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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. J. Weir   22 March [1868]1

4 Chester Place | R. Park. N.W

March. 22d

My dear Sir

I hope that you will not think me ungrateful that I have not sooner answered your note of the 16th.—; but in fact I have been overwhelmed both with calls & letters; & alas one visit to the B. Museum of an hour or hour & a half does for me for the whole day.2

I was particularly glad to hear your & your Brothers statement about the “gay” deceiver-pigeons.3 I did not at all know that certain birds could win the affections of the females, more than other males, except indeed in the case of the Peacock.4 Conversely Mr Hewitt, I remember, states that in making hybrids the cock-pheasant would prefer certain hen-fowls & strongly dislike others. I will write to Mr. H. in a few days & ask him whether he has observed anything of this kind with pure unions of fowls, ducks &c.—5 I had utterly forgotten the case of the Ruff; but now I remember having heard that it was polygamous;6 but polygamy with Birds, at least, does not seem common enough to have played an important part. So little is known of habits of foreign Birds: Wallace does not even know whether Birds of Paradise are polygamous.—7

Have you been a large collector of caterpillars,—I believe so. I inferred from a letter from Dr Wallace of Colchester that he wd. account for Mr. Stainton & others rearing more ♀ than ♂. by their having collected the larger & finer caterpillars. But I misunderstood him, & he maintains that collectors take all caterpillars, large & small, for that they collect the caterpillars alone of the rarer moths or butterflies.—8 What think you?

I hear from Prof. Canestrini in Italy that females are born in considerable excess with Bombyx mori, & in greater excess of late years than formerly!9 Quatrefages writes to me that he believes they are equal in France.—10 So that the further I go, the deeper I sink into the mire.—

With cordial thanks for your most valuable letters | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

We remain here till April 1st— & then hurrah for home & quiet work.—11


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from J. J. Weir, 16 March 1868.
See letter from J. J. Weir, 16 March 1868. CD refers to the British Museum.
J. J. Weir’s brother was Harrison Weir. See letter from J. J. Weir, 16 March 1868.
Robert Heron discussed mate preferences in peafowl in a paper, ‘Notes on the habits of the pea-fowl’ (Heron 1835). CD referred to Heron’s observations in Descent 2: 119–21, 152.
See letter to Edward Hewitt, [c. 22 March 1868].
CD refers to Alexander Wallace and Henry Tibbats Stainton. See letter to H. T. Stainton, 2 March [1868] and n. 5.
CD had spent most of March 1868 in London (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix II)).


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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

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.


Glad to hear about pigeons. Did not know some birds could win affections of females more than others, except among peacocks.

Comments on polygamy in birds.

Discusses sex ratios among birds.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Jenner Weir
Sent from
London, Chester Place, 4
Source of text
Private collection
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6038,” accessed on 20 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16