skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edmund Saul Dixon    [September–October 1848]1

about the Malay Hen. I have had Hens that would occasionally go to roost for a mid-day nap, but never any that made a practice of it. Our only Malay Hen has done so now & then, but not regularly. Have you ever noticed that Cocks & Hens if compelled by cold or wet to take shelter during the day, avoid their dormitory, and select any available outhouse for their drawing room till the time comes for them to go to bed? I have greater belief in the hereditary instincts than in the imitated habits of birds; though imitation has some influence. I have found Guinea-fowl & Turkies that were hatched under Hens but little altered in disposition; nor are Partridges or Pheasants; they are a little more fearless of Man for a while, that is all. The Cuckoo is not the less migratory for being brought up under a hedge-sparrow.

I remember your question about the young Guinea-fowl, but not then being aware of the drift of it, fear that the answer was a random one & did not state what you wanted. I may now say that in new-hatched chicks it is all too late to look for the embryotic resemblances (I suppose like those mentioned in the Vestiges of Creation)2 to which you refer. Of course the differences are then less evident to inexperienced observers than in the full grown-bird.3 But I would undertake to decide the variety of any chick with whose breed I was well acquainted, immediately on its exclusion from the shell. Nay when an egg has been accidentally broken after a fortnight’s hatching, I have been able to declare of what sort it would have been, had it survived. Many observant poultry-rearers will do the same. I believe that a similar discrimination could be extended to the newly hatched young of all wild birds. But a comparison of the embryo chick in Birds’ eggs after two or three days’ incubation, with those of reptiles & perhaps fishes similarly circumstanced, might perhaps afford the clue you require.

I have lately obtained a pair of Storks: they are pinioned at the first joint of the wing, but otherwise ramble about our premises at liberty. At night they are shut in an outhouse, to which they now come of their own accord. We are already very fond of them, and anxious to get them in health through the winter.

With thanks for the privilege of your correspondence, I am dear Sir, your’s very truly— | E: S: Dixon

CD annotations

1.1 about the … wanted. 2.3 ] crossed pencil
1.6 I have … some influence. 1.7] triple scored pencil
2.5 Of course .... the same. 2.11] ‘Tell him about Bull-dogs & Race-Horses & measure fowls’4 added ink
2.12 But a … very truly. 3.2] crossed pencil
Top of second page: ‘12’5 brown crayon


The date is suggested by CD’s reference in another letter (Correspondence vol. 4, letter to J. D. Hooker, 6 October [1848]) to having ‘struck up a cordial correspondence with a first-rate man, the author of the articles on Ornamental Poultry in Gardener’s Chronicle.—’. On 25 December 1848, CD recorded having read Dixon’s work on ornamental poultry (Dixon 1848) (ibid., Appendix IV, 119: 21a). An annotated copy of this book is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
[Chambers] 1844.
CD had apparently asked Dixon to examine newly hatched chicks in order to ascertain whether they showed any of the adult characteristics that distinguished different breeds. CD believed that chicks from different breeds were generally similar to each other. Dixon’s remarks, and those of other experts on poultry, are cited in Variation 1: 249–50.
CD alludes to his belief that in certain domesticated animals a great deal of change has resulted from the direct action of the ‘conditions of life’ and long-continued artificial selection by man (Variation 1: 54).
The number of CD’s portfolio of notes on embryology.


He can distinguish varieties of guinea-fowl as soon as birds are hatched.

Behaviour of Malay hens.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edmund Saul (Eugene Sebastian Delamer) Dixon
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.5: 214
Physical description
2pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1621,” accessed on 28 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7 (Supplement)