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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   14 May [1868]1

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

May 14

My dear Fox

I fear from your note received this morning that you are far from well; but cannot you pay us a visit?2 It wd give me, my dear old friend, real pleasure— All days are the same to us, but we are a very small party now.

The Orpington Station on the S.E. Railway is now open, only 3 miles distant from us.

Your letter is an excellent one & gives me just the kind of facts I want to know. If you can find the mem. about the carrion-crows pray do so.3

I shall let you have no peace till you give me a full account of the “great Magpie marriage”: I never heard of such a thing except with Black cocks & some foreign birds.4 Your story about the Peacocks is so good that I must quote it.5 Don’t hunt for references about Magpies unless you know of other cases, besides those given by Macgillivray, Couch, & I think White of Selbourne.6 You ought to have written a book like White’s Selborne, for I am sure you could have done so.

I hope you will be able to pay us a visit & then I shall hear all about yourself & your family.

My dear Fox | yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin

I am quite delighted that you approve of my book. I do not think that many have cared for it—too many details for almost everyone—& beloved Pangenesis disagrees badly with many.7


The date is established by the reference to the opening of Orpington Station, which happened in March 1868 (Cox 1988, p. 48). See also letter to A. C. L. G. Günther, 12 May [1868] and n. 5.
See letter from W. D. Fox, [before 14 May 1868]. For his recent health, see the letter from W. D. Fox, 3 February [1868]. Fox evidently did not visit; see letter from W. D. Fox, 19 May [1868].
In his letter to Fox of 25 February [1868], CD had asked Fox for information about crows (and other birds) taking the place on the nest of one of a pair that was killed. The memorandum may have concerned Fox’s own experiences shooting crows: see letter from W. D. Fox, 29 October [1868].
For Fox’s account of the ‘magpie marriage’, see the letter from W. D. Fox, 29 October [1868]. Fox had also mentioned it in his letter to CD of [before 14 May 1868]. See also Descent 2: 102–3.
In Descent 2: 46, CD wrote, ‘the Rev. W. Darwin Fox informs me that two peacocks became so excited whilst fighting at some little distance from Chester that they flew over the whole city, still fighting, until they alighted on the top of St. John’s tower.’
CD refers to Macgillivray 1837–52 (History of British birds); G. White 1825 (Natural history of Selborne); and possibly to Couch 1847 (Illustrations of instinct deduced from the habits of British birds). The first two are cited in Descent vol. 2, in the chapters on birds, and there are annotated copies of both of them in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 551–7, 870). CD read Couch 1847 in 1848 (see Reading notebooks, Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV).
Fox appears on CD’s presentation list for Variation (see Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix IV). CD discussed his provisional hypothesis of pangenesis in Variation 2: 357–404.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Couch, Jonathan. 1847. Illustrations of instinct deduced from the habits of British animals. London: John van Voorst.

Cox, Dorothy. 1988. The book of Orpington. 2d edition. Buckingham: Barracuda Books.

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

Macgillivray, William. 1837–52. History of British birds, indigenous and migratory. 5 vols. London: Scott, Webster, and Geary; William S. Orr and Co.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

White, Gilbert. 1825. The natural history of Selborne. New edition. 2 vols. London: C. an J. Rivington [and others].


WDF’s letter gives CD the kind of facts he wants. His story about peacocks is so good that CD will quote it [Descent 2: 46].

Pleased WDF approves of his book [Variation]

– "beloved Pangenesis disagrees badly with many".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 148b)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6172,” accessed on 17 October 2021,

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