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Darwin Correspondence Project

To James Egan1   8 November [1858]

Down Bromley Kent

Nov. 8th.—


I have just seen an article by you in the Gardeners Chronicle, & I observe that you are a member of an Agricultural Socy. 2 I am very anxious for information on one point in Natural History, & it has occurred to me that you might perhaps be willing to oblige a stranger, who is an old correspondent of the Chronicle, & a friend of the Editor, Dr. Lindley.3 But you may not have time or inclination, & if I receive no answer to this, I am sure that I shall have not the least reason to complain, but rather to apologise for the liberty which I take in addressing you.—

My question refers to the colours of Horses, for I am trying to investigate the laws of inheritance of colours.— I have seen it stated in print that the Horses of Hungary, frequently have a dark stripe down the spine & sometimes a stripe on shoulders (sometimes double) like that on the ass, & sometimes cross stripes on the legs. I am anxious to know whether this really is the case, & whether such stripes occur frequently either on the shoulders, or on the front or hind legs or on both.

I shd. wish to know, by comparison with some object, the colour of any horse with such stripes. But what I most want to know, & which I have in vain endeavoured to find out, is whether such stripes are plainer in the foal or in the full-grown horse. In England such stripes are observed only on dun-coloured horses (By dun I mean dark cream-colour mixed with some brown), but I have not been able to find out what the colours of the parents were; whether the crossing of any other two colours will produce a dun.—4

As Hungary is a great horse-breeding country, perhaps you could find out something on these heads, from persons on whom you could rely; & if you are willing to oblige me by taking so much trouble, it will be a very great favour & kindness,

& I beg leave to remain, Sir, | Your obliged servant | Ch. Darwin

CD note:5

—Questions about Asses & Horses Stripes.—

Mr James Egasy Hotel Queen of England Pesth

Asses— Are the legs ever transversely striped in any slight *or considerable [interl] degree like those of the [interl] zebra? Are the front or hind legs most striped? Is the shoulder-stripe ever double? Does the shoulder (& spinal stripe) ever wholly disappear.? Are the asses ever marbled or mottled *with any colours [interl] like a grey-horse? If any such cases occur, please state whether frequently—& especially describe general colour of animal, & whether large or small. Mules. Same queries. Horses. Are the legs, front or hind, or both, ever transversely striped? Does a shoulder stripe, though probably faint, ever occur.? Such [after del ‘It’] stripes would probably be observed only in Duns (ie dark cream-colour mixed with brown) or Mouse-duns, or [over ‘in’ and after del ‘or’] cream-coloured or [over ‘&"] perhaps in chesnuts. If such shd occur, please give particulars, of size & colour of horse or pony. *Any horse with leg or shoulder stripe would probably have the spinal stripe [added] It would be particularly interesting for me to hear, though probably impossible to be ascertained, whether any coloured horse, having any such stripes., was a breed always or generally so characterised, or an accidental individual.— It is possible that foals might have such marks & not the mature animals.—


CD addressed this letter and the one of 25 November [1858] to ‘James Egasy’, the name on the notice printed in the Gardeners’ Chronicle (see n. 2, below). It appears, however, that the name was given incorrectly. A note on the letter of 25 November reads: ‘This lettre, of this great man, was written to my dear father James Egan.’ It has not been possible to identify Egan, but the National Library of Hungary lists an author by this name.
Under the section ‘Home Correspondence’ in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 6 November 1858, pp. 813–14, there is a letter signed ‘James Egasy, member of the Agricultural and Gardening Societies for Hungaria, Hotel Queen of England, Pesth, Oct. 18.’ The letter gives information about horticulture in Hungary and announces the foundation of a gardening society on 13 November 1858.
In his letter (see n. 2, above), Egan stated that he had been a reader of the Gardeners’ Chronicle ‘for a long time’.
The note is in DAR 206 (Letters) and served as the basis of questions sent to other correspondents: it is marked, ‘Questions (to China) about Asses & Horses Stripes’.


Asks about dark stripes on shoulders and legs of Hungarian horses. Are stripes plainer in foal or adult?

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
James Egan
Sent from
NO 9 58
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.160)
Physical description
4pp & Adraft 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2354,” accessed on 4 August 2021,

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