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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. C. Eyton   31 August [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

Aug. 31st

Dear Eyton

I thank you heartily for your note & for your promise of more information on Pigs, about which I am very curious.—2 By the way Bechstein asserts that the number of incisors varies greatly in domestic pigs:3 I am myself going to collect Pigs jaws (no other part) to see whether he is to be trusted. Have you ever noticed this? I shd like to confirm Bechstein on your authority.4

I had no idea that your Stud Book was so well illustrated;5 I suppose you mean me to return the Plates, so I do. But I have been very glad to see them. Just after writing to you,6 I found what my memory told me of: viz an article by some apparently well informed person in Quarterly Review (1849 p. 392) who says there is a split of unknown origin in this breed,—one strain having white face tawny sides & upward directed horns; the other a speckled face, generally white line down back, shorter legs & more horizontal horns.7 In my Book on Variation which is progressing (but Heaven knows what it will turn out) I shd. like to give this case trifling as it is; for it is so rare to trace commencement of even a sub-breed of a sub-breed;8 & I shd. like to quote your remarks in your note, & will append Author of the “Stud Book on Herefordshire Cattle” Is this correct title? If you can give me any other information about these two families of Herefordshire I shd. be very grateful: I suppose you do not believe about short-legs; but just bear this point in mind.—

What a wonderful collection of Birds you have! I had not the least idea of your richness.9

I remember well your case of the geese & shall have to quote it.10 What became of the grandchildren geese? did you continue to breed from them? I have lately been making enquiries in India, where there are flocks of the half-bred-geese habitually kept.—11

One of the subjects which gives me most trouble for my work, is means of distribution in the case of species found on distant islands; I have lately been trying the powers of resistance of seeds to sea-water,—their powers of floating—the number of living seeds in earth & mud &c &c.— Would you render me a little assistance in this line? My walking days are over, never to return. I want to know whether on a wet muddy day, whether birds feet are dirty:12 I am going to send my servant out with some keeper & he shall wash all the partridges feet & save the dirty water!!13

But I want especially to know whether herons or any waders (we have no ponds hereabouts) or water-birds when suddenly sprung have ever dirty feet or beaks? I found in 2 large table-spoon full of mud from a little pond from beneath the water 53 plants germinated.—14

Do you know when owl or Hawk eats a little bird, how soon it throws up pellet? Can it throw up pellet whilst on wing? How I shd. like to get a collection of pellets & see whether they contained any seeds capable of germination. Could your gamekeepers find a roosting place, & collect a lot for me?—

Lastly (if you are not sick of my enquiries) have you ever examined the stomachs of dace & other white fish? Do they ever eat seeds; I know it is good to bait a place with grains. For like the house which Jack built, a heron might eat a fish with seed of water plant & then fly to another pond.

I have been trying for a year with no success to get some dace &c. Have you any & could you catch some in net. & order your kitchen maid to clean them, & you cd. send me the whole stomach & I would sow the contents on burnt earth with every proper precaution. If ever your goodnature shd. lead you to send me any such rubbish; it might be put in bladder or tin foil & sent by Post, & if you will not think me very impertinent I could repay you the shilling or two for postage; as the rubbish wd. thus come much quicker & cheaper to me.

Do you mean to collect cats’ skeletons: Sir C. Lyell has odd Persian & I have heard of another odd cat & I wd. request their carcases to be sent to you, if you cared about them. But I fancy cats are much mixed beings.—

Well I have put your words, that you like hearing from old naturalist friends, to a severe test. So forgive me & believe me, | Your’s most truly | Ch. Darwin


Dated by CD’s reference to Bechstein [1789–95] (see n. 3, below) and to his experiments on seeds carried by the muddy feet of wading birds (see n. 13, below).
Johann Matthäus Bechstein’s book on the natural history of Germany was frequently cited by CD in Natural selection. Although CD had previously read Bechstein [1789–95] in 1842, he reread the first volume in February 1856 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 12a; 128: 16). CD owned a mixed set of the four-volume work, an annotated copy of which is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Bechstein is not cited on this point in either Natural selection or Variation.
Eyton 1846[–53].
An anonymous review of Henry Stephens’s The book of the farm (Edinburgh and London, [1849]) appeared in the Quarterly Review 84 (1848–9): 389–424. The author was Thomas Gisborne, an agricultural writer and MP for Nottingham (Wellesley index 1: 732). The review dealt mainly with the breeding of fat stock for the meat market. The particular point mentioned by CD appeared on p. 393 n.
Discussed in Variation 2: 214.
Eyton, who kept a large number of animals as well as a museum collection on his estate at Eyton, Shropshire, may have sent CD the first part of his privately printed Catalogue of the species of birds in his possession (Eyton 1856), a copy of which is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Eyton 1840 was referred to by CD in Natural selection, pp. 431 and 439.
In Natural selection, pp. 439–40, CD described how hybrids between the Chinese and common goose, as discussed in Eyton 1840, were found by Edward Blyth and Thomas Hutton to be completely fertile in India. CD refers to his correspondence with Blyth: the point is discussed in Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, 8 December 1855.
CD’s discussion of birds as ‘highly effective agents in the transportation of seeds’ is in Origin, pp. 361–3.
CD’s experiments on the transport of seeds on the feet of birds are listed in his Experimental book, p. 15 (DAR 157a).
Experimental book, pp. 5v. and 6 (DAR 157a).


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

Eyton, Thomas Campbell. 1840. Remarks on the skeletons of the common tame goose, the Chinese goose, and the hybrid between the two. Magazine of Natural History n.s. 4: 90–2.

Eyton, Thomas Campbell. 1856. A catalogue of the species of birds in his possession. Wellington, Salop.

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.

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.

Wellesley index: The Wellesley index to Victorian periodicals 1824–1900. Edited by Walter E. Houghton et al. 5 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1966–89.


Asks whether number of incisors varies in domestic pigs. Is testing views of J. M. Bechstein.

Comments on TCE’s book [Herd book of Hereford cattle (1846–59)]. Mentions variations in the breed.

Will quote TCE on geese [Mag. Nat. Hist. 4 (1840): 90–2].

Problem of geographical distribution; his seed-salting experiments. Asks about distribution of seeds to islands. Do water-birds ever have dirty feet?

Could Eyton’s gamekeepers collect owl and hawk pellets? Asks for dace stomachs and contents.

Asks for cats’ skeletons.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Campbell Eyton
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.137)
Physical description
ALS 10pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1948,” accessed on 13 July 2024,

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