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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Hewitt   22 December 1857

Eden Cottage, Spark Brook, | nr. Birmm.

Decr. | 22/57.

My dear Sir

I duly recd. your letter and at once to the best of my knowledge, reply to your queries.1 In retrospect, I certainly do think my time might have been far more profitably employed than in breeding Hybrids; although at the time I was making these efforts, my attention (so far as poultry-matters went,) rested on this almost exclusively. To the subject—

In the year I tried so many, and so various “crosses”; certainly more than 300 Eggs were placed for incubation under foster-mothers, of which as certainly not a dozen hatched, the eggs that proved faulty were opened only when there was absolute certainty they would not produce chickens, and all “hope” was gone of their so doing, simply to see if they were fecundated, and guess, if possible, “why” they did not progress.2 The result is in my last letter. This I invariably noticed, that eggs laid in April and May, (by fowls to Pheasants,) were the only ones with me productive, later in the season failure was universal.3 I bred several at different times from a Golden Cock Pheasant and Common Hen Pheasant, but not from Golden or Silver cock Pheasants, and a fowl. It was only the English cock Pht. with the fowl that produced.

I raised three (all hens,) and singularly enough, very plain coloured birds, from a Golden cock Pht. and Silver Hen Pht., but never could produce a single bird if I reversed the sexes, of the parents.4 Indeed with best luck, the product was most uncertain. As unfortunately at that time I did not keep a diary, I have no present direct reference, but I well remember from 55 eggs, under very careful hens, only 3 youngsters saw day-light, yet the parents copulated openly, without fear of bystanders, several times daily, many eggs being germinated.5

I never knew, but of the single instance mentioned in my former note, of a cock fowl breeding with a hen pheasant, in all other cases, the hen pheasant quite declined the amours of her appointed companion, and indeed simple aversion at the onset, always ended in perfect hate. In the pair now spoken of—cock silverlaced Sebright with hen common Pht.—copulation was frequent and daily, yet only the one solitary egg fertilized out of many, the remainder being what are commonly called “clear-eggs”. The really small size of this product is easily supposed by its weight not 24 ounces, and looking even considerably less to the eye, but it “handles” well. Another remarkable caprice of Dame Nature, (for thus putting her out of her way,) is, in the legs of this bird, fm. hatching time the colour of the legs and feet until lately was deep-horn inclining to a shade of blue, but now they are become of a kind of sullied creamy white, together with the bill, the upper mandible however, as yet retains a narrow stripe of the original colour down the centre throughout, but it also appears to be fast fading away. The comb and wattles although perfect, are rudimental, and will never be developed as in the sire.

Again altho’ I have seen Hybrids of 6 or seven years standing, I never yet myself saw one with well-formed spurs, available to do real duty in an affray,6 but Hybrids do not want them particularly for this purpose, for with the most uncontrolable predeliction for “a row”, or rather to oppress all weaker companions, even their own kind, they oft-times become perfect cannibals, and will tear and eat their victim (if not removed) peacemeal even while living. The last I ever kept destroyed and consumed nearly the whole of the flesh of its only companion, all along the back before I was aware of the fact, tho’ the poor creature still lived, and in perfect horror, I eschewed Hybrids from that very day. They are recklessly cruel and capricious with all about them, tyrannous, and unusually wild, even where their parents were perfect “pets.”7

The Sebright Hybrid at present seems more docile, but youth is still on its side, and time will most likely tell tales. In conclusion, tho’ carefully & most narrowly watched, I never saw any salacious efforts on the part of the males towards their similarly bred female companions, or in favour of other poultry, nor yet the females manifest the slightest natural desires, my experience tells me, Hybrids like to be solitary, and the aversion on the part of other poultry is reciprocal.

These few hurried notes may possibly amuse you, and with my best wishes | I am, My Dr. Sir, | Yours very faithfully, | Edward Hewitt.

CD annotations

crossed pencil
3.7 many … germinated.] underl pencil

Footnotes

CD’s letter, written in response to the letter from Edward Hewitt, 18 December 1857, has not been located.
Information from this letter was reported in CD’s discussion of the sterility of hybrids (see Natural selection, pp. 422, 429). CD also cited Hewitt’s view that the early death of embryos caused the sterility of such crosses in Origin, p. 264.
Cited in Natural selection, p. 431.
Cited in Natural selection, p. 435 n. 9.
Cited in Natural selection, p. 422.
Cited in Natural selection, p. 452.
CD used this information in his discussion of the instincts of animals (Natural selection, p. 486).

Bibliography

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.

Summary

Replies to more queries about fowl hybrids.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-2193
From
Edward Hewitt
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Sparkbrook
Source of text
DAR 166: 197
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2193,” accessed on 7 December 2019, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-2193.xml

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6

letter