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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. B. Tegetmeier   24 [February? 1860]1

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Sir

I write a line to thank you sincerely for your two notes.—   Very curious your facts about the crossing the Game Fowls. Good Heavens what a hopelessly difficult subject is that of inheritance!

The crosses from Spanish & Silk Hen are all black-combed, & as you say not silky feathers.—2

I crossed the Barbs which you had (ie plain-headed) the parents of which got 2d prize at C. Palace, & likewise the turn-comded3 Barbs with the Fan-tails, & recrossed their offspring, but I cannot positively say, from which I procured the blue-bird.4 The turn-commed were from Sir J. Sebrights. & it is simple nonsense to say they were not pure.5 It was a notion which Mr Brent got owing to a German author (of whom I told him) saying this cross was sterile.6 The one German Book is a very poor one & no particulars are given.—   When Mr Brent gets a notion into his head nothing gets it out.—

In Haste | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

P.S I have just remembered positively that I reared several mongrels from the plain-headed Barbs & Fantails. I have several other cases of blueish birds reared from other crosses of other kinds not given in my abstract.—7


Dated by the relationship to the letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 20 January [1860], and by CD’s remark that he had received two notes from Tegetmeier in the interval.
See letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 20 January [1860], in which CD described the results of experiments in which he cross-bred fowls to see whether the progeny would show the coloration or other characteristics of the ancestral breed.
CD misspelled ‘turn-combed’ here and elsewhere in the letter.
Tegetmeier helped CD to procure many different breeds of pigeon for his study of variation and artificial selection during the years 1855 to 1858 (see Correspondence vols. 5, 6, and 7). Tegetmeier also introduced CD to some of the leading breeders and exhibitors at poultry and pigeon shows and at pigeon-fanciers’ clubs. CD refers to the Crystal Palace poultry show, the largest in the London area, which he first attended in 1857 (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to John Lubbock, 11 August [1857]). CD began crossing pigeons in August 1856, in part to seek evidence for reversion. The records of his crosses are in DAR 205.7: 166–89, and in the Catalogue of Down specimens (Down House MS). The barb–fantail crosses are described in Variation 1: 200.
John Saunders Sebright was a noted breeder of domestic animals.
Bernard Philip Brent was a pigeon-fancier whom CD acknowledged as one of his chief sources of information on the subject (Variation 1: 132 n. 2). The book referred to is Pistor 1831 (see Correspondence vol. 7, Supplement, letter to B. P. Brent, [after August 1856]). CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The work is cited in Variation 1: 192 n., where CD stated that, contrary to the assertion of C. M. Wilhelm Pistor, these cross-bred pigeons were not sterile.
CD discussed his crosses of domestic pigeons in Origin, pp. 20–9.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 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.


Discusses poultry crosses, "what a hopelessly difficult subject is that of inheritance!" Gives details of some pigeon crosses he made; cannot positively recall which produced the blue bird.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Bernhard Tegetmeier
Sent from
Source of text
Archives of the New York Botanical Garden (Charles Finney Cox collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2712,” accessed on 15 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8