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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Jonathan Peel   4 March 1868

Knowlmere Manor, | Clitheroe.

4. March 1868.


I have been greatly interested by your last work “The variation of Animals & Plants under Domestication.”

You have there at length treated of Sheep & their variations &c   I am therefore tempted to send you a copy of a Paper on my own Flock published about 2 years ago which though written in a popular rather than scientific style would seem nevertheless to add practical confirmation to much that you have stated.1

I venture also further to trespass on your attention by inclosing a copy of an M.S. note made some time ago at p. 72. of your “origin of Species” furnishing another example of Cattle “absolutely determining the existence” of a Tree.2

The interest I have long felt in inquiries such as those which you have pursued so ably & exhaustively, will I trust induce you kindly to excuse this intrusion.

Allow me to add that years ago I knew & greatly esteemed Erasmus Darwin—your brother I believe.3 I have however long lost sight of him & should be glad to know whether he is still alive, & if so of his well-being.

I am Sir | faithfully yours | Jonathan Peel

Charles Darwin Esqre

Copy of MS. note above referred to.

“A Similar instance as regards another tree has occurred within my own observation. A few years after the trees in Bracken & Bank woods were planted, I was much struck by the appearance & rapid growth of a number of mountain ashes which as none of the species had been planted, seemed to have sprung spontaneously out of the ground. On minutely examining the moor—upwards of 30 acres of which had been inclosed for planting, I found scattered about here & there, many short bushy stunted plants of the Mountain Ash, all evidently cropped close down below the Heather by the sheep which time out of mind had roamed at will over the Moor. No sooner therefore had these plants been relieved from the browsing of the sheep than they at once grew up & throve often overtopping the Larch & Firs. One of these plants may now as I write be seen from the window of the Bath Room, standing up tall & straight against the Sky near the summit of Bracken Hill, many feet above the tops of the surrounding Firs.

The Mountain Ash, Birch, Alder, Ash & perhaps the Wych Elm I believe to be indigenous here”

J. P.

CD annotations

1.1 I have … well-being. 5.3] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘Struggle for Existence’ pencil


CD discussed breeds of sheep in Variation 1: 93–101. Peel’s article, ‘The lonks on the ling. A flock on a Yorkshire fell’ was published in the Farmer magazine, 23 May 1866, pp. 652–3, and 6 June 1866, pp. 716–18. CD’s copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Peel refers to the first or second edition of Origin, pp. 71–2, where CD described how cattle browsing in a field in Surrey had prevented the growth of seedlings of Scotch fir.
Peel and Erasmus Alvey Darwin were students at Cambridge University at roughly the same time.


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.


Sends copy of a paper on his flock of sheep, which confirms much of what CD says in Variation,

together with a note he made of an instance of cattle "determining the existence" of a tree [cf. Origin, ch. 3].

Letter details

Letter no.
Jonathan Peel
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 46.1: 96–7
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5977,” accessed on 17 January 2020,

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