboriginal colour of the wild parent of our horses was Dun with stripe down back.—

The explanation of Hellenius' case is, I believe, as follows—he crossed sheep with Sardinian Roe. In Sardinia the Mouflon, or supposed parent of our sheep is called a Roe. Such perfect fertility of hybrids from such very distinct genera inter se, would require the most astounding amount of evidence.— The inaccuracy of the blessed gang (of which I am one) of compilers passes all bounds: Monsters have frequently been described as hybrids without a tittle of evidence.— I must give one other case to show how we jolly fellows work— A Belgian Baron (I forget name this moment) crossed two distinct geese & got seven hybrids, which he proved subsequently to be quite sterile; well compiler the first, Chevreuel, says that the hybrids were propagated for seven generations inter se. Compiler 2d (Morton) mistakes the French names, & gives Latin names for two more distinct geese, & says Chevreul himself propagated them inter se for seven generations; & this latter statement is copied from Book to Book!

I missed you at the Club for a scientific jaw, though I had very pleasant evening, luckily sitting by Hooker.— I shall be very curious to hear what you think of Agassiz's Contributions; not that I have yet begun to read it.

Adios | Yours Ever | C. Darwin

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 2224.f1
    Dated by the reference to the birth of Huxley's daughter (see n. 2, below).
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    f2 2224.f2
    Jessie Oriana Huxley was born in February 1858 (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 157).
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    f3 2224.f3
    CD later discovered that there were full-sized dun horses as well as the more usual ponies (Variation 1: 60).
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    f4 2224.f4
    Huxley had evidently sent CD an account of hybrid crosses taken from Hellenius 1801. In this paper, Carl Nicolas Hellenius stated that he had crossed a common ram with a female deer and that the hybrid offspring were fertile. But, as stated in the letter, CD believed that Hellenius had confused the Sardinian word ‘roe’ (meaning mouflon) with the common English name for roe-deer (Cervus capreolus). The case is mentioned in Natural selection, p. 426 n. 1.
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    f5 2224.f5
    In Natural selection, pp. 426–7 n. 1, CD identified Baron de La Fresnaye as the owner of the hybrids and cited the works of Michel Eugène Chevreul (Chevreul 1846) and Samuel George Morton (Morton 1847).
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    f6 2224.f6
    CD refers to the meeting of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society on 18 February, which both he and Joseph Dalton Hooker attended (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [17 February 1858]).
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    f7 2224.f7
    Agassiz 1857–62, the first volume of which Louis Agassiz had sent to CD. See letter to Louis Agassiz, 21 February [1858].
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