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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   7 May [1855]

Down Farnborough Kent

May 7th

My dear Fox

My correspondence has cost you a deal of trouble; though this note will not. I found yours on my return home on Saturday after a week’s work in London.1

Whilst there I saw Yarrell, who told me he had carefully examined all points in Call Duck & did not feel any doubt about its being specifically identical,2 & that it had crossed freely with common varieties in St. James’ Park.3 I shd. therefore be very glad for a 7 days duckling, & for one of the old birds shd. one ever die a natural death. Yarrell told me that Sabine4 had collected 40 vars. of the common Duck!!

I am rather low today about all my experiments,—everything has been going wrong—the fan-tails have picked the feathers out of the Pouters in their Journey home—the fish at the Zoological Gardens after eating seeds would spit them all out again—5 Seeds will sink in salt-water—all nature is perverse & will not do as I wish it, & just at present I wish I had the old Barnacles to work at & nothing new.—

Well to return to business, nobody, I am sure could fix better for me, than you, the characteristic age of little chickens: with respect to skeletons I have feared it wd be impossible to make them; but I suppose I shall be able to measure limbs &c by feeling the joints. What you say about old Cocks just confirms what I thought; & I will make my skeltons of old cocks.— Shd. an old wild Turkey ever die please remember me: I do not care for Baby turkey. Nor for a mastiff. Very many thanks for your offer.— I have puppies of Bull-dogs & Greyhound in salt.6 —& I have had Carthorse & Race Horse young colts carefully measured.— Whether I shall do any good I doubt: I am getting out of my depth.—

Most truly yours. | C. Darwin


According to Emma Darwin’s diary, she and CD returned from London on Saturday, 5 May.
CD cited William Yarrell on this point in Variation 1: 279 n.
The point is repeated in Variation 2: 262.
Joseph Sabine, older brother of Edward Sabine, was an authority on British birds and well known to William Yarrell.
CD described his experiment in a note dated 5 May 1855 (DAR 205.2: 115): Gave Gold Fish at Zoolog. Gardens. Canary, Millet, Lettuce, Cabbage, Linseed Barley onion [interl]— They took them in mouth & kept them for some seconds [above del ‘time’] *12 minute [interl] & then rejected them with force.. The seeds had soaked 28 hours.— I cd. not get other fish to try, I noticed they cracked the Onion seed.—


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


William Yarrell has assured him that call ducks cross freely with common varieties. CD would like a seven-day duckling and an old one that dies a natural death.

CD is depressed – all his experiments are going wrong, "all nature is perverse and will not do as I wish it". Feels he is getting out of his depth.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 90)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1678,” accessed on 16 May 2022,

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