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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   16 April [1858]

Down Bromley Kent

Ap. 16th

My dear Fox

I want you to observe one point for me, on which I am extremely much interested & which will give you no trouble beyond keeping your eyes open, & that is a habit I know full well that you have.

I find Horses of various colours often have a spinal band or stripe of different & darker tint than rest of body—rarely transverse bars on legs, generally on under side of front legs—still more rarely a very faint transverse shoulder stripe, like an ass.—

Is there any breed of Delamere Forest Ponies.—1 I have found out little about Ponies in these respects. Sir P. Egerton has, I believe, some quite thorough bred Chesnut horses:2 have any of these the spinal stripe. Mouse-coloured ponies or rather small horses, often have spinal & leg bars. So have Dun Horses (by Dun I mean real colour of cream mixed with brown bay or chesnut).— So have sometimes Chesnuts, but I have not yet got case of spinal stripe in Chesnut Race Horse, or in quite heavy Cart-Horse.—3 Any facts of this nature of such stripes in Horses would be most useful to me.— There is parallel case in legs of Donkey & I have collected some most curious cases of stripes appearing in various crossed equine animals.—4

I have, also, large mass of parallel facts in the breeds of Pigeons about the wing-bars.—5 I suspect it will throw light on colour of primeval Horse. So do help me if occasion turns up.— I have not yet returned your Oology, though I have finished with it; for I have not been in London since, & I did not like to intrust it to Carrier; though perhaps I had now better do so.—6 My health has been lately very bad from overwork & on Tuesday I go for fortnights Hydropathy.7 My work is everlasting.

Farewell— My dear Fox, I trust you are well | Farewell | C. Darwin


Fox was rector of Delamere, Cheshire.
Philip de Malpas Grey-Egerton, of Oulton Park, Cheshire, was a neighbour and friend of Fox’s.
See letters to W. E. Darwin, 11 [February 1858] and 27 [February 1858].
CD had included a long discussion of the aboriginal markings of horses and donkeys and of hybrid crosses in his chapter on the ‘Laws of variation’ (Natural selection, pp. 328–32).
CD refers to the appearance of two black bars on the wings of pigeons of hybrid origin (see Natural selection, pp. 321–3). CD believed this represented a reversion to the ancestral characters of the aboriginal rock pigeon.
CD had borrowed a copy of Hewitson 1831–44 from Fox (see letters to W. D. Fox, 14 January [1858], 31 January [1858], and 22 February [1858]). He had made a day trip to London on 15 April (see the following letter).
CD left for Moor Park hydropathic establishment on 20 April 1858 (‘Journal’; Appendix II).


Hewitson, William Chapman. 1831–44. British oology; being illustrations of the eggs of British birds, with figures of each species, as far as practicable, drawn and coloured from nature: accompanied by descriptions of the materials and situation of their nests, number of eggs, etc. 2 vols. and supplement. Newcastle upon Tyne.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.


Asks WDF for facts about stripes in horses and ponies.

Health has been very bad.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 112a)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2256,” accessed on 23 September 2021,

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