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Darwin Correspondence Project

From E. L. Layard1   [September–October 1856]2

Mongrel he is, & will be;—but I have met with them all shapes & colors & yet wearing the—the—I don’t know how to describe it,—undescribable mark of Mongrelism.—3 A dog may look like a Spaniel, or Terrier, or any thing else, but there is mongrel, (& generally coward,) written in his face. by the way, I think the above resemblance may be traced to “impression” Fry & I had a very curious confab: respecting this, & he named many very interesting instances; I will mention one He was taken to see a Horse, which was said to be full Blood, & imported here for breeding— After looking at it, Fry said, “that Horse’s Mother’s first foal was got by a Jackass.—this horse wears the impression then received”— he was much laughed at for his pains, but held to his opinion— Some time after he was taken to see another horse, also imported from England, and he made the same remark. this excited the curiosity of parties here, & strick inquiries were made in England, it then turned out that these two horses were Brother & Sister, & their Mother had accidentally be covered by a Jackass, & got her first foal to him.4

I have known myself one or two instances of Bitches being lined for the first time, by dogs of a different kind & ever after throwing one, or more, in each litter, like the old lover, tho’ far removed from him.

Fry also mentioned a curious thing regarding Mules.— A Stallion he says will never cover a Mare, if he can get to Mule Mares,—nor will a Jackass cover a She ass, if he can get to a Mule Mare,—nor will a Drake tread a Duck of the pure breed, if he can get to a hybrid Muscovy;—so also with the Muscovy drake, & this is so well known among the farmers here, that they take the most extraordinary precautions to prevent the Stallions from scenting the Mules, if their services are required for Mares.

Fry never was accustomed to distinguish between the Pigeons, till I pointed out to him the Differences between them, & therefore cannot remember if the Ascension birds had black bars on the Wings, & white rumps, he calls them “Blue rocks”.5

Respecting the Greyhound with “very short and much curled tail”, Fry says, he has seen a dog of the greyhound kind among the caffres, with a curled tail slightly bushed. I shall try & make inquiries about these dogs, but I hope you will not think me negligent if I do not succeed;—this country is not like England & for all purposes of this kind, you are nearer to Kafraria than I am!!! however if God Spares my life, I hope in a year or so, to take a trip thro’ this country. I have offered to take the place of one of the Judges Secretarys & Registrars, & go on circuit with the court, this will enable me to judge for myself, & ask many questions. 6 No one can tell my craving for travel, & ten minutes of Humbolt, upsets me for a week—7 I literally dare not read a book of Travels,—I cannot

CD annotations

1.1 Mongrel he is,] underl pencil
1.1 Mongrel … & Sister, 1.13] crossed pencil
1.14 accidentally … to him.] underl pencil
2.1 I have … from him. 2.3] crossed pencil
2.1 lined] ‘?’ added pencil
3.1 Fry also … Mules,—] double scored pencil
4.1 Fry never … questions. 5.9] crossed pencil
5.9 ten minutes … cannot 5.10] cross added pencil
Top of first page: ‘E. Layard’pencil; ‘(Hybridity)’brown crayon


The correspondent is identified by CD’s annotation.
Dated on the assumption that this letter is a reply to CD’s letter to E. L. Layard, 8 June [1856], which would have arrived in Cape Town in late August or early September.
Although CD did not use the information given by Layard in Natural selection or Variation, he was greatly interested in the general phenomenon of telegony. The most famous case, which was cited by CD in Natural selection pp. 330–1, was of Lord Morton’s mare which, after successfully breeding with a quagga, subsequently produced offspring resembling the quagga, even though the actual father was a black Arabian horse. In Variation 1: 404, CD stated that: ‘many similar and well authenticated facts have been published, and others have been communicated to me, plainly showing the influence of the first male on the progeny subsequently borne by the mother to other males.’
See letter to E. L. Layard, 8 June [1856], n. 7. CD used this information in Variation 1: 190 and n. 18, stating: ‘For Ascension I rely on MS. information given me by Mr. Layard.’
Layard worked for the judicial civil service in the Cape Colony. Kaffraria was the name given to the south-east part of the Cape province. In 1847, it had become the Crown colony of British Kaffraria (EB).
A reference to Alexander von Humboldt’s classic natural history travelogue, translated as Personal narrative (Humboldt 1814–29).


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

Humboldt, Alexander von. 1814–29. Personal narrative of travels to the equinoctial regions of the New Continent, during the years 1799–1804. By Alexander de Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland. Translated into English by Helen Maria Williams. 7 vols. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown; J. Murray; H. Colburn.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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


Preference of stallions for hybrid mares.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edgar Leopold Layard
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 83: 185–6
Physical description
inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1897,” accessed on 9 February 2023,

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