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Darwin Correspondence Project

To [W. E. Darwin]1   [1857?]2

Will you tell Mr Linton,3 that I am sorry to have troubled him with so many messages; but I had always thought that canaries & goldfinches, when paired, produced fewer young-birds than the pure parents; & I was particularly curious to know the cause of this.— I am sure that fewness of young is generally the rule, as in common mule from Horse & ass,—& from pheasant & Fowl.— But I shall be very much obliged for any facts about the eggs either of hybrids or of first crosses.—4


The letter is thought to be to William Erasmus Darwin because it was found among other letters to William from CD. See also n. 2, below.
The date is conjectured by the reference to Mr Linton and by the relevance of the subject matter to CD’s work on Natural selection. The note may have been written while William and Henry Linton’s son Sydney were fellow pupils at Rugby, between 1855 and 1857 (see n. 3, below); this is the only time there is a recorded connection between William and the Lintons. There were no Lintons at Cambridge while William was an undergraduate there (Alum. Cantab.). For CD’s work on Natural selection, see n. 4, below.
Henry Linton was a contemporary of Hensleigh Wedgwood’s at Rugby School (Rugby School register). William was at Rugby from 1852 to 1857 (Rugby School register, Correspondence vol. 6, letter to W. E. Darwin, 29 [October 1857]). Henry Linton’s son Sydney was at Rugby from August 1855 until 1860 (Rugby School register, Alum. Oxon.).
The fertility of crosses between horses and asses, pheasants and fowls, and canaries and goldfinches, and the fertility of their offspring, are discussed in Natural selection, pp. 438–9 (see also pp. 431–2, 438). Bernard Peirce Brent is cited for the information on canaries; there is a letter from him to CD on the subject dated 23 October 1857 (Correspondence vol. 6). This section of Natural selection was completed in December 1857 (Correspondence vol. 6, Appendix III).


Will be grateful for facts from Mr Linton on numbers of eggs from goldfinch–canary crosses.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 187
Physical description
AL 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2029,” accessed on 26 March 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13 (Supplement)