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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Boyd Dawkins   22 August 1867

Upminster, Romford

22. August. 1867.

My dear Sir,

Along with this I have taken the liberty of sending an essay on Bos longifrons that contains a very interesting letter of Lord Selkirks on the breeding out of horns in the Galloway Breed of cattle—p 177 note,1 thinking that you might be interested in the clear proof of the disappearance of so pronounced a character under the selection of man in so short a time as 80 years.

There is one important fact bearing on development, which I hope to publish in the winter—the lineal descent of the recent species of Rhinoceros from the Palæo- and Paloplotheria.2 I have taken the dentition as the standard of comparison, and I find nearly all the intermediate forms that connect the two extremes. The characters scattered among, and as I believe inherited by, the more recent species converge in the older, and the whole form a finely graduated series. My method of work has been to take the elements of form in the most differentiated teeth and express them by symbols a, b, and the like, and thus I find I can express the measure of differentiation from the Palæotherium, or Paloplotherium of the Eocene.

The carnivores approached in a similar way lead to similar results. Would you be kind enough to tell me whether you consider this method a safe one? Its practical working I find of the utmost value in determining Pleistocene, Pliocene, and Eocene mammals.

Apologising for this intrusion | I am | My dear Sir | Yours truly | W. Boyd Dawkins

Charles Darwin Esq. F.R.S.


The reference is to Dawkins 1867, p. 177 n., in which Dawkins quotes information received in a letter from the earl of Selkirk (Dunbar James Douglas) dated 6 March 1867. The paper was the second part of an essay on fossil British oxen (Dawkins 1866 and 1867); Dawkins evidently sent both parts to CD (see letter to W. B. Dawkins, 26 August [1867]). The paper has not been found in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Dawkins’s paper, ‘On the dentition of Rhinoceros Etruscus, Falc.’, was read on 8 January 1868 and appeared in the 1 August 1868 issue of the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society (Dawkins 1868a). The Eocene genera Palaeotherium and Paloplotherium are members of the order Perissodactyla (odd-toed ungulates), which also includes the family Rhinocerotidae. In modern nomenclature, Rhinoceros etruscus is now Dicerorhinus etruscus.


Dawkins, William Boyd. 1866. On the fossil British oxen. Part I. Bos urus, Caesar. [Read 21 March 1866.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 22: 391–401.


On the breeding out of horns in Galloway cattle.

Has a finely graded series linking the dentition of the rhinoceros with that of the Palaeotherium of the Eocene.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Boyd Dawkins
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 117
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5614,” accessed on 16 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15