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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. M. Fleming   29 March 1871

169 Eglinton St. | Glasgow,

29 Mar: 1871

Charles Darwin Esq F.RS. &c


In a conversation which I had the other day, respecting your theories of natural and sexual selection, with a gentleman of large and acknowledged experience in the breeding of fancy pigeons, he informed me that you had succeeded in breeding b⁠⟨⁠ack⁠⟩⁠ a number of fancy birds to the ordinary blue rock pigeon, but, that in choosing your specimens, you had taken, among others, a “Nun,” and a “Spot”.1 My friend states that the Nun is not considered a “high-bred bird”, and distinctly asserts the “Spot” to be merely a bird of mark, or colour; and, in proof of the latter statement, informed me, that he had obtained two “Spots” from a Common Antwerp Carrier, and an ordinary dovecot pigeon, ⁠⟨⁠(⁠⟩⁠white), such as you might buy ⁠⟨⁠for⁠⟩⁠ sixpence.

He also stated that ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ having included the “Spot” in your selection ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ted the experiment referred to.2

Although I do not see how the presence of even one of the original blue rocks would militate against your theory of variation, I have taken the liberty of calling your attention to the question, as it stands at present among parties who seem really deeply learned in the mysteries of breeding pigeons. They assert that so far is breeding from the blue rocks to the fancy classes from being possible, that no one has ever yet succeeded in taming a bird of that class sufficiently for the purpose, although it has been repeatedly tried.

Yours Obediently | James M. Fleming


For CD’s description of his experiments in breeding ‘nun’ and ‘spot’ varieties of pigeon, see Variation 1: 240–5. The gentleman of large experience has not been identified.
For CD’s conclusions regarding the origin of fancy pigeon breeds, see Variation 1: 245–9. Fleming’s friend may have misinterpreted CD’s claims regarding his experiments. CD had not claimed to have bred rock pigeons (Columba livia) by crossing various fancy varieties, but only to have succeeded in getting blue colour in his crosses.


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


Discusses breeding fancy pigeons from the wild blue rock-dove.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Murray Fleming
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 164: 134
Physical description
ALS 3pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7642,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19