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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Thomas Campbell Eyton   29 December [1864?]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Dec. 29th

Dear Eyton

I want very much to beg a bit of information from you & to be allowed to quote answer on your authority. I have seen it stated that Otter Hounds have more skin between their toes than other Hounds. Now you used to keep Otter-hounds (how well I remember one morning with your hounds!)2 or if you do not keep them perhaps you could see one in the course of a few months, & if so, would you have the kindness to examine their feet in comparison with other hounds, & see whether the skin extends further up the toes or is wider &c; & give me some precise statement that I could quote on your authority which would be decisive on such a point.3 It might be well to look at Greyhounds foot also in comparison. Newfoundland dogs, at least 2 or 3 which I have looked at, seemed considerably more palmated than Terriers.

Will you grant me this favour & believe me | Dear Eyton | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin

PS. | As I am writing, & as you have been a great Breeder of animals of all sorts, I will ask one other question, which I can explain best by an illustration. A man, not impotent, has married a woman, & she has remained childless; the man died & the woman married again & had plenty of children. This seems to show some sexual dissimilarity between the first man & woman.— Now will you turn in your mind, whether you have known anything analogous with any domestic quadruped or Bird; namely that a certain male, known not to be impotent, has been put twice or thrice to a certain female & she did not conceive, but did conceive on being put to another male.4

C. D.


The year is conjectured from the relationship between this letter and the letter to F. T. Buckland, 11 December [1864] (see n. 3, below).
Eyton was at Cambridge with CD, and the two men went hunting and fishing together in the holidays (see Freeman 1978, p. 138).
See letter to F. T. Buckland, 11 December [1864] and n. 4, and Correspondence vol. 13, letter to T. C. Eyton, 9 January [1865?]. In Variation 1: 36–40, CD gave examples of the webbed feet of dogs with aquatic habits such as otter-hounds and Newfoundlands. He argued that such characteristics developed over generations through a process of ‘unconscious selection’, as owners bred from individual dogs that were most useful for hunting in water. The preservation of slight individual differences by unconscious human selection, CD suggested, imitated the process of natural selection.
In Variation 2: 162, CD cites Eyton as one of several authorities on cases of ‘innate sexual incompatibility’ in animals. See also Correspondence vol. 13, letter to T. C. Eyton, 9 January [1865?].


Asks TCE to verify whether otter-hounds have more skin between their toes than other hounds. Also interested in cases of infertile matings between normally fertile individuals.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Campbell Eyton
Sent from
Source of text
Wellcome Trust Library (Charles Darwin autograph letters)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4724,” accessed on 25 May 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12