skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To P. L. Sclater   14 May [1862]

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

May 14th

Dear Sclater

Very sincere thanks for your two notes.1 It will not be fair to plague you or Mr Gurney with another note, but when you see him, will you ask him whether he can remember at the time when the P. nigripennis appeared he had any white or pied Birds.2 In two of the three cases mentioned by Sir R. Heron there were white & pied birds in the lot.—3 With four cases now recorded I would wager the P. nigripennis will prove a variety,—4hardly more surprising in its origin, than the so-called Himalayan rabbit.5 It is a very curious case. Have you a white Peacock in the Gardens; if so do match a white & common for the chance of P. nigripennis appearing.— The effects of crossing are sometimes marvellous in bringing out old & lost characters or in producing new characters—

Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin


The letters from Sclater have not been found; evidently they were in response to CD’s queries on peacocks (see letter to P. L. Sclater, 12 May [1862]).
CD refers to Hudson Gurney (see letter to P. L. Sclater, 12 May [1862] and n. 1).
Heron 1835. CD cited Robert Heron’s observations in Variation 1: 290.
In his account of variation in the peacock (Variation 1: 290–2), CD presented five cases of japanned birds suddenly appearing in common peacock flocks. CD regarded the japanned form as a variety of the common form (see letter to W. D. Fox, 12 May [1862], n. 6); Sclater regarded it as a distinct species (see letter to P. L. Sclater, 12 May [1862] and n. 1). CD concluded his discussion by stating (Variation 1: 291–2): On the view that the black-shouldered peacock is a variety, the case is the most remarkable ever recorded of the abrupt appearance of a new form, which so closely resembles a true species that it has deceived one of the most experienced of living ornithologists.
CD described the origin of the Himalayan breed of rabbit in Variation 1: 108–9. He stated that these rabbits, white except for the ears, nose, feet, and upper side of the tail, which are brownish-black, were initially thought to be specifically distinct from other domestic breeds and given the name Lepus nigripes. CD then recounted how it was subsequently discovered that the Himalayans resulted from a complex cross: the offspring of ‘chinchillas’ crossed with the common black breed were crossed with the offspring of chinchillas that had been crossed with silver-greys. The Himalayan progeny, ‘notwithstanding their sudden origin, if kept separate, bred perfectly true’ (ibid., p. 109).


Heron, Robert. 1835. Notes on the habits of the pea-fowl. [Read 14 April 1835.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1833–5) pt 3: 54.

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


Asks for information about peacocks, especially Pavo nigripennis. Suggests a crossing experiment.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Philip Lutley Sclater
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.277)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3545,” accessed on 21 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10