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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Leonard Jenyns   22 February [1868]1

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

Feb 22d

My dear Jenyns

It is long since we have had any communication & now I want ask a question on the chance of your being able to give me any information.2 But I ask on understanding that you have leisure & health to answer.

I want to know what British Birds are polygamous ie do not pair, so that one male wd suffice for more than one female. Would you run your eye down any lists of Brit Birds? I know only the pheasant, & am not sure of that. The query is in relation to the possession by the male of secondary sexual characters. I suppose such birds as blackbirds & bull-finches, in which the sexes differ in colour, pair strictly.— I presume pairing can be told by the male incubating & feeding young, & by the pair always associating during the breeding season. Do you suppose that a female blackbird or bull-finch would not breed if in any district the females were in excess over the males? If you can by chance throw any light on this subject I shd be grateful; or on the numerical relations of the two sexes in any Birds, whether males or females in excess.—

I hope that you are fairly well & continue to interest yourself in Natural History. For the last two years I have been considerably better, though far from well, & am able to do a good deal of work with sighs & groans in Nat. History; & as I never visit anywhere it is my sole amusement.—

What a loss poor dear Henslow has been.—3

Believe me | My dear Jenyns, | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

Have you any idea of the use of the horns in male Lamellicorn or coprophagous beetles?—


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Leonard Jenyns, 27 February 1868.
No correspondence between CD and Jenyns has been found later than the 1862 letters (see Correspondence vol. 10).
John Stevens Henslow had died in 1861. CD had contributed to a memorial volume on Henslow edited by Jenyns (Jenyns 1862; see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Leonard Jenyns, 24 May [1862], and letter from Leonard Jenyns, 28 May 1862). On CD and Henslow, see Browne 1995 and 2002.


Browne, Janet. 1995. Charles Darwin. Voyaging. Volume I of a biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Jenyns, Leonard. 1862. Memoir of the Rev. John Stevens Henslow, late rector of Hitcham, and professor of botany in the University of Cambridge. London: John Van Voorst.


Asks LJ which British birds are polygamous. His query relates to the possession by the male of secondary sexual characters.

CD is also interested in the numerical proportion of the sexes in birds.

Asks about the use of the horns in male lamellicorn or coprophagous beetles.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Leonard Jenyns/Leonard Blomefield
Sent from
Source of text
Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5911,” accessed on 17 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16