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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   13 December [1859]

Down Bromley Kent

Dec. 13

My dear Huxley

I enclose a few remarks & Extracts on Pigeons, for the chance of your liking to use one or two, & thus raising a smile.1 They have amused some of my friends.— If you do use them, do not mention Mr. Eaton’s name or other names, as he is my friend.2

I have got fine large drawings of Pouter, Carrier & Tumbler; I have only small drawings in Books of Fantails, Barbs & Scanderoon Runts; if you had these, you would have grand display of extremes of diversity.— Will they pay at R. Instit. for copying on large size drawings of these Birds?— I could lend skulls of Carrier & Tumbler (to show great difference) for same purpose; but it would not probably be worth while.

I have been looking at my M.S.— What you want, I believe, is about Hybridism & Breeding— The Chapt. on Hybridism is in pretty good state, about 150 folio pages with notes & references on Back.— My 1st. Chapt. on Breeding is in too bad & imperfect a state to send; but my discussion on Pigeons (in about 100 folio pages) is in pretty good state.—3 I am perfectly convinced that you would never have patience to read such volumes of MS.—

I speak now in palace of truth, & pray do you: if you think you would read them I will send them willingly up by my servant, or bring them myself next week. But I have no copy, & I never could possibly replace them; & without you really thought that you would use them, I had rather not risk them.— But I repeat I will willingly bring them, if you think you would have vast patience to use them.— Please let me hear on this subject & whether I shall send book with small drawings of 3 other Breeds—or skulls.—4

I am very tired | so good night | C. Darwin

I have heard rumour that Busk is on our side in regard to Species: is this so?5 It would be very good.— [Enclosure] The drawings of Pigeons are by Wolstenholme (an excellent Fancier himself)6 & were made for Mr J. M. Eaton, author of excellent treatise, chairman of a Club & great winner of prizes.7 The drawings are not more exaggerated than the Apollo Belvidere compared with man or the Venus de Medici compared with beautiful woman.— They represent the standard of perfection.

To illustrate what I have somewhere said that each domestic breed delights in following its habits or instincts—you might state, that when a Pouter will not “show” ie inflate crop; the Fancier puts the bird’s beak into his mouth & blows up the crop (as I have witnessed) & then the bird inflated with wind & pride struts about, & evidently tries to keep all the wind in, as long as it can.—8

Your audience will not know that it is Oesophagus & upper part of crop which is thus distended, you might give as instance & proof, that when a bird takes a good many peas & water into its crop in order to feed (by disgorging) its young, as it flies with inflated crop I have heard peas rattling as in a bladder.—

I have insisted what extreme attention & close observation are necessary to be a good fancier; listen to the great judge & writer, Mr. Eaton

“I would here particularly guard you against having too great a variety of Pigeons, otherwise you will know a little of all the species (ie breeds) but nothing about one as it ought to be known. It is possible that there may be a few Fanciers that have a good general knowledge of Fancy Pigeons. It only bothers and confuses the young Fancier if he attempts too much at once; therefore my advice to him is to make himself master of one species alone; & I have no doubt his observation will teach him he has work enough in giving his whole attention to one”.9

Further on, in his Treatise devoted to the Almond Tumbler alone, which is a sub-variety—of the short-faced variety, which is a variety of the Tumbler, as that is of the Rock-pigeon.— Mr Eaton says “There are some of the young Fanciers who are over covetous, who go for all the five properties at once (ie the five characteristic points which are mainly attended to C.D), they have their reward by getting nothing.”.—10 In short it is almost beyond the human intellect to attend to all the excellencies of the Almond Tumbler!

To show how systematically selection is followed—again listen to Mr Eaton

“There are many of the first-rate Fanciers who are particularly partial to what is called the Gold-finch Beak (in short-faced Tumblers.) & I would advise the inexperienced Fancier to get the head of a Gold-finch & keep it by him for his observations”.—11

N.B. The men who attend to these short-faced Tumblers are called “Short-faced Fanciers”.

To be a good Breeder & to succeed in improving any Breed, beyond everything enthusiasm is required. Mr Eaton has gained lots of prizes, listen to him (& attend to the little tailor’s grammar)

“If it was possible for noblemen & gentlemen to know the amazing amount of solace & pleasure derived from the Almond Tumbler, when they begin to understand their (ie tumbler’s) properties, I should think that scarce any noble-man or gentleman would be without their aviaries of Almond Tumblers”.—12


Huxley had asked CD to supply information on the descent of domestic animals for his lecture at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on 10 February 1860 (T. H. Huxley 1860). See letters to T. H. Huxley, 27 November [1859] and [5 December 1859].
CD refers to John Matthews Eaton, the author of several treatises on pigeon breeding. CD’s annotated copies of Eaton 1851, 1852, and 1858 are in the Darwin Library–CUL. For CD’s indebtedness to Eaton, see Variation 1: 132 n. 2 and Secord 1981.
CD refers to chapter 1 of his species book, on variation under domestication, and the section on pigeons intended for chapter 2, neither of which are extant. His chapter 9, on hybridism (Natural selection, pp. 388–462), is in DAR 12.
George Busk was a close friend of Huxley’s and zoological secretary of the Linnean Society.
Dean Wolstenholme was a well-known animal painter (DNB). His engravings of pigeons illustrate Eaton 1852.
Eaton was president of the Southwark Columbarian Society (Secord 1981, p. 173).
See Natural selection, pp. 484, 486.
Paraphrased from Eaton 1852, pp. xiv–xv. The passage is marked in CD’s copy (Darwin Library–CUL).
Eaton 1851, p. 11. The passage is marked in CD’s copy.
Eaton 1851, p. 9. The passage is marked in CD’s copy.
Eaton 1851, p. vi. The passage is marked in CD’s copy and was cited in Variation 1: 206.


DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Eaton, John Matthews. 1851. A treatise on the art of breeding and managing the almond tumbler. London.

Eaton, John Matthews. 1852. A treatise on the art of breeding and managing tame, domesticated, and fancy pigeons, carefully compiled from the best authors, with observations, containing all that is necessary to be known of tame, domisticated, and fancy pigeons. London: the author.

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.

Secord, James Andrew. 1981. Nature’s fancy: Charles Darwin and the breeding of pigeons. Isis 72: 162–86.

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


Sends anecdotes and drawings of pigeons for Royal Institution lecture. Offers parts on hybridisation and pigeons from his MS (if THH has patience to read them).

Has heard George Busk is converted.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine Archives (Huxley 5: 82–6)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2582,” accessed on 25 February 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7