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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   21 October [1868]1

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

Oct. 21

My dear Fox

I am rather uneasy about you. When you wrote from Hampstead, you spoke uncomfortably about your health & as you have had at various times so many illnesses I should very much like to hear how you are—2

If you have strength & inclination, but not without, tell me what you can about the great magpie marriage that I may quote your account.3 What I call sexual selection as applied to birds has turned out to be an everlasting subject, & I am still at work on it.

Some time ago I broke down & we all went for 5 weeks to Freshwater Bay & enjoyed it much.4 I know you like hearing about our children so I may tell you that George has delighted us by getting his fellowship at Trinity this first year.5

Poor old Sedgwick now 84 yrs old, with a multitude of complaints, most kindly wrote to congratulate us.6

Leonard succeeded about half a year ago in getting in as No 2. into Woolwich & means to be a R. Engineer if he can.7 Henrietta has been touring in Switzerland & met there two of Sir F. Darwin’s daughters & much liked their frank & cordial manners.8

I have nothing more to say—for this note is written to extract an account, & I much hope a better account, of yourself—

My dear Fox | your sincere friend | Ch. Darwin

P.S. I have vague remembrance that you once mentioned to me instances of Horses, or dogs, or cattle, or pigs, in which the male preferred some particular female, or conversely the female allowed of the advances of some particular male.9

Have you ever kept an account, or know anyone who has done so, of number of males & females born, in pigs, dogs cattle, sheep, or poultry? I much want a large collection of facts on this head.10


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from W. D. Fox, 19 May [1868].
For CD’s health before and during the Darwins’ stay at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, see the letter to Asa Gray, 15 August [1868]. The Darwins stayed at Freshwater from 17 July to 20 August 1868 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
CD refers to George Howard Darwin.
In July 1868, Leonard Darwin had come second in the entrance examination for the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich (letter to Horace Darwin, 26 [July 1868] and n. 2).
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) Henrietta Emma Darwin went abroad on 31 August 1868. CD refers to Francis Sacheveral Darwin, his half-uncle (Freeman 1978). Henrietta probably met Violetta Harriot Darwin and Ann Eliza Thomasine Darwin, the only two daughters who were not married by 1868 (Darwin pedigree).
In the incomplete letter from W. D. Fox, [before 14 May 1868], Fox discussed male birds that chose to pair with one female, but kept others as ‘concubines’. No letter from Fox discussing the pairing of other animals has been found.
CD had been requesting information on the proportion of the sexes in different species from at least February 1868; see letter to H. W. Bates, 11 February [1868] and n. 2.


Darwin pedigree: Pedigree of the family of Darwin. Compiled by H. Farnham Burke. N.p.: privately printed. 1888. [Reprinted in facsimile in Darwin pedigrees, by Richard Broke Freeman. London: printed for the author. 1984.]

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.


Reminds WDF to write about the "great magpie marriage". Sexual selection an "everlasting subject".

News of his children.

Asks for information on instances of sexual preference in animals and data on numbers of males and females born in various domesticated species.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 149); DAR 266
Physical description
LS(A) 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6426,” accessed on 2 October 2023,

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