Thanks CD for a recent letter.
Reports on his health, which has been bad for 12 months.
Sends extracts of works on domestication.
Discusses the pairing of various birds; comments on the pugnacity of partridges, pheasants, male guinea-fowl, and peacocks.
Gives proportions of sexes in pheasants.
ArchBishop Whately life, Vol II. 171
``I have sown the seeds of the White B
On the other hand, I
have sown the berries of the Florence Court Yew (which
Botanical Books speak of as a distinct species) & all that
have come up as yet, have been common yews.''
32 years since W D Fox brought berries from D
Copper Beech— At Piddle Hinton Rectory—near Dorchester there is a fine copper Beech.
3 years since when W D Fox was there—he found about half
of the young plants, (grown accidentally in an Asparagus bed
beneath the tree) were well coloured copper Beeches &
From Times August 6. 1868
``The Keeper here found a hawks nest with 5 young in it. He took & killed 4 but left one with its wings clipped as a decoy for the old ones.
They were both shot next day in the act of feeding. The next day he came & found 2 other charitable hawks who had come to succour the orphan<.> He killed these 2 & left nest. Afterwards he found 2 more charitable individuals on same errand of mercy— One of these he killed— The other also he shot, but could not find— No more came.''
F. O. Morris—by the Hon
Delamere Ry | Northwich Oct 29 My dear Darwin
The above extracts I copied thinking they might interest you. The ArchBishop evidently was no Botanist—& the Keeper a Brute, as most are.
I have to thank you for a very kind letter received a few
days since. You ask about myself so I am obliged to enter
into that disagreeable subject. I have been more or less an
invalid for the last 12 month. First D
Lastly—I am assured it is not heart—or Liver—possibly
not Neuralgia of Stomach—possibly
is derangement of Blood Vessels—positively is not
cancer or tumour of stomach or Gout. I have taken every
vegitable poison—Strichnine—Aconite—Bella Donna &c—&
most of the mineral do— — My last D
At times I suffer a good deal—at times I am free from pain. I am however now in very tolerably comfortable health, with care not to stoop—overdo my strength &c & get thro a good deal of work in all ways. I have very much to be thankful for in all ways.
Of course a continual pain is annoying, but I dwell upon it as little as I can help.
I promised D
Well I have given you—a full acc
So to work. I could not make any experiments this Summer from want of health & power. But a very clever Keeper, ``Jesse England'' who has all his life observed Birds—gives me the following facts.
With regard to ``the Magpie Marriage''.
We used to have a very great Number of Magpies in the Forest till he destroyed them. They well performed for us, the place of Rooks, & used to be in Numbers from 20 & upwards quite commonly together.
He tells me ``he can well remember a great Congregation of Magpies one early spring in a part of Forest called The spreading Oak Field—and that he shot 5 of them. That they were chattering & flying about amongst the trees, & sometimes fighting.''
My own recollections I before told you. I have seen all
the Magpies apparently of the Forest—several times in the
early months of year Jan
I watched them for some time & was much amused with the
evident importance of the whole Affair. In two instances
certainly—I noticed that after this day—the Magpies
were all in pairs— I always called it ``the Magpie
Marriage''—& have frequently mentioned it as having taken
place. Jesse England says that with Magpies & Carrion crows,
he has frequently observed that when he has shot the Cock
Birds (he says the hens are generally too wary) from the
nest, that another has come & taken their place.'' And he
gave me this case as occurring this Summer. ``I shot the
cock Bird of a Carrion Crows nest in M
He said he had many times shot cock Birds of Magpies & Carrion Crows & found another took their place. That it is much easier to kill the Cocks, as they feed the Hens on nest & are less wary.
I before told you that I had myself when a lad shot Carrion Crows from nest at Osmaston, & to my surprise observed a pair again in a day or two.
England tells me—(to give you an idea of the abundance of our Magpies a few years since) that he with another man—shot 19 Cock Magpies from the nest one morning.
His experience will in some measure answer your Questions as to the sex— Probably 9 out of 10 are the cock Birds.
Partridges. He never saw an odd Bird. But partridges are so companionable, that there is little likelihood of ever doing so. He says he has often known 2 hens to 1 Cock bird, & that they have generally had large coveys—so as to make him sure both birds bred.
On the other hand he has known several times 2 cocks to 1 hen, when they rarely or never have any young ones.
This year he has observed 5 old Cock Birds, which have always kept together this season—2 of which he has killed.
Partridges fight very pertinaceously— he only two days since watched a Battle for a long while. They scuffled at each other—pecking & scratching with their feet (they have no spurs)—& continue this for hours.
Pheasants he has known frequently kill each other (I picked up a splendid Cock in Bolton Abbey Wood some years since in March, which had evidently been killed by a spur thro the head).
On one occasion—England said a Man called him into his garden to see a Battle going on, which he said he had watched above an hour.
Both cocks were so exhausted that England picked them up & put them in his pockets. After a while one was able to run away—but the other died.
Wild-Ducks— The pairing of these may throw some light upon the matter. It is generally said that wild ducks must be paired to do any good in hatching.
I have no doubt they generally do in a wild state, but I do not believe always— At all events in a semiwild state—they do much better 2 or 3 ducks to a Mallard—& this Summer—England (who breeds a great Number on a large pond)—killed off his Mallards so as to leave 7 or 8 Ducks to each, & he never has been so successful or had larger broods. His ducks are in a completely wild state except that they come to feed.
Englands experience with respect to Hawks (Kestril &
Sparrow Hawks) is opposed to Hon
This was on a spruce tree at least 15 feet high— he left the trap set, & to his astonishment a day afterwards found a stoat in it.
There are cases innumerable of other Birds (not the
Parents) feeding young Birds, & I can quite imagine the
Parental feeling prompting this as it w
I believe Concubinage is not uncommon among birds. I told
you of the Man at Chester, who breeds Canaries—putting a
paired cock to several other hens. He impregnates them, &
they build & bring up the young—he, is meanwhile being
an excellent husband & Father to his wife & ch
I must tell you of a white Muscovy Duck, hatched here this year among some 30 others. To the great amusement of my children, she cocks her tail exactly like a hen.
I shewed her today to a Miss Hall with us—who
immediately said ``she is a Hen Duck''. It is a curious
I have a list of the sexes of sheep—& cows for many years past, which I will send you shortly. I shall have satisfied you for the present, if you read thro all I have written.
Turkeys— My wild &
The Cocks go some distance from Farm yard to Farm yard to attack distant neighbours—a mile or more. They are eminently pugnacious Birds.
Both Guinea Fowl & Peacocks fight.
I think I before told you that Guinea Fowl do better—1 cock to 2 or 3 Hens than when paired. That they are not highly moral, I can give you a good proof in that this year— I had 2 Pearl Birds paired—all the rest—8 or 10—were white.
Out of 32 Birds reared under hens, & therefore eggs taken
at random—6 only were white—the rest pied more or
less. The Pearl Cock was the master of yard & evidently made
the most of his opportunities. Now if Guinea Fowl, Wild
Ducks & partridges—all of whom pair as rigidly perhaps as
most birds, (& whose peccadilloes we only know better,
because they are larger birds & under our eyes) take these
liberties, and as Canaries certainly do also—I have
little doubt that a great deal of licence prevails generally
among birds—even when strictly paired, and I have little
doubt but that generally an odd female w
It has often puzzled me what becomes of all the cock
In this country Gamekeepers are a sort of providential arrangement to kill the extra cocks—but in a state of nature those kindly animals do not exist & what then?
As I am sure about an equal number of the sexes are
produced, upon our usual calculation of the habits of these
birds—out of 20 Pheasants &c hatched—there w
Fancy this as the state of things in general in a Forest.
And generally speaking they do not seem to herd
together—as pairing Birds do. I cannot fancy a
Community of Cock Turkeys—Cock pheasants &
Animals do often herd together in separate sexes, as deer for instance—but I do not imagine any of these Birds do so.
If you succeed in getting the number of sexes of poultry
Well, my dear Darwin, I will dismiss you. I wonder whether you will get thro my letter.
By the ``sexual selection'' reminds me that this year I have 2 flocks of geese— One White Swan Geese—the other Common Irish. They always appeared to be separate, & the respective Ganders to guard each others flocks but to my surprise out of 32 Goslings there are only 4 which are common Geese tho' 2 geese sat & brought out about 20.
To this day the flocks keep quite distinct but the
It is common for pigs not to take to one Boar, but admit another immediately.
Did you see a wise writer in the field congratulate the World upon the excess of male Wolves over females. He saw several times one female pursued by numbers of males he said, which proved his point.
Well! Well! as a neighbour says. I will conclude you will say I am grown old & garrulous. Olden times make a chat with you a pleasure. I rejoice to hear Leonards success. It almost equals your Cambridge Son.
Kindest regards to M
- f1 6436.f1The year is established by the reference to the success of Leonard Darwin (see n. 29, below).
- f2 6436.f2The quotation, with some minor changes, is from the Life and correspondence of Richard Whately (Whately 1866), 2: 171. Richard Whately was the archbishop of Dublin from 1831 to 1863.
- f3 6436.f3In Variation 2: 19--20, CD referred to the trees raised by his father, Robert Waring Darwin, from a wild yellow-berried holly; CD wrote that his father's trees also produced yellow berries.
- f4 6436.f4In Variation 2: 19, CD had cited Alphonse de Candolle's finding that only about a third of the seedlings of the copper beech displayed purple leaves.
- f5 6436.f5The quotation is a rough transcription of a letter to The Times, titled `The murder of British birds', 6 August 1868, p. 10; the letter was forwarded to Francis Orpen Morris from Orlando Watkin Weld Forester, and was an account given to him by a gamekeeper. CD quoted the account from The Times, not from Fox's transcription, in Descent 2: 107 n. 8.
- f6 6436.f6Letter to W. D. Fox, 21 October .
- f7 6436.f7See also letter from W. D. Fox, 3 February .
- f8 6436.f8Dr Tanner has not been identified.
- f9 6436.f9The divisions of Derby and South Derbyshire held elections on 16 November 1868, East Derbyshire's election was on 17 November, and North Derbyshire's was on 24 November (The Times, 16 November 1868, p. 8, and 19 November 1868, p. 6). Fox grew up outside Derby, and the Fox family still held property at Osmaston Hall and at Elvaston, both in south Derbyshire. As a result of the Reform Act of 1867, new constituencies had been created, including two new MPs for Derbyshire (see Hanham ).
- f10 6436.f10Charles Woodd Fox, Fox's second son, was studying at Christ Church, Oxford (Alum. Oxon.). Robert Gerard Fox, Fox's third son, was a student at King's College, London (Boase 1894). Fox's fourth son, Frederick William Fox, born in 1855, may have been attending a nearby school in Whitchurch, Shropshire. The two daughters have not been identified; Fox had sixteen surviving children (Darwin pedigree).
- f11 6436.f11See letter to W. D. Fox, 14 May . CD referred to the celebration of the `great magpie marriage' in Descent 2: 102; he cited Fox as the source of information on magpies in Delamere Forest.
- f12 6436.f12See letter from W. D. Fox, [before 14 May 1868].
- f13 6436.f13England may have worked for George Fortescue Wilbraham, a prominent landowner in the village of Delamere (Ormerod 1882, 2: 107). CD noted accounts of one of an adult pair of birds being killed, and quickly being replaced by another, in Descent 2: 103.
- f14 6436.f14Fox may have mentioned this in the missing portion of his letter of [before 14 May 1868]. CD included the case in Descent 2: 104. Osmaston Hall, near Derby, was the Fox family home (see Correspondence vol. 1).
- f15 6436.f15See Descent 2: 102.
- f16 6436.f16CD referred to these various pairings of partridges in Descent 2: 106; he credited Fox for the information in Descent 2: 107 n. 7.
- f17 6436.f17CD included a section on the `Law of battle' for birds in Descent 2: 40--51, but did not include these cases.
- f18 6436.f18Bolton Abbey is in North Yorkshire, north-west of Leeds and Ilkley.
- f19 6436.f19CD cited Fox for this information in Descent 1: 270.
- f20 6436.f20See letter from W. D. Fox, [before 14 May 1868], and Descent 1: 270.
- f21 6436.f21Miss Hall has not been identified. Fox also refers to his wife, Ellen Sophia Fox.
- f22 6436.f22See letter to W. D. Fox, 21 October ; see also letter from W. D. Fox, 9 December .
- f23 6436.f23See letter from W. D. Fox, [before 14 May 1868] and n. 5.
- f24 6436.f24Rosamund's (or Rosamond's) bower: a labyrinth that Henry II was said to have constructed for his mistress, Rosamund Clifford, at Woodstock Palace (see EB and ODNB).
- f25 6436.f25Fox refers to the black grouse (Tetrao tetrix).
- f26 6436.f26CD included Fox's account in Descent 2: 114, giving the alternative name of `Chinese goose' for the Irish goose; see letter from W. D. Fox, 9 December  and n. 4.
- f27 6436.f27In Descent 2: 273, CD included Fox's information, crediting a `clergy-man, who has bred many pigs'.
- f28 6436.f28Nothing on wolves was found in October 1868 issues of the Field.
- f29 6436.f29On the recent successes of Leonard Darwin and George Howard Darwin, see the letter to W. D. Fox, 21 October  and n. 7.