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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   8 [June 1856]

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Fox

I wrote just to say the splendid Cock had arrived, & now I have got your letter.1 I am most sincerely sorry, my dear old friend, at all the great suffering you have undergone. I have always understood that Lumbago & sciatica cause extreme pain.— How much illness you have had in your life, & at different times how much misery! It is lucky, when young, that one does not foresee the future. I do hope that the waters are so nasty that they will do you good.—2 We are all well here, except my poor dear wife who is wretched (perhaps in Family way) & has been wretched for weeks; & I fear that it will stop Tenby.3

I have been working of late very hard & have now an enormous correspondence.— I think I shall make an interesting collection of domestic Vars. for promises are coming in from all quarters.4 This morning I heard from Rajah Brooke with promises of energetic assistance.5 and Honbl. Ch. Murray says Pigeons & Fowls are on their road for me from Persia,6 —as are others from E. Africa.—7

At this present moment I am most interested about domestic Rabbits; having just sent an Angora to be skeletonised, & having compared a P. Santo, common, & Hare Rabbit skeletons & found, I believe, most remarkable differences.—8 Ducks too are my delight: pray do not forget a Call Drake or Duck, if you shd. have the misfortune (oh what hypocrisy!) to lose one. Can you tell me anything about differences in habits in Rabbits? Do you know any breed of Ducks besides tufted, hook-billed, (both of which I have had from Holland); Penguin; Call; & Black Indian or B. Ayres Duck.—9 Even sub-vars wd. be of value to me. On account of doubt on origin I have come to care more about these & Pigeons than about Poultry; not that I shall give up poultry.—

Sir C. Lyell was staying here lately, & I told him somewhat of my views on species, & he was sufficiently struck to suggest, (& has since written so strongly to urge me) to me to publish a sort of Preliminary Essay.10 This I have begun to do, but my work will be horridly imperfect & with many mistakes, so that I groan & tremble when I think of it. By the way I want just to put, as an illustration of singular corelations in organisation. That “I have been assured by the Rev. W. D. Fox that he has never seen or heard of a blueish-grey Cat which was not deaf.” May I quote you? or must I put in “friend”

Do you still believe in the generality of fact? Might I say that you have seen or heard of as many as 6.?11 But please mind, do not answer this note, if it pains or troubles you.— I do most truly regret that you were not able to pay us a visit; I shd. have so much enjoyed it.—

My dear old friend | Yours most truly | Ch. Darwin

I have sent you a very long note all about myself.— And now to write to Borneo & the Cape of Good Hope!12


CD’s letter to W. D. Fox, 4 June [1856], was forwarded to Fox at Harrogate, where he had gone to take the waters, by his wife Ellen Sophia. The cock had been sent from Fox’s rectory at Delamere, but Fox’s letter was presumably sent from Harrogate. CD addressed this letter to the ‘Old Parsonage | High Harrogate’.
In a letter written on the back of CD’s letter of 4 June [1856] (see n. 1, above), Ellen Sophia Fox mentioned Fox ‘drinking the odious waters’ at Harrogate.
Emma Darwin was expecting their tenth child, born December 1856. CD and Emma did not go to Tenby in July as planned, judging from an entry of 29 July in Emma’s diary: ‘Willy came home from Tenby’.
CD had sent out a letter to correspondents in different parts of the world requesting information on variation in various kinds of domestic animals (see Correspondence vol. 5, CD memorandum, [December 1855]).
James Brooke, raja of Saráwak, Borneo, sent CD specimens of pigeons and ducks (Variation 1: 132 n. 1, 280).
Charles Augustus Murray was envoy and minister plenipotentiary to the court of Persia. See letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 29 November [1856].
Perhaps from S. Erhardt, who provided CD with information on domestic animals in East Africa (see Variation 1: 25, 246 n.).
CD included an analysis of the osteological characters of rabbits in Variation 1: 115–24.
These breeds are discussed in Variation 1: 276–7.
Charles Lyell and his wife had visited Down from 13 to 16 April 1856. See letter from Charles Lyell, 1–2 May 1856, and letter to Charles Lyell, 3 May [1856].
The manuscript of the first two chapters of CD’s species book, composed in 1856 and dealing with ‘Variation under domestication’, is not extant. CD later used much of the material, and perhaps the manuscript itself, in compiling Variation. In Variation 2: 329, after making the statement that ‘white cats, if they have blue eyes, are almost always deaf’, he wrote: ‘The Rev. W. Darwin Fox informs me that he has seen more than a dozen instances of this correlation in English, Persian, and Danish cats; but he adds “that, if one eye, as I have several times observed, be not blue, the cat hears. On the other hand, I have never seen a white cat with eyes of the common colour that was deaf.”’ The information also appears in Origin, p. 12, but without attribution.
A reference to James Brooke and Edgar Leopold Layard. The letter to Brooke has not been found, but see the letter to Edgar Leopold Layard, 8 June [1856].


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

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.


The responses to his queries on domestic variations are coming in from all over; believes he will make an interesting collection. At present concerned with rabbits and ducks.

Has told Lyell of his views on species and CL urges CD to publish a preliminary essay. Has begun to work on it, with fear and trembling at its inadequacies.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1895,” accessed on 13 July 2024,

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