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Darwin Correspondence Project

To WD. Fox   15 March [1856]

Down Bromley Kent

March 15th

My dear Fox.

I was very glad to get your note & congratulate you on your triumph about the Scotch Deer Hound, which however I do not know by sight.—1 How I wish I further knew (can you find out for me) whether the real Scotch Deer Hounds breeds true; but I suppose this must be the case, whether or no your mongrel would do so.2 This seems to very valuable case for me, for it would be a most bold hypothesis to imagine that the real Scotch Deer Hound was a pure & distinct aboriginal race, but that your mongrel,, though identical in appearance, was essentially different: I do not even know what a common Deer Hound is.—

Many thanks for your continued remembrance of me & my poultry skeletons: I am making some progress & have been working a little at their ancient History & was yesterday in the British Museum getting old Chinese Encyclopedias translated.3 This morning I have been carefully examining a splendid Cochin Cock sent me (but I shd. be glad of another specimen) & I find several important differences in number of feathers in alula,4 primaries & tail, making me suspect quite a distinct species.—5 I am getting on best with Pigeons, & have now almost every breed known in England alive: I shall find, I think great differences in skeleton for I find extra rib & dorsal vertebra in Pouter.—6

I have just ordered the Cottage Gardener:7 Mr Tegetmeier is a very kind & clever little man; but he was not authorised to use my name in any way, & we cannot be said to be working at all together; for our objects are very different, & he began on skulls before I had thought on subject: I have not yet looked at our pickled chickens & hardly know when I shall, for I have my hands very full of work; but they will come in some day most useful, as will a large series of young Pigeons, which I have myself killed & pickled.—8

I shd be very glad of old Sebright Bantam.—

I have been in London nearly all this week, working at Books9 & we had at Erasmus’s a very pleasant dinner & sat between Mr. & Mrs. Bristowe & was charmed with both.10 Bristowe often so reminds me of you some 25 years ago in certain expression of face & manner. They told me you had been far from well: why did you not mention yourself? Do not I always prose at good length about myself & pursuits. So I will say that my stomach has been better for some months than average, & I am able decidedly to work harder.— My sisters are pretty well: you heard of Dr. Parkers release about 2 months ago.—11

How I do wish I had you nearer to talk over & benefit by your opinions on the many odds & ends on which I am at work. Sometimes I fear I shall break down for my subject gets bigger & bigger with each months work.—

My dear old friend | Most truly yours | Ch. Darwin


See letter from WD. Fox, 8 March [1856], in which Fox related his view that the Scottish deerhound was actually a ‘mongrel’ breed.
The Scottish deerhound had been established as a distinct breed by the sixteenth century (EB).
CD visited the British Museum to consult Samuel Birch, whose help he sought concerning ancient references to breeds of pigeons and poultry. See letter to Samuel Birch, [12 March 1856].
The alula is the ‘bastard-wing’ of birds, consisting of three or four large quill-like feathers carried on the ‘thumb’ (EB).
In wild birds, the number of feathers is generally constant and is used as a character in classification. The Cochin China cock had been sent to CD by Bernard P. Brent (see letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 20 March [1856]).
The differences in the number of ribs is discussed in Variation 1: 165–6. CD recorded that he was not sure that he had designated the vertebrae correctly; he stated the dorsal vertebrae were always eight in number (Variation 1: 165 and n.).
Cottage Gardener, and Country Gentleman’s Companion. See letter to WD. Fox, 8 March [1856] and n. 7.
CD’s series of young pigeons was discussed in the chapter on embryology in Origin, pp. 445–6. He also used this material in his discussion of the differences between breeds of fowls in Variation 1: 248–50.
There are entries in CD’s reading notebooks for March 1856 relating to early ornithological works. See Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 16.
Probably Henry Fox Bristowe, a London barrister, and his wife Selina. Bristowe was Fox’s nephew. CD was staying with Erasmus Alvey Darwin.
Henry Parker, physician to the Shropshire Infirmary and CD’s brother-in-law, had died in January 1856 (Eddowes Salopian Journal, 16 January 1856, p. 5).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

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


Believes WDF’s case of mongrel Scotch deerhound is very valuable for him.

Mentions his work on pigeons and chickens.

Fears sometimes he will break down: "My subject gets bigger and bigger".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 97)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1843,” accessed on 31 July 2021,

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