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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   3 January [1856]

Down Bromley Kent

Jan. 3d

My dear Fox

Thanks for your letter: I had your name on my list to write to soon to tell you how I got on in the Cock & Hen line of business. I have got nothing but promises as yet, & there are few or none like you, who do what they promise, though I fully believe they intend at the moment to do so.

I shd. be very glad of old & good Cochin, Dorking & Malay Call Drake;1 though I think it possible that I may get Cochin elsewhere; if I succeed I will instantly write to you.— Indeed almost any cock wd be very valuable to me, if of good breed; but I do not want to be unreasonable, after the immense trouble you took for me in regard to Chickens.2 I have as yet not tried energetically for Poultry, but I have for dead Pigeons, & my success has been not great, so that I do not want throw away any chance of good Bird from any quarter.

I offer payment for dead Pigeons, & Ducks & Rabbits to Mr. Baker.—3 Young Baily, from whom I have bought live Pigeons, I found not at all obliging about dead birds.4 If I fail by other channels, I will apply to the Father Baily & use Pulleine’s name,5 or get him to write a note to him.— I have since I wrote last greatly extended my scheme; & I have now written above 20 letters to every great quarter of the world to professional skinners, & others to get me collection of Poultry & Pigeons skins;6 if I succeed I think it will be a very curious collection.—

With respect to the Athenæum I have fd. it so dull that I have for some time left off taking it in;—I quite forgot to mention this to you.—7

With respect to seeds, my few remarks were made, on account of Hookers, extreme obstinacy, (as it appears to me) in not believing that seeds can live even a few years in the ground.8 Your Isle of Wight case wd. have been interesting if written at the time with certainty about the species; but without every particular given Hooker & Bentham, sneer at every account.—9

I am particularly obliged by the particulars on the eggs & colour of the Muscovy Ducks & sheep: all such facts are valuable to me.10 I have heard something analogous about crossing Cochin Chinas.— Did you ever see the Poultry Chronicle; one of the best contributor B. P. Brent, lives not far off, & is very kind in giving me information: unfortunately he has given up keeping many Birds.—11

Farewell, we are not in a very flourishing condition; as many of us are rather poorly, & my wife for a couple of months has been suffering much from headachs.— I congratulate & condole with you on your 12th child:12 in my own case, I shd. have wished only for condolence.

Yours very affectionately | C. Darwin

P.S. | Would you blow for me an average egg of the White & Slate-coloured or other var. of Musk Duck.— I shd. very much like to have these.


The Cochin, Dorking, and Malay are breeds of fowl; the ‘Call Drake’, which CD wrote above ‘Malay’ without changing the punctuation, is a breed of domestic duck.
In 1855, Fox had provided CD with specimens of young chickens and ducks for his study of variation and the particular question of whether the young of different domestic breeds differ from each other as much as their parents do. See Correspondence vol. 5, especially letters to W. D. Fox, 23 May [1855] and 22 August [1855].
Either Samuel C. or Charles N. Baker, dealers in poultry, Chelsea.
John Baily, poultry dealer, was a regular contributor on poultry-keeping to the Cottage Gardener. From 1855 onwards, there are frequent entries for ‘Baily Pigeons’ in CD’s Account book (Down House MS). Baily did eventually supply CD with skins and other specimens, as noted in Variation 1: 132 n. 2.
Robert Pulleine, rector of Kirkby-Wiske, Yorkshire, had been a friend of CD’s at Cambridge. He was well known as a judge at poultry shows (see Cottage Gardener 15 (1855–6): 208 and 227, and letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 14 January [1856]). The elder John Baily, of Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, London, was also an established judge of poultry.
See Correspondence vol. 5, CD memorandum, [December 1855], and subsequent letters in December 1855.
CD used to read the Athenæum and then send it on to Fox (see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to W. D. Fox, 4 September [1850]).
CD refers to his recent letters to the Gardeners’ Chronicle (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 13 November [1855], and the first letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 29 December 1855]), concerning the vitality of ancient and long-buried seeds. Joseph Dalton Hooker had written to the same journal (Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 8 December 1855, pp. 805–6) about CD’s report on charlock seeds that had germinated after being buried for at least eight years, stating: ‘my objection to placing complete confidence in this case, is the want of evidence that Charlock seed will withstand the destroying effects of moisture for any number of years’ (p. 806).
Fox visited the Isle of Wight for his health (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter from W. D. Fox, 1 November 1834). His account of seeds from the island has not been traced. George Bentham had expressed a view similar to Hooker’s (see n. 8, above) in an article on the vitality of charlock seed in Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 10 November 1855, pp. 741–2.
See Variation 1: 248–9.
Bernard Peirce Brent then lived at Bessel’s Green, Riverhead, Kent. In Variation 1: 132 n., CD wrote: ‘Mr. B. P. Brent, well known for his various contributions to poultry literature, has aided me in every way during several years’. Brent was a member of the Columbarian Society. The Poultry Chronicle published three volumes between 1854 and 1855 before being subsumed by the Cottage Gardener, and Country Gentleman’s Companion. Brent contributed a regular column to the former entitled ‘Colombiary’ and continued to write articles for the poultry section of the Cottage Gardener.
Frederick William Fox was born on 8 December 1855 (Darwin pedigree).


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

Darwin pedigree: Pedigree of the family of Darwin. Compiled by H. Farnham Burke. N.p.: privately printed. 1888. [Reprinted in facsimile in Darwin pedigrees, by Richard Broke Freeman. London: printed for the author. 1984.]

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


Thanks WDF for his help and reports on progress in "the Cock and Hen line of business". Has written to every quarter of the world for skins of poultry and pigeons.

As for seeds, Hooker and Bentham obstinately refuse to believe they can live even a few years in the ground.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 86)
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1815,” accessed on 23 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6