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Darwin Correspondence Project

To George Grove   17 July [1871]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

July 17th

My dear Sir

With every wish to offer any assistance, I really know not what to suggest.2 I believe that you do encourage the exhibition of any breed from outlandish countries. I have heard of a curious breed with short fur from some part of Africa, & odd-coloured breeds in the Caroline Islands of the Pacific.— A considerable number of persons have felt a strong interest in the odd case of correlation, to which I first called public attention, viz that entirely white cats with blue eyes are deaf: if one eye alone is blue the ear on the same side is deaf.—3 Mr Tait has lately published a statement that this holds good only with male cats.4

Possibly you might make a small class for “white cats of any breed, with both eyes or one alone blue” & offer a prize for the best; though Heaven know which shd. be called best.— (Origin of Species 5th Edit p. 12.) You might request a statement whether it is known that they are deaf; & the Sexes could be ascertained when the cats are sent. This would really be a curious point, & wd interest some considerable number of people.—

I wish I could add anything else & remain | Yours very faithfully | Ch Darwin

The hereditary character of the 6-toed cats would be worth enquiry.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from George Grove, 15 July 1871.
Grove had asked for suggestions for a second cat show at the Crystal Palace; see letter from George Grove, 15 July 1871.
CD had made the claim that cats with blue eyes were invariably deaf in Origin, p. 12, and since modified it to the claim that white cats with blue eyes were almost always deaf, the exceptions, however, being cats that had the least bit of colour in their fur, or one eye that was not blue (see Variation 2: 329–30).
Lawson Tait had published letters in the Pall Mall Gazette, 26 February 1868, p. 771, and in Scientific Opinion, 7 July 1869, p. 113, claiming that deafness was confined to male white cats (though not all male white cats were deaf), and that eye colour was a matter of indifference. There are lightly annotated clippings of the letters in DAR 164: 183a and 183b. CD mentioned Tait’s supposed discovery in Origin 6th ed., p. 9, but in Variation 2d ed., 2: 322 n. 24, CD cited Tait’s remarks in Nature, 27 February 1873, p. 323, for this information, adding that it must be a hasty generalisation, and mentioning two cases of deaf white female cats. Tait also later observed a deaf white female cat (Nature, 13 December 1883, p. 164).


The cat exhibition might provide information on unusual breeds of cats and their inheritance.

Expresses interest in deafness of white, blue-eyed cats.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Grove, G.
Sent from
Source of text
Cleveland Health Sciences Library (Robert M. Stecher collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7870,” accessed on 22 April 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19