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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Hewitt   28 March 1868

Eden Cottage, Spark Brook, | nr. Birmm.

March 28th. | 1868

Dear Sir—

I have unfortunately been exceedingly unwell all the week, or your letter would have been replied to, at an earlier date.1

It has been notorious so far as my own experience goes of the breeding of Hybrids, between the common Pheasant and the fowl, that such male Pheasant invariably of his own free choice, selected the old hen, rather than the pullets, where the opportunity was afforded him of an easy access to several females; and it has always occurred to myself as most extraordinary, simply from the fact, that when fowls are breeding inter se, they as constantly select the younger hens, where even all, are laying concurrently.2 This gives a very cogent reason, why many of our most practical breeders, if desirous of getting chickens from some particular old hen, carefully abstain fm. letting the cock run with younger females.

As to giving reasons for the choice (capricious as it mostly is,) of male Pheasants for certain hens, as to their colour, and so forth, I think there is not any “golden rule”; as I once knew one that bred equally freely, and on the same breeding season, both with the Black Bantam, and White Dorking.

The great point in my opinion, is;—to get them well agreed before the height of the laying comes on. The preference, I may almost say without any exception, on the part of the female, seems to be, decidedly to the most salacious and vigourous male of her kind, and from this simple cause alone, it is useless to attempt true breeding, if a Game cock in good health & condition runs the locality, for almost every hen on leaving the roosting place will resort to the Game cock, even though that bird may not actually drive away the male of her own variety.3

It seems that colour has very little if anything to do with this result, as a trial with any true Game cock will prove at once, irrespective of feather, providing he is a defiant, mettlesome bird.

You ask, if all occurs “by chance”; most decidedly I think not, for certainly the matter seems wisely ordained, that the females should prefer the most vigourous males, as the most direct means of preventing degeneration in the offspring.

During a long succession of years, that my late sister4 kept a diary of poultry events, I find the result of hatching out the earliest laid eggs tended to increase the proportion of male birds, and towards the close of laying, females. The difference caused by this selection, produced nearly a double number, according as the selection was made. Why, in Sebright Bantams where hens (if really good) are with difficulty distinguishable, some hens though laying, cocks will not associate with, though you test several and prove them salacious to other hens, I could never determine, but of this, I am perfectly convinced, some hens are as it were, without attractiveness, to all cocks, however persistant an owner may be, to endeavour to procure a union. I have known a hen kept with several cocks a whole season, yet not a single cock acknowledged her presence, though all feasible allurements were adopted, and consequently not a single egg of many was productive, as many as forty or fifty eggs having been carefully incubated.—5 Mongrels of any kind, breed by far the most freely among our domesticated poultry, whilst in a state of freedom, close affinities in any great extent, are improbable.

I am, Dear Sir, | Yours very faithfully, | Edwd. Hewitt.

CD annotations

1.1 I have … earlier date. 1.2] crossed pencil
2.5 when fowls … females. 2.9] double scored blue crayon
4.2 The preference … kind, 4.4] scored blue crayon
4.4 it is useless … variety. 4.7] scored blue crayon
5.1 colour … bird. 5.3] scored blue crayon
6.1 the matter … offspring. 6.3] scored blue crayon
7.8 some hens … incubated.— 7.13] scored blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘Very good | Birds’ red crayon; ‘No of sexes’ blue crayon

Footnotes

Letter to Edward Hewitt, [c. 22 March 1868].
In Descent 2: 121–2, CD cited Hewitt on the preferences of male pheasants and fowls for older or younger hens.
In Descent 2: 117–18, CD quoted Hewitt’s statement about the preference of hens for gamecocks.
Hewitt’s sister has not been identified.
CD included this information in Descent 2: 122.

Bibliography

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Summary

On various subjects related to sexual selection: preferences, proportion of sexes. [See Descent 2: 117–18, 122.]

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-6065
From
Edward Hewitt
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Birmingham
Source of text
DAR 84.1: 83–5
Physical description
5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6065,” accessed on 11 May 2021, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-6065.xml

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

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