skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Boner   25 November [1869]1

5 Louisen S〈trasse〉 | Muni〈ch〉

Nov 25. 18〈69〉

Dear Sir,

I take the liberty of sending you an account of a family in which blindness is inherited. To an investigator like yourself I think every additional fact that can be obtained must be important and interesting.2

Count Tannenburg, in Tyrol, when young had the full use of his eyes. Later in life he became blind from amaurosis. While yet in possession of his sight he begot 1 son, Rudolph, born blind, and 〈3 dau〉ghters, of whom 2 were 〈bli〉nd and the third not so.3 This last daughter is still alive, married to Count Enzenberg,4 and though now an old lady enjoys the full use of her eyes. She has 5 sons and one daughter, none of whom are blind. One daughter is married and has several children, none of them blind. But 2 of the sons—24 and 27 years of age—have the infirmity of being unable to distinguish red and blue colors.

I cannot say for certain if the Count Tannenburg mentioned above—the father of Rudolf—was the first of the family afflicted with blindness, but I think not.

You will, I am sure, excuse me if I presume to make a remark on an assertion of yours in your work on “Animals & Plants under Domestication”. At page 32 Vol II. you say “Sheep never become feral”.5 My experience is at variance with this assertion; and in the mountains when a sheep strays from the flock it becomes as wild as a chamois and is shot like any wild animal. Such sheep never return and can never be recovered, for they flee at the mere approach of any human being. On this subject which is extremely curious, you will some facts in a note at Page 92 of the 2nd edition of my “Chamois Hunting in the mountains of Bavaria”6 At p 103 are also some remarks about the goat.

In mountanious districts—I speak of Bavaria & the Tyrol— it is of common occurrence that one or two sheep run wild when on the mountain pastures.

The same thing has been observed in Scotland, as it would seem from a line I found in some scott〈ish〉 〈au〉thor but whether in 〈    〉 or the Ettrick shepherd 〈was〉 unable to say.

“Even sheep ran wod (mad) and furious”:

The circumstance was accounted for as being the work of a witch Marjore Nutchie.7 However it is, as it seems to me, interesting as affirming the fact that sheep do occasionally return to a wild state.

A note at P. 117 of another book of mine “Forest Creatures”8 might perhaps interest you, as showing how varieties of the same race may live in a wild state in juxta- position and still keep distinct.

Among wild boars I 〈have〉 seen occasionally one 〈    〉 litter of a white color like the domesticated pig. And it is impossible that this could have arisen from a chance cross with the common pig, as such forests where the wild boars were, had strong fences round them, so that no animal enter could enter.

Such an animal varying from the black wild-boar type, is always shot at once, to prevent any propagation of this deviation from the original color.

Your very Obedient Servant | Charles Boner

CD annotations

0.1 5 Louisen … colors. 2.8] crossed pencil
4.8 “Chamois … Bavaria”] underl pencil
6.1 I found … state. 8.3] crossed pencil
9.1 “Forest Creatures”] underl pencil
Top of letter: ‘2. Books creation of Wild Vars — | Feral sheep | Wild Boar occasionally producing white Pigs’ pencil


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Charles Boner, 8 January 1870 (Correspondence vol. 18).
CD discussed inherited eye problems, including blindness, in Variation 2: 8–10.
Boner refers to Ignaz and Rudolph von Tannenberg. The two blind daughters have not been identified.
The reference is to Ottilie and Franz von Enzenberg.
CD wrote: ‘Sheep have never become feral, and would be destroyed by almost every beast of prey’ (Variation 2: 32).
Boner refers to Boner 1860. After further discussion with Boner, CD added Boner’s altered account to Variation 2d ed., 2: 5; see letter from Charles Boner, [December 1869 – early January 1870].
The Scottish poet and novelist, James Hogg, was sometimes referred to as the Ettrick shepherd (ODNB); the phrase and the witch have not been identified in his writings.


Boner, Charles. 1860. Chamois hunting in the mountains of Bavaria and the Tyrol. New edition. London: Chapman and Hall.

Boner, Charles. 1861. Forest creatures. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts.

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

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.

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


Gives account of inherited blindness in a family,

and observations contravening CD’s view in Variation that sheep and other domestic animals never run wild.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Boner
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 238
Physical description
7pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7010,” accessed on 28 January 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17