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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Edgar Leopold Layard   8 June [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

June 8th

My dear Sir

Let me thank you cordially for your really to me very valuable letter.2 The kind spirit with which you have answered my not little troublesome letter has gratified me extremely.—

I admire & honour your zeal in thinking of your Madagascar expedition, & I have no doubt, if you go, you will do much for Natural History.3 It is such a good piece of fortune for me, as I could never have anticipated; for it is almost certain that there will be some odd breeds of domestic animals there.—

My chief object in writing now, besides thanking you, is to trouble you with two or three questions, if you can find leisure (for you seem indeed to be greatly overworked) to answer them.— Firstly I do hope that you will try & discover whether the hybrid Cats are fertile; I fear that this wd. be very difficult inter se; but with either parent you cannot fail to discover.4 Secondly Licktenstein asserts that the natives have a breed of domestic dogs like the C. mesomelas, & I think he asserts that they sometimes get a cross with the wild species to improve the Breed;5 I wish you wd. enquire in regard to this.— Thirdly I have always been curious to know, where many breeds of dogs are promiscuously crossed, whether any sort of uniformity is acquired in the mongrel race: how is this at the Cape?

Fourthly would you kindly take the trouble to ask Mr. Fry two questions;6 whether, if he can remember, the feral Pigeons at Ascension, had black bars on wing & white rumps, or whether they were chequered like common Dove cot.—7 Also did he ever see in N. Africa, a Grey-Hound, with a very short & much curled tail: such a Dog is figured on the ancient monuments, & has been said now to exist, but I cannot avoid doubting this.8

Lastly (& in truth I am ashamed to ask so much) I shall be most grateful for any information, from the Pigeon Fancier, mentioned to you by Mr. Fry, in regard to the Pigeons of the Cape. If any breed, it is supposed, has long been at Cape, even if very slightly different, I should wish beyond all measure for a specimen; & so with Ducks & Poultry.9 Country Farm Houses wd. offer only chance.— I am much interested about Ducks, & find some great peculiarities in their skeletons.— I venture to repeat that very slight differences interest me greatly.

With respect to your question about Books by which to make out sea-fowl, I have not knowledge to answer, but I will enquire when next in London: but from similar enquiries I made formerly, I much doubt, whether anything like a general synopsis is published.

With cordial thanks for your very kind & interesting letter, pray believe me | My dear Sir | Your’s very sincerely | Charles Darwin


Dated by CD’s reference in the letter to W. D. Fox, 8 [June 1856], to his intention to write to ‘the Cape of Good Hope’. Layard was employed by the judicial branch of the civil service in Cape Town. He was also curator of the natural history museum there.
This letter has not been found. CD had written to Layard in 1855 requesting information on domestic animals (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to E. L. Layard, 9 December 1855).
Layard undertook a voyage to Mauritius, Mombasa, Zanzibar, Madagascar, and the ports along the southern coast of South Africa between October 1856 and March 1857 (SADNB).
In his discussion of domestic cats in Variation 1: 44, CD stated: ‘In South Africa, as Mr. E. Layard informs me, the domestic cat intermingles freely with the wild F. caffra’.
CD cited Layard’s acquaintance ‘Mr. Fry’ as a source of information on domestic cats and fowls in Variation 1: 44 and 238 n. 27. Fry has not been identified.
See Variation 1: 190 n. 18, where Layard is cited as CD’s authority that the common dovecot pigeon had become feral on Ascension Island. No description was given because Fry was not familiar with pigeon breeds (see letter from E. L. Layard, [September–October 1856]). Fry is cited as confirming that the feral fowls of Ascension did revert to the primitive coloration of the breed (Variation 1: 238 n. 27).
In Variation 1: 17, CD wrote: ‘The most ancient dog represented on the Egyptian monuments is one of the most singular; it resembles a greyhound, but has long pointed ears and a short curled tail: a closely allied variety still exists in Northern Africa’.
No information on ducks or fowls from South Africa was included in Variation.


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

Lichtenstein, Martin Heinrich Karl. 1812–15. Travels in southern Africa, in the years 1803–6. Translated from the original German, by Anne Plumtre. 2 vols. London.

SADNB: Southern African dictionary of national biography. Compiled by Eric Rosenthal. London and New York: Frederick Warne and Co. 1966.

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


Admires ELL’s plan to visit Madagascar.

Asks about fertility of hybrid cats, crosses among dogs in Africa, and appearance of feral pigeons at Ascension. Doubts existence of N. African greyhound.

Asks for specimens of pigeons and ducks from the Cape of Good Hope.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Edgar Leopold Layard
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.143)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1894,” accessed on 18 September 2021,

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