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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Alfred Newton   12 March [1874]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

March 12th

My dear Prof. Newton

I am very sorry that I cannot answer your questions.2 It wd. take me weeks to find references for the facts stated in the Origin; but I can assure you that I stated nothing without authority which I at the time thought good, though no doubt I was often mistaken. Had health permitted I shd. have published all the chapters in extenso with references; but I do not suppose that I shall now ever have the strength. By the way I was using a note of yours this very morning & striking out passage about a gull dipping a mouse in water to swallow it.3

I cannot give reference about Missel-Thrush; but Gould told me he doubted the truth of statement & I then looked again at my authority & it seemed good, so I left the statement; but I daresay you are right.4 Since my Boyhood, now above 50 years, I feel sure that missel-thrush have much increased: I remember my astonishment when I saw the first which appeared in my Father’s grounds at Shrewsbury.5

Starlings have, also, I believe much increased: Mr Norman a well-known man in Kent, observant & a great sportsman, remarked to me some years ago on the astonishing increase of starlings in Kent during his life.6

How inexplicable most of these cases are & that of your’s about the titmouse.7

Believe me my dear Prof. Newton | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. By cerebration I have just remembered & found reference about the missel-thrushes. It relates to these birds in Banffshire by Mr. T Edward in Zoologist Vol 13–14—1855–1856 p. 5260—says has lately increased “& bids fair to outnumber the common species, for as the one is gaining ground the other is losing it.”8

This is my copy of the original, for I have not the book


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Alfred Newton, 10 March 1874.
In response to a letter from Newton, CD decided to omit from Descent 2d ed. the description of the gull’s behaviour as an example of reasoning in birds (Descent 2: 108 n. 9). See Correspondence vol. 19, letter to Alfred Newton, 30 May [1871].
See letter from Alfred Newton, 10 March 1874 and n. 5. In 1873, John Gould had published an introduction to the birds of Great Britain, in which he stated that mistle-thrushes (Turdus viscivorus) had become abundant in Scotland, but not at the expense of the song thrush (J. Gould 1873, pp. 7, 58). The authority upon which CD based his statement in Origin 4th ed., p. 87, that the increase in mistle-thrush numbers had caused a decrease in song thrushes (Turdus philomelos) was Thomas Edward’s list of the birds of Banffshire (Edward 1856; see n. 8, below).
CD refers to Robert Waring Darwin’s garden at The Mount, Shrewsbury. Mistle-thrushes were found only in the southern counties of England in the late eighteenth century. By 1838, however, they had moved far enough north to be common in Shropshire (see Thomas Campbell Eyton, ‘An attempt to ascertain the fauna of Shropshire and North Wales’, Annals of Natural History 1 (1838): 285–93, on p. 287).
The increase in starlings was noted in J. Gould 1873, 1: 7. CD probably refers to George Warde Norman.
See letter from Alfred Newton, 10 March 1874 and n. 6. Newton had claimed that the marsh titmouse had been supplanted by the coal titmouse.
Edward’s article, ‘A list of the birds of Banffshire, accompanied with anecdotes’, published in parts, appeared only in volume fourteen of the Zoologist (Edward 1856).


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

Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

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

Edward, Thomas. 1856. A list of the birds of Banffshire, accompanied with anecdotes. Zoologist 14: 5117–22, 5199–202, 5258–68.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.


Cannot answer AN’s questions about Origin; it would take weeks to find the references. Assures AN he stated nothing without an authority he thought good.

Feels sure missel thrushes have increased in number since his youth. Starlings have also increased astonishingly in Kent. "How inexplicable most of these cases are".

In a P.S. remembers his source for statement about increase of missel thrushes in Origin.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Newton
Sent from
Source of text
Cambridge University Library (MS Add. 9839/1D/61)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9354,” accessed on 28 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22