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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. B. Tegetmeier   8 May [1861]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

May 8th

My dear Sir

Your note is a mine of wealth to me:2 I feared that you had been ill, because you said you had been in a former note3 & I thought it might have recurred.

I did mean to count the little feather 12 inch long, but Mr Gould4 tells me it ought not to be counted, so that for the future we neither will count it: & I understand that your Game Bantam had 10 not counting this minute feather.—5 I am sorry to say that I have not attended to Brain Development, so cannot aid you about Pigeon;6 it would be most laborious work.

Can you really believe Pigeons ever fly a league a minute?— I am very glad to have the speed for long distances: I shall see your paper in due time in N. Hist. Review & that will suffice, so will not trouble you to send M.S.7

Thanks for Hackles; since writing I have examined G. Sonnertii & was convinced that what Mr. Brent wrote was without any foundation.8 He is a very obliging kind man, but very crotchetty.— Thanks about identity of Polish Fowls.—9

Thanks about Malay tails (I have found same numbers in Shangais)—10 a pretty man to trust is Ferguson with his 12 caudal feathers!11 I have some other questions to ask & remarks on your answers but it will be more convenient for you, if I write to match my former questions.

With sincere thanks | Yours very truly | C. Darwin

I hope in a week to put my M.S. in Copyist Hand.—12 I have now examined 55 skulls.13 I find great variability; so that few of the breeds seem certainly characterised by any difference.— I shall beg to be permitted to have two or three of your skulls engraved.—14


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 4 May [1861] (Correspondence vol. 9).
This letter has not been found.
CD’s remark relates to wing feathers; see Variation 1: 258.
In his letter of 4 May [1861] (Correspondence vol. 9), Tegetmeier asked CD about cerebral development in newly hatched pigeons.
See Correspondence vol. 9, letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 4 May [1861]. No paper by Tegetmeier on racing pigeons appeared in the Natural History Review, and no such paper is listed in the Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers.
Tegetmeier had sent hackles (neck feathers) from a ‘Duckwing and Black red Game’ with his letter of 4 May [1861] (Correspondence vol. 9). The written comment by Bernard Peirce Brent to which CD refers has not been identified, but may relate to CD’s argument in Variation 1: 233–4 that Gallus sonneratii was not the ancestor of any modern domestic breed. CD commented: ‘its hackles partially consist of highly peculiar, horny laminæ, transversely banded with three colours; and I have met with no authentic account of any such character having been observed in any domestic breed’ (Variation 1: 233–4). See also this volume, Supplement, letter to B. P. Brent, 1 April [1861] and n. 8.
Tegetmeier had written to CD that Polish fowl were not generally ‘semi idiotic’; CD had thought that the modification of the form of the skull and consequently the brain of the Polish fowl might have affected its intellect (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 4 May [1861], and Variation 1: 264).
CD first asked Tegetmeier about the number of tail feathers the Malay hen had in his letter to Tegetmeier of 25 February [1861] (Correspondence vol. 9), querying George Ferguson’s statement on the subject (see n. 11, below); he repeated the question in his letter to Tegetmeier of 1 March [1861] (ibid.), and apparently in the now missing part of the enclosure to his letter to Tegetmeier of 14 April [1861] (ibid.; see ibid., letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 4 May [1861]). In Variation 1: 227, CD reported that the tails of both the Malay and the Shanghai breeds of fowl were ‘generally formed of 16 feathers’.
The reference is to George Ferguson, and presumably to Ferguson 1854, a copy of which CD had apparently acquired in March 1861 (see this volume, Supplement, letter to Williams & Norgate, 4 March [1861]). According to Ferguson 1854, Shanghai fowl have fourteen tail feathers (ibid, p. 15), and the Malay hen has ten (ibid., p. 186). CD commented in Variation 1: 248 that Ferguson could not be generally trusted. See also Correspondence vol. 9, letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 25 February [1861] and n. 6.
CD finished his chapter on fowls for Variation on 16 May 1861 (Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix II).
In Variation 1: 260, CD states that he had examined fifty-three skulls, nearly half of them supplied by Tegetmeier. Tegetmeier sent his collection of fowl skulls to CD in March 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, letters to W. B. Tegetmeier, 22 March [1861] and 28 March [1861]).
Volume 1 of Variation has illustrations of two fowl skulls viewed from above on page 262, two longitudinal sections viewed laterally on page 263, a skull of a horned fowl on page 265, and two cervical vertebrae on page 267. The skull of the horned fowl is said to be ‘in the possession of Mr. Tegetmeier’.


Ferguson, George. 1854. Ferguson’s illustrated series of rare and prize poultry, including comprehensive essays upon all classes of domestic fowl. London: n.p.


Thanks WBT for information on pigeons and poultry.

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
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4830,” accessed on 13 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13 (Supplement)