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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Thomas Hutton   8 March 1856


8th March 1856

My dear Sir,

When in my former letter1 I stated that the children descended from mixed European and Native blood would often in the third and fourth generations show symptoms of a return to the dark complexion of the Grandmother or Great Grandmother, even when their own immediate parents showed no traces of it, you will perhaps feel inclined to ask why this should be, and why, when the White had appeared to have superseded the Black complexion, there should be a retrograde movement to the latter.— I am tempted to reply that the reason is to be found in the fact that Nature abhors what is called civilization as much as she does a vacuum.— That is to say in other words, that Nature remains true to herself, and endeavours to avoid all that is artificial.— The European is decidedly a highly cultivated and therefore an artificial breed;—the native of India on the other hand, is almost a child of nature— Hence when these two races intermix Nature makes violent efforts to retain the simple and true, and to reject the artificial and false blood. It is only after the repeated addition of European blood that these efforts cease,—because the race has then become wholly artificial by the predominance of the father’s blood.—

This is seen still more clearly in the case of the breed obtained between a highly bred European dog, and the common village cur of India.— If we cross the latter with an English Greyhound, Foxhound or Bulldog, all of which are highly bred and artificial, the pups will partake of the characteristics of both parents, but most so of the village dog; precisely as between the first cross of European man and Native woman, the children more strongly resemble the mother’s complexion— If these pups are again crossed with European blood, the characteristics of the village dog will gradually disappear as before with the man and woman,—with an occasional effort to return to the least artificial stock of the two.— But if the pups are left to breed inter se their produce will reject the artificial European blood, and become wholly native,—and so would the Half Caste children produced from the European and Native.—

We call this a tendency to degenerate, unless the breed is kept up to an artificial standard, by the addition of civilized blood,—but it is in reality the very reverse of degeneracy,—being a return to a natural type only.— The civilization or domestication of a species soon renders it artificial, and gradually obliterates the original appearance.— Nature abhors such artifice and invariably endeavours to return to herself, and would always succeed were we not to counteract her influence by keeping up the artificial form by the repeated admixture of similar blood;—thus, as like breeds like,—the desired artificial form is preserved only by frequently recrossing it with similar artificial stock.—

On my return from Afghanisthan in 1841, I brought with me two half bred male Goats,—the Mother having been a domestic Goat and the father the wild Capra Elgagrus.— These more strongly resembled the wild, than the tame breed.— They were again crossed upon domestic goats, and the produce altho’ now only 14 wild, was still much more closely allied to the wild than to the tame breed; and the reason is that Nature avoided the artificial and clung to the wild blood.— 2

I think I may say that you will perceive the same thing in regard to the common Mule.— A breed is produced between the High bred and artificial horse and the poor uncultivated donkey;—the foal is always, where both parents are equally healthy,—more Assinine in appearance than Equine, because the blood of the one is more natural than that of the other!— In our farm yards the Duck altho’ running into all sorts of colours as the effects of 〈do〉mestication, yet constantly returns, more especially among the Drakes to the original Mallard.—

With regard to our breed of Geese, I find that I can obtain no trustworthy information upon the points you require to know,—but this much I can venture to say from my own casual observation, viz that the breed dispersed generally over the country is a hybrid race between the Chinese or knobbed Goose (A. Cygnoides.) and the common Grey Lag.— The progeny is prolific inter se & often becomes pure white.— 3 I will however make further inquiries on the subject though truth to tell where nobody thinks of a goose until they see it roasted on the table, it is not easy to procure any information at all.—

Pigeons are a source of great amusement to the Mahomedan population of India, and are of several varieties, all of which are probably known to pigeon fanciers in Europe— The only wild breed that is occasionally domesticated among these is the common Blue Pigeon of India generally, and known as Columba intermedia.— This is common throughout the North Western parts of the country where it breeds in communities in large dry wells (unbricked) scooping out holes for the purpose in the earthy sides.— It is likewise found in Afghanisthan where it breeds in similar situations, and among old buildings and rocks— It is easily tamed, and breeds very readily with all4

CD annotations

crossed pencil; ‘Geese Hybrids’added brown crayon, del ink; ‘Q’added ink, circled ink; ‘Nothing except Pigeons very last Page’added ink, circled ink
scored brown crayon
scored brown crayon
scored brown crayon
scored brown crayon; ‘Q’added pencil, circled pencil
‘Copied’added pencil
triple scored brown crayon
Top of first page: ‘Marked with’pencil ‘Red’ brown crayon, underl brown crayon; ‘(5)’ brown crayon; ‘17’5 brown crayon; ‘Breeds taking [on] wild forms’ pencil; ‘Geese’ brown crayon, underl brown crayon; ‘Pigeon’ brown crayon, underl brown crayon


This letter has not been found, nor has it been possible to identify Hutton. CD had originally corresponded with Hutton at the suggestion of Edward Blyth. See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, 22–3 August 1855, for extracts from a letter from Hutton to Blyth responding to some of CD’s queries.
CD cited Hutton to this effect in Natural selection, p. 486.
See Natural selection, p. 439, where CD gives information from both Hutton and Edward Blyth on these and other points about Indian geese.
In Variation 1: 185, CD stated: ‘In India, as Captain Hutton informs me, the wild rock-pigeon is easily tamed, and breeds readily with the domestic kind’.
CD’s numbering refers to his portfolios on varieties and hybrids, respectively.


TH believes that the progeny of hybrid crosses, in which a domesticated or "artificial" race is involved, tend to resemble the more "natural" of their parents [see Natural selection, p. 486].

Provides some information on local hybrid domestic geese [see Natural selection, p. 439] and pigeons.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Hutton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 166: 283
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1838,” accessed on 19 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6