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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. D. Fox   16 August [1860?]1

Deepdene | Hythe | Southampton

August 16

My dear Darwin

In answer to your enquiry, I believe I might truly state—not one dozen, but dozens of white cats came under my observation.2 The first I saw was a half bred Persian at Ryde.3 I had a kitten of hers, from whom I had a great number, never having less than six at a time for years. In every case, if pure white & with blue eyes, they were stone deaf. I used to show this by making all sorts of the loudest noises close to them, which they never in the least perceived.

I have remarked them in various other places—once at the large Inn at Chichester (which I think was a male)—2 Norwegian Cats whose owner I amazed (as I have done several others) by remarking “that it was a pity such fine cats should be deaf”. These were females.

Of course the greater part of those we bred & kept were females, but I also had males, as I kept my breed pure for many years. I am certain the females were deaf, & I have no doubt about the males being so also, as I must have observed them if they had not been.

I forget where I wrote several letters on the subject of these blue eyed cats—it is now 20 to 30 years since—but they elicited exactly similar facts.

I bred several that had only one eye blue; and we were quite convinced that in those cases, they were deaf only on the blue side. All my elder children remember “Lily” our first cat—as perfectly deaf & blue eyed—& she certainly brought litters of kittens for many years—

So that the sex is undeniable, tho’ I once had a Male Tortoishell (or at least so reputed) who had a family—to the great delight of my children.

Ever yours W D Fox

After writing the above I asked my wife & cubs if they remembered the white cats. “Lily” was too far back, but “Glaucops” was well remembered for her azure eyes, and kittens innumerable.

Fanny,4 who is just returned from Bradwell nr Gt Yarmouth—added “that there is a cat there perfectly white, but with the usual green eyes, that is deaf—like the blueeyed ones.” She remarked this particularly, as opposed to the blue eyed theory.

“But at Caister Rectory close by Mr Steward5 has a magnificent blue eyed cat which is quite deaf.”

I shall probably see both these cats before long, and shall very likely find a Colony about there.

The Caister Cat—being described as very fine, may probably be a male.

Your Son William6 was kind enough to call here on Friday, and most favorably impressed us all.

Footnotes

The year is conjectured on the supposition that the letter was written before the publication of Variation in 1868 and by comparison with W. D. Fox’s correspondence and diaries, which make any other year unlikely. See Larkum 2009.
CD first asked Fox about the correlation between deafness and the colour of fur and eyes in cats in 1856 (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to W. D. Fox, 8 [June 1856]). The first two chapters of CD’s species book, composed in 1856 and dealing with ‘Variation under domestication’, are not extant, but CD later used much of the material for Variation. He wrote: ‘The Rev. W. Darwin Fox informs me that he has seen more than a dozen instances of this correlation in English, Persian, and Danish cats’ (Variation 2: 329).
Ryde is a seaside town on the Isle of Wight.
Frances Maria Fox.
George William Steward. Caister-next-Yarmouth (now Caister-on-Sea) was just north of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
William Erasmus Darwin.

Summary

Discusses deafness in white cats. Every blue-eyed, white cat WDF has known has been deaf.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-6319
From
Fox, W. D.
To
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Southampton
Source of text
DAR 164: 188
Physical description
7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6319,” accessed on 11 December 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-6319

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