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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   11 June [1855]

Down Farnborough Kent

June 11th

My dear Fox

Your “very fair night after the murder”1 made us laugh heartily.— I thank you cordially for this first instalment:2 I can only repeat my firm belief that there is not another man, at least I am very sure I do not know one, who would take so much trouble for another. The results may not, very likely prove of value to justify my having asked you to do such disagreeable work, but I can say that it is no idle passing wish, but one of several years standing. I have put the Duckling into the strongest sea-salt Brine, & shall wait till cooler weather, & till I have all the specimens for full comparison.— I shd. like sometime know about how many generations your tame wild-duck has been tamed. Perhaps next Spring you might get me a specimen of the really wild; though I shd. be very glad of one of yours.

The Box was hardly strong enough in which you sent the Duckling, for it had been compressed, & the intestines had been forced out, but not much injured, which I am very glad of, for I intend to measure length of intestines in tame & wild old Ducks, & if there be, (as I shd. not be surprised) any considerable difference, I shd. wish particularly to look to the intestines of the young. I shall be so curious to compare the feet of the young wild & tame; for in the old skeleton I find that all the bones together of the tame weigh 13 more than all of the wild, but the bones of the feet alone weigh actually double those of the wild, which I think must be attributed to the more terrestrial habits of the tame; I hope, therefore, your tamed wild Ducks have kept their aquatic habits.

The wing-bones of the tame are proportionally considerably lighter, than those of the wild. The lower mandible, also, has not increased in weight with rest of skeleton, which I presume must be attributed to their being fed.— I mention these particulars to show the sort of points, which I am attempting to observe.

Would it not be well to get on my account half-a dozen little Boxes made by some Carpenter?

Farewell & believe me my very dear Murderer | Your affectly. | C. Darwin

You will think me an awful beggar, but if ever one of your old Aylesbury Ducks die, I shd. like the skeleton: I do not ask to save myself buying one, but not knowing appearance I shd. very likely not get a pure breed. The one I have got, was ordered merely as a white large Duck,—the man told me it was Aylesbury but I have not the least idea whether it was.— My demands will cost you a fortune in little Baskets. Remember address for parcels.

“C Darwin”

“care of Mr Acton”

“P. Office”




An allusion to the stormy night during which Duncan was murdered by Macbeth (Macbeth II, iii).
CD had requested that Fox send him the body of a seven-day-old duckling. See letter to W. D. Fox, 7 May [1855].


Thanks WDF for specimens and his great help to CD in his work on variations in young and adult ducks and poultry. Has found feet of tame adult ducks weigh twice as much as those of wild ones.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 93)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1698,” accessed on 20 July 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5