skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   19 March [1855]

Down Farnborough Kent

March 19th.

My dear Fox

How long it is since we have had any communication & I really want to hear how the world goes with you; but my immediate object is to ask you to observe a point for me, & as I know how you are a very busy man with too much to do, I shall have a good chance of your doing what I want, as it wd be hopeless to ask a quite idle man.—

As you have a noah’s ark,1 I do not doubt that you have pigeons; (how I wish by any chance they were fantails!) Now what I want to know is, at what age nestling pigeons have their tail feathers sufficiently developed to be counted. I do not think I ever even saw a young pigeon. I am hard at work on my notes, collating & comparing them, in order in some 2 or 3 years to write a book with all the facts & arguments, which I can collect, for & versus the immutability of species.—2 I want to get the young of our domestic breeds to see how young, & to what degree, the differences appear. I must either breed myself (which is no amusement, but a horrid bore to me) the pigeons or buy them young, & before I go to a seller whom I have heard of from Yarrell,3 I am really anxious to know something about their development not to expose my excessive ignorance, & therefore be excessively liable to be cheated & gulled— With respect to the one point of the tail feathers, it is, of course, in relation to the wonderful development of tail feathers in the adult fan-tail.

If you had any breed of Poultry pure, I wd. beg a chicken with exact age stated about a week or fortnight old! to be sent in Box by Post, if cd have the heart to kill one, & secondly wd. let me pay postage. Indeed I shd be very glad to have a nestling common pigeon sent, for I mean to make skeletons, & have already just begun comparing wild & tame ducks,4 & I think the results rather curious, for on weighing the several bones very carefully, when perfectly cleaned, the proportional weights of the two have greatly varied; the foot of the tame having largely increased. How I wish I could get a little wild duck of a week old, but that I know is almost impossible.—

With respect to ourselves, I have not much to say: we have just now a terribly noisy house with the Hooping cough:5 but otherwise are all well. Far the greatest fact, about myself is that I have at last quite done with the everlasting Barnacles. At the end of the year we had two of our little Boys very ill with fever & Bronchites & all sorts of ailments.6 Partly for amusement & partly for change of air we went to London & took a House for a month, but it turned out a great failure, for that dreadful frost just set in when we went, & all our children got unwell & Emma & I had cougsh, & colds, & rheumatism nearly all the time.7 We had put down first on our list (of things to do) to go & see Mrs. Fox, but literally, after waiting some time to see whether the weather would not improve, we had not a day when we both could go out.

I do hope before very long you will be able to manage to pay us a visit: Time is slipping away, & we are getting oldish. Do tell us about yourself & all your large family.

I know you will help me, if you can, with information about the young pigeons: & anyhow do write before very long.

My dear Fox | Your sincere old friend | C. Darwin

Amongst all sorts of odds & ends, with which I am amusing myself, I am comparing the seeds of the vars. of plants. I had formerly some wild cabbage seeds, which I gave to some one. Was it to you? It is a thousand to one that it is thrown away, if not I shd. be very glad of a pinch of it.—


A reference to the number and variety of animals Fox kept at Delamere.
CD had told Fox about his views on the transmutation of species in 1838 (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter to W. D. Fox, [15 June 1838]).
William Yarrell, a leading authority on British birds. The seller CD refers to was probably John Baily, poulterer and dealer in live birds, 113 Mount Street, Berkeley Square (Post Office London directory 1853). Beginning in 1855, CD’s Account book (Down House MS) has many entries relating to payments to Baily for pigeons.
CD’s family Bible (Down House MS), in which the childrens’ illnesses were recorded, indicates that all the children except William had ‘Hooping cough’ in March 1855.
Francis and Leonard Darwin (see ‘Journal’; Correspondence vol 5, Appendix I).
The Darwins stayed at 27 York Place, Baker Street, from 18 January to 15 February 1855. The Annual Register (1855), Chronicle, pp. 23–5, reported that a severe cold spell affected the country in January and February with the Thames in London ‘encumbered with large masses of frozen snow or ice’ that covered the river at low tide.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.


Asks WDF to observe at what age pigeons have tail-feathers sufficiently developed to be counted.

CD is hard at work on his notes for a book with all the facts "for & versus" the immutability of species.

Asks for a young chicken and a nestling common pigeon.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 87)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1651,” accessed on 6 July 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5