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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. M. Rodwell   6 December 1860

Belle Vue House | Broxbourne.

Dec. 6. 1860

My dear Sir/

I ought ere this to have replied to your last1— especially as more than a fortnight has elapsed since I completed, so far as this neighbourhood is concerned, my enquiries about the white Cats. My neighbour Mrs. Ellis of Hoddesdon2 has three white cats all of which are, and always have been stone deaf and thus far your original statement is confirmed. But—per contra—Mr. Bedingfield the proprietor of a well known horticultural & fishing rendezvous for Cockneys in the adjacent parish of Nazing3 has five white cats and a kitten all, like my cat, fully endowed with the faculty of hearing. When I tell you that in answer to his call they came rushing from all parts of the premises (with 4 black cats) more like a flight of tame pigeons than any thing else, and clustered around his legs, mewing for food, there could not remain a shadow of a doubt, than these 912 pussies were in every sense, wide awake.4

I will now answer your questions in regard to my Saffron Hill quondam Parishioners the rats.5 My attention was drawn to the blindness of the rats by my Sexton, and I presume that he could only have heard it from the workmen, as his profession lay rather with dead Xtians than dead animals, but as the poor man is himself dead, I cannot clear this point up. It is quite possible that the rats may have been temporarily blinded, as you suggest, by sudden exposure to the light, and if this be the usual effect upon cave-animals suddenly brought into the glare of day, it wd. I suppose be very unsafe to assert that this had not been the result in the present case. All that I now recollect about the appearance of the eyes is that they were of that peculiar white or ashy hue which one commonly sees in the blind. But I will make further enquiry, whenever an opportunity offers, from some of the contractors for our city Sewers who may possibly be able to give reliable & valuable information. For any thing that I have said, you are most welcome to use my name, but I should think that my information about the rats is scarcely matter-of fact enough for your purpose.

I am almost afraid that in what I am about to write I shall get out of my depth and betray my ignorance. However I will venture to state what has occurred to me viz—that your whole theory of the origin of Species might possibly find its best confirmation in observations of Microscopists upon Infusorial Animalcules and especially upon the rudimentary spores such as Euglena Protococcus &c. And for this reason especially that within a few hours even, one has the opportunity of watching the developement of generation after generation; and because observations upon such forms of life patiently prolonged over a series of years would most likely detect some minute structural change of sufficient amount & regularity to form a law. I should very much like to hear what such observers as the authors of the recent Microgr. Dictionary, Mr. Griffiths & Henfrey would think of this idea.6 It would be easy to calculate what the proportion would be between 5 years observation of the Generations of an infusorium or a spore, as compared with any of the longest recorded observations of the developement of any of the larger animals or plants—and what would be the chance of detecting an organic change.—

I hope I am making my meaning clear. At all events I think that I understand myself—   And it was your book which put the idea into my mind in connection with observations I have made upon Volvox Globator,—of the following nature. I never yet found Vx. in any pools in which under altered circumstances of temperature & moisture I did not find the individual animalcules or rather green spores of wh. Vx is composed. In the Pools on Clapham Common & Norwood Hills in 1857 I found large qs. of the Vx well developed— but in 1858 I found nothing in the same pools but the Separate spores

CD annotations

1.1 I ought … awake. 1.12] crossed pencil
2.13 For … purpose. 2.15] scored pencil
3.1 I am … spores 4.8] crossed pencil
Top of first page: ‘Cats Deaf’ pencil, del pencil; ‘Rats Blind (Rodwell)’ pencil


There is a Mrs Ellis listed as living at Rose Hill, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, in the Post Office directory of the six home counties for 1859.
Probably John Benningfield of the Crown Hotel, Nazing, Essex (Post Office directory of the six home counties 1859).
In the first edition of Origin, pp. 12 and 144, CD stated that deafness in cats was ‘invariably’ correlated with blue eyes. He changed the wording in the third edition to read ‘generally’.
See letter from J. M. Rodwell, 31 October 1860, and letter to J. M. Rodwell, 5 November [1860].
Griffith and Henfrey 1860.


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.

Post Office directory of the six home counties: Post Office directory of the six home counties, viz., Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. London: W. Kelly & Co. 1845–78.


Discusses Origin, suggesting confirmation might come from studying reproduction in microscopic organisms.

Gives anecdotal observations of blind rats and white cats.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Medows Rodwell
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 47: 169–70
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3012,” accessed on 27 November 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8