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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. J. Weir   23 March 1868

6 Haddo Villas | Blackheath SE

23 M’ch 1868

My Dear Sir

I have been very carefully reading your first volume & feel quite in despair as to being able to give you any information, your collection of facts is overwhelming.—1

If all your readers were as fond of the subject as I am they would never weary of the details, I could gladly have read far more with intense pleasure.—

I must confess myself amazed to find that many of the hybrids between the Canary & other finches are fertile, this is quite new to me.—2

I have a curious wild canary brought to me from Lisbon & believe it was imported there from some of the Atlantic Islands, it may be the bird from which the domestic race originated but its call note is quite different, & its song as might have been expected differs considerably, it agrees exactly with one in the bird room at the Zoological Gardens, incorrectly called the Serin & said to have been taken in England, & with a bird exhibited at the Crystal Palace last show & described as a Siskin Mule.—3

My species has however bred freely with a Canary and one of the young ♂ is now coming into song.—

I usually keep a few Bullfinches at Blackheath but am not aware that any are wild in the neighbourhood, at least I never see or hear one, but if unfortunately I lose a male by death in a few days a wild bird will come & sit on the Aviary, this appears to me to be very remarkable because the call note of the species is by no means loud & can I should think be heard but a very short distance.—

it is further to be noted that the odd bird in this case is certainly not the seeker but the sought.—

The Peregrines at Beachy Head are a good illustration of a pair being always forthcoming, a friend of mine shot one of them & has it stuffed so there can be no mistake about it, in a few days the remaining bird found a mate.—4

Often one of the birds is killed but soon after there as usual are two birds—

I knew one curious change of color in a dark brown hen which belonged to Mrs. Weir5 before our marriage.— This fowl in one molt changed to pure white & in the next molt regained its original color.—

A friend of mine here at Blackheath has a peacock which when young was white, but as it became older it assumed the plumage of Nigripennis, its parents where however both of the ordinary Cristatus variety.—6

It would seem probable that the original species of Pavo was more like Javanicus than Cristatus7

I had intended to have written on the subject of caterpillars & birds but must reserve it till the next letter.—

Believe me | Yours very truly | J Jenner Weir

C Darwin Esqr.

CD annotations

1.1 I have … letter.— 13.2] crossed pencil
11.1 A friend … variety.— 11.3] enclosed in square brackets blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘E’ blue crayon


Canary: Serinus canaria. See Variation 1: 295.
The serin is Serinus serinus; the siskin is Carduelis spinus. The serin was recorded to have bred in England from around the middle of the nineteenth century (see Newton 1893–6, 3: 829).
Beachy Head is an area of high chalk cliffs, on the south coast of East Sussex. In Descent 2: 104, CD cited Weir on the replacement of mates among peregrines.
Weir’s wife has not been further identified.
Weir refers to the common Indian peafowl, Pavo cristatus; the so-called ‘japanned’ peafowl had been classified as a distinct species, Pavo nigripennis, by Philip Lutley Sclater (Sclater 1860; see also Correspondence vol. 10). In Variation 1: 290–2, CD had argued that the japanned peafowl was a variation induced by climate change or reversion to an extinct condition. Both the japanned and the white peafowl are now considered colour variations of Pavo cristatus.
The Javan peafowl (now called the green peafowl, Pavo muticus) does not exhibit the same degree of sexual dimorphism as Pavo cristatus and female birds have leg-spurs. In Descent 2: 162–3, CD mentioned the Javan peafowl in his discussion of the development of spurs.


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.

Newton, Alfred. 1893–6. A dictionary of birds. Assisted by Hans Gadow, with contributions from Richard Lydekker, Charles S. Roy, and Robert W. Shufeldt. 4 parts. London: Adam and Charles Black.

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


Relates a variety of facts about sexual selection in birds. [See Descent 2: 104–5.]

Letter details

Letter no.
John Jenner Weir
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 84.1: 61–4
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6041,” accessed on 27 October 2021,

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