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Darwin Correspondence Project

To James Lamont   5 March [1860]1

Down. | Bromley. Kent.

March 5th.

Dear Sir.

I am much obliged for your long and interesting letter— 2 You have indeed good right to speak confidently about the habits of wild birds & animals; for I should think no one beside yourself has ever sported in Spitzbergen & Southern Africa!3 It is very curious & interesting that you should have arrived at the conclusion that so called “Natural Selection” had been efficient in giving their peculiar colours to our grouse—   I shall probably use your authority on the similar habits of our grouse & the Norwegian Species.4

I am particularly obliged for your very curious fact of the effect produced by the introduction of the lowland grouse on the wildness of the grouse in your neighbourhood—   It is a very striking instance of what crossing will do in affecting the character of a breed. Have you ever seen it stated in any sporting work that Game has become wilder in this country? I wish I could get any sort of proof of the fact, for your explanation seems to me equally ingenious & probable. I have myself witnessed in S. America a nearly parallel [case]5 with that which you mention in regard to the reindeer in Spitzbergen, with the C. campestris of La Plata;6 it feared neither man nor the sound of shot of a Rifle, but was terrified at the sight of a man on horseback; every one in that country always riding.—

As you are so great a sportsman perhaps you will kindly look to one very trifling point for me, as my neighbours here think it too absurd to notice— Namely whether the feet of birds are dirty, whether a few grains of dirt do not adhere occasionally to their feet. I especially want to know how this is in the case of birds like herons & waders which stalk in the mud— You will guess that this relates to dispersal of seeds—which is one of my greatest difficulties—7

My health is very indifferent & I am seldom able to attend the scientific meetings, but I sincerely hope that I may sometime have the pleasure of meeting you—8

Pray accept my cordial thanks for your very kind letter, & believe me. Dear Sir. | Your obliged servant | Charles Darwin.


Dated by the relationship to the letter from James Lamont, [23 February 1860].
Lamont travelled to Spitzbergen on a hunting expedition in 1858 and again in 1859. He had gone big-game hunting in South Africa in 1851. See Lamont 1950, pp. 9, 11.
Lamont is not cited on this point in subsequent editions of Origin or in Variation.
The copyist omitted a word here: ‘[case]’ has been added in the margin, presumably by Francis Darwin.
Colaptes campestris is a species of woodpecker found in southern Brazil and the pampas of Argentina that feeds solely on the ground. See Origin, p. 184, and Natural selection, p. 344.
For CD’s earlier attempts to gain information on the means of dispersal of seeds and ova, see Correspondence vols. 5, 6, and 7.
Lamont was a fellow of the Geological Society of London. In 1859 he read a paper on the geology of Spitzbergen at a meeting of the society.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Lamont, Augusta. 1950. Records and recollections of Sir James Lamont of Knockdow. Privately printed. PLACE OF PUBLICATION?

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Responds to JL’s comments on effect of natural selection on grouse or reindeer.

Asks if dirt adheres to feet of water-birds.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
James Lamont
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 146: 28
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2722,” accessed on 18 November 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8