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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. H. Darwin   13 September [1875]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Sept. 13th.

My dear George

I am glad that Mr. Huth is thinking of trying to experiment himself on rabbits.—2 I wonder that formerly it never occurred to me to do so.— As far as I can see any hearty common breed would do. I would avoid the tender & perhaps already closely interbred lop-eared fancy breeds & Angoras.—

There is a little book “Pigeons & Rabbits” published by Routledge 1854. (author calling himself Delamer, but really Revd. E. S. Dixon) which I shd. think could be trusted about treatment & age for breeding &c.—3 If Mr Huth happened to have any servant who had kept rabbits as a boy it wd be a great aid.— Our old James had done so; & by giving him a quarterly premium I managed to keep my experimental rabbits in excellent health.—4 If I were Mr H. I wd not complicate the experiment by trying about albinism.—5 As soon as 2 or 3 pairs of young of each generation came to breeding age, I would kill off all the old ones, so as to prevent accidents from crossing.— It is wonderfully difficult to prevent accidents.— I wd. never trust to less than 3 pairs in each generation, especially in the later generations, on account of chance deaths.— I wd. keep conditions as uniform as possible.— I think the rabbits of 1st & succeeding generations ought to be weighed at some fixed age, say 6 months. After 4 or 5 or 6 generations of matching brothers & sisters, I wd. try the effect of a cross with some quite new blood.

If you think that Mr H. cd decipher my scrawl, you cd send him this; otherwise you cd. copy it.

Yours affectionately C. Darwin

An awful Russian bore has been here & has tired me, so I can tell no news.6


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from G. H. Darwin, 20 August 1875.
No letter from George giving CD news about Alfred Henry Huth’s plans has been found. In his book on consanguineous marriage (Huth 1875), Huth had published extracts from Legrain 1866, in which Jean Baptiste Legrain claimed he had interbred closely related rabbits for many generations without ill effects. CD had found Legrain’s account to be fraudulent. George had published a review of Huth 1875 in the Academy, 28 August 1875, pp. 226–7. See letter from Eduard van Beneden, 18 August 1875, letter to G. H. Darwin, [19 August 1875], and letter from G. H. Darwin, 20 August 1875.
There is an annotated copy of Delamer 1854 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 190). Edmund Saul Dixon wrote under the pen name Eugene Sebastian Delamer.
Although he had worked extensively on rabbit skeletons (see especially Correspondence vol. 6), CD seems not to have bred rabbits himself except in 1872, when he was looking after the rabbits that Francis Galton was using in his transfusion and breeding experiments (see Correspondence vol. 20, letters from Francis Galton, 26 May 1872 and 28 May 1872, and letter to Francis Galton, 27 May [1872]). Old James has not been identified.
Legrain’s experiments on rabbits had been designed to disprove the theory that inbreeding led to albinism (Huth 1875, pp. 297–8).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Delamer, Eugene Sebastian [Edmund Saul Dixon]. 1854. Pigeons and rabbits, in their wild, domestic, & captive states. London: G. Routledge.

Huth, Alfred Henry. 1875. The marriage of near kin considered with respect to the laws of nations, the results of experience, and the teachings of biology. London: J. & A. Churchill.

Legrain, Jean Baptiste. 1866. Recherches critiques et expérimentales relatives aux mariages consanguins. Bulletin de l’Académie royale de médecine de Belgique 2d ser. 9: 280–326.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.


Sends comments and suggestions for Huth’s experiment on crossbreeding rabbits.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Howard Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.1: 47
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10156,” accessed on 19 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23