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Darwin Correspondence Project

To the Field   [before 4 May 1861]1

Sir,—

From the recent investigations of Mr Tegetmeier, and from those of the older naturalists, most people who keep Polish fowls are aware that the tuft of feathers on their heads is supported by an extraordinary, almost hemispherical, protuberance of the front part of the skull.2 This protuberance is accompanied by an equal change in the shape of the brain. Pallas and some of the older writers describe the Polish fowl as, in consequence, stupid;3 but Mr Tegetmeier has shown that this is a mistake. The experience of many savage races of man proves that the external shape of the brain may be greatly modified by pressure, without the intellectual faculties being affected. Nevertheless, after having recently examined the skulls of Poland fowls, I am astonished that such profound changes should have produced no effect on the mental powers of these birds. Bechstein, writing in Germany in 1793, says, that although it is an error to suppose that fowls with such misformed skulls are stupid, yet that he had a white-crested black Poland which “was crazy, and which all day long wandered anxiously about.”4 I, also, formerly had a silver-spangled Poland which was curiously affected; she sometimes seemed lost in reverie, and allowed any one to approach so as even to touch her; she was solitary in her habits, and was extraordinarily deficient in the sense of direction. I have seen her stray hardly more than a hundred yards from her feeding place, and become completely lost; and she would then continue obstinately to try to get through a fence in a direction exactly opposite to her home. Now, will any of your correspondents who have long kept tufted fowls have the kindness to state whether they have observed any clear signs of deficiency in the mental powers of any of their birds? or, has any one ever seen a “crazy fowl,” such as Bechstein describes, in any other breed?5

Charles Darwin. | Down, Bromley, Kent.

Footnotes

The date is taken from the issue of the Field in which the letter appeared. It was headed: ‘Influence of the form of the brain on the character of fowls’.
William Bernhard Tegetmeier read a short paper on the ‘remarkable peculiarities’ of the skulls of feather-crested Polish fowls at the Zoological Society of London in November 1856 (Tegetmeier 1856). CD had provided him with a reference for this paper (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 20 March [1856], and n. 3, below).
Pyotr Simon Pallas described the protuberance on the skulls of Polish fowls in Pallas 1767–80, pt 4, pp. 18–23.
Bechstein [1789–95], 3: 400. CD’s copy of this four-volume work in the Darwin Library–CUL is heavily annotated.
A response to CD’s query appeared in the 11 May 1861 issue of the Field, p. 404. Under the heading ‘Polish fowls’, the anonymous respondent stated: ‘I have half a dozen black, with white toppings, and they certainly are tame or stupid. You may tread upon them—they don’t seem to see well, and they seldom find the roosting-place, but crouch or perch anywhere.—’

Summary

Information is sought from correspondents regarding the mental powers of Polish and other tufted fowls. CD finds it hard to believe that the protuberance of the front part of the skull, which is accompanied by a change in the shape of the brain, would not produce a change in mental powers. References to Bechstein, Pallas, and Tegetmeier regarding the stupid behaviour of these birds.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-3137A
From
Charles Robert Darwin
To
Field
Sent from
Down
Source of text
The Field, the Farm, the Garden, the Country Gentleman’s Newspaper 17 (1861): 383

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3137A,” accessed on 20 November 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-3137A

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9

letter