skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. M. Rodwell   5 November [1860]1

15 Marine Parade. | Eastbourne.

Novr. 5.

My dear Sir.

I am extremely much obliged for your letter; which I can compare only to a plum pudding, so full it is of good things.—   I have been rash about the Cats; yet I spoke on what seemed to me good authority: the Revd. W. D. Fox gave me a list of cases of various foreign breeds in which he had observed the correlation & for years he had vainly sought an exception.2 A French paper also gives numerous cases, & one very curious one of a kitten which gradually lost the blue colour in its eyes & as gradually acquired its power of hearing—3 I had not heard of your uncle Mr Kirby’s (whom I, for as long as I can remember have venerated) care in breeding cats—4 I do not know whether Mr Kirby was your uncle by marriage; but your letters show me that you ought to have Kirby-blood in your veins, that if you had not taken to languages you would have been a first rate naturalist.

Your Rat case is most wonderful—   It is hardly fair to ask you to take so much trouble; but I should be very much obliged for a little more information—   Did the workmen believe that they were blind? Might it not have been that they were temporarily blinded by being brought suddenly into bright light? Do you remember whether there was any difference in the eyes besides the paleness? Was the appearance of the eyes sufficiently remarkable to excite attention in others? Lastly might I quote your name as my authority—5 I have been so attacked that I am sure you will not wonder at my requiring to give authorities & all evidence that I can. Dr. Bree, for instance, who has just published a Book against me, speaks with utter contempt of my statement about colour & the action of poison; & logically engages to poison a white & black sheep or pig with the same poison!6 Probably he would select arsenic!

Your case about the Rats interests me especially, because in some French Transactions, there is a long account of some eels taken out of a deep & dark artificial well, which were stone blind & had singularly shaped heads;7 but these fish were pronounced by Agassiz to be the common species.8

Very many thanks for information about horses;9 My memory has returned so far that I believe I can trace in Heusingers German Pamphlet10 where I have read an account in some English Book (certainly not in my old friend L. Jenyns books)11    I feel almost sure the result followed from eating “lousy tares” but whether Horses or Cattle I cannot remember.—   Your case will be a most valuable confirmation— I sincerely hope that you will be able to carry out your intention of writing on the “Birth Life & Death of Words”. Anyhow you have a capital Title, & some think this the most difficult part of a book.—   I remember years ago at the C. of Good Hope; Sir J. Herschel saying to me—I wish some one would treat language as Lyell has treated Geology—12 What a Linguist you must be to translate the Koran!13 Having a vilely bad head for languages—I feel an awful respect for Linguists.—

I do not know whether my Brother in Law Hensleigh Wedgwoods, Etymological Dicty would be at all in your line; but he treats briefly on the genesis of words, & as it seems to me very ingeniously—14

You kindly say that you would communicate any facts which might occur to you; & I am sure that I should be most grateful—   Of the multitude of letters which I receive not one in a thousand is like yours in value—

With my cordial thanks & apologies for this untidy letter written in haste | Pray believe me, My dear Sir. Yours sincerely obliged. | Ch. Darwin.

We are delayed here by most suffering illness of my daughter but we hope to return to “Down, Bromley, Kent” in about a weeks time.


Dated by the relationship to the letter from J. M. Rodwell, 31 October 1860.
William Darwin Fox had supplied CD with this information at some point before 1856. See Correspondence vol. 6, letters to W. D. Fox, 8 [June 1856] and 14 June [1856].
Sichel 1847. CD cited this paper in Variation 2: 329.
See letter from J. M. Rodwell, 31 October 1860. CD had often consulted William Kirby’s entomological works during his youthful days as an insect collector.
See letter from J. M. Rodwell, 6 December 1860. CD did not cite Rodwell’s information on this point in his later works.
Bree 1860, p. 29. CD had stated that ‘white sheep and pigs are differently affected from coloured individuals by certain vegetable poisons.’ (Origin, p. 12).
Eudes-Deslongchamps 1835 and 1842. CD mentioned the case in his ‘big book’ on species (Natural selection, p. 297).
Louis Agassiz’s identification is cited in Eudes-Deslongchamps 1835, p. 50.
Rodwell apparently included this information in the portion of his letter of 31 October 1860 that is now missing. CD cited Rodwell’s information in Variation 2: 337: The Rev. J. Rodwell informs me that his father turned out about fifteen cart-horses into a field of tares which in parts swarmed with black aphides, and which no doubt were honeydewed, and probably mildewed; the horses, with two exceptions, were chesnuts and bays with white marks on their faces and pasterns, and the white parts alone swelled and became angry scabs. The two bay horses with no white marks entirely escaped all injury.
CD mentioned Karl Friedrich Heusinger’s paper (Heusinger 1846) on the differential poisoning of animals in Origin, p. 12. There is a copy of the paper in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Leonard Jenyns and CD had been friends since CD’s undergraduate days (see Correspondence vol. 1). Rodwell, who also attended Cambridge University, may have also known Jenyns. CD refers to Jenyns 1846, an annotated copy of which is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
CD visited John Frederick William Herschel in Cape Town in 1836 before the Beagle returned to England. Details of the visit are recorded in Keynes ed. 1988 and in Correspondence vol. 1. CD had told Charles Lyell about Herschel’s remark in a letter written in 1850 (see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to Charles Lyell, [8 March 1850]).
Rodwell published a translation of the Koran in 1861.


Bree, Charles Robert. 1860. Species not transmutable, nor the result of secondary causes. Being a critical examination of Mr Darwin’s work entitled ‘Origin and variation of species’. London: Groombridge & Sons. Edinburgh: Maclachlan & Stewart.

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

Eudes-Deslongchamps, Jacques Amand. 1835. Note sur une anquille retirée d’un puits, au mois de Juillet 1831. Mémoires de la Société Linnéenne de Normandie 5: 47–51.

Heusinger, Karl Friedrich. 1846. Ueber die verschiedenartige Wirkung gewisser äusserer Einflüsse auf verschieden gefärbte Thiere. Wochenschrift für die gesammte Heilkunde. 18: 277–83.

Jenyns, Leonard. 1846. Observations in natural history: with an introduction on habits of observing, as connected with the study of that science. Also a calendar of periodic phenomena in natural history; with remarks on the importance of such registers. London: John Van Voorst.

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.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Sichel, Jules. 1847. Sur un rapport remarquable entre le pigment des poils et de l’iris et la faculté d’ouie chez certain animaux. Annales des Sciences Naturelles. Zoologie 3d ser. 8: 239–41.

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


Comments on relationship between eye-colour and deafness in cats [discussed in Origin]. Asks for more information.

Mentions criticism of Origin.

Thanks for information about horses.

Hopes JMR writes his book on language. Mentions Hensleigh Wedgwood’s work [A dictionary of English etymology, 3 vols. (1859–65)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Medows Rodwell
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 147: 328; Bradford Museums and Galleries: Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley (NH.6.40 p. 641)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2976,” accessed on 19 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8