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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. B. Dawkins   15 June 1868

Upminster, Romford, Essex

15 June 1868.

My dear Sir,

I have just discovered that my note to you on the receipt of your two valuable books written in January, was wrongly directed and that therefore in all probability you have never received the expression of my thanks. I need hardly say how much I value so kind and unexpected a present.1

Unfortunately my duties have prevented my working at the variation in bones which you suggested last winter: but I hope shortly to begin it.2 In working at Felis spelæa, the variation in recent leonine skeletons has been forcibly impressed on my mind. That animal seems to me identical with the beast that attacked Zerxes camels, and was so familiar to the eyes of Aristotle.3

There is one thing that has astonished me very greatly during the last few weeks. The Miocene cervidæ of Europe are most closely allied to the Indian, or rather Southern Asiatic. Two species Muntjac and Rusa are almost identical.4 It seems therefore very probable that the Miocene Cervidæ of Europe have taken refuge in Southern Asia and are still living there modified for the most part, by the vast lapse of time since their disappearance from Europe.

As far as I can make out the Miocene Europæan Fauna may be relegated either to Africa or Southern Asia: that of Southern Europe to the former that of Northern to the latter. The so called Miocenes of the Sevalik hills represent a period of time equal to that which has elapsed since the beginning of the Miocene of Europe down to the close of the Quaternary period, the admixture of existing Indian species putting out of court the current idea of the formation being equivalent to our Miocene.5 You will I hope endure this gossip which somehow I cannot keep out of this note.

I am | My dear Sir | Yours truly | W. Boyd Dawkins

Charles Darwin Esq. F.R.S.


See letter from W. B. Dawkins, 31 January 1868. The cover of this letter has not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL. Dawkins refers to the two volumes of Variation. Dawkins’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Variation (see Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix IV).
Dawkins was a member of the Geological Survey of Great Britain. No letter to Dawkins from CD from the winter of 1867 and 1868 has been found. CD had encouraged Dawkins in his plans to carry out further comparative studies of the dentition of living and extinct members of the family Rhinocerotidae (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter to W. B. Dawkins, 26 August [1867] and n. 4). CD may have made a specific suggestion about the work in a reply to the letter from W. B. Dawkins, 27 August 1867 (ibid.), although no such letter has been found (see ibid., letter from W. B. Dawkins, 7 September 1867, where Dawkins wrote that he would carry out CD’s suggestion ‘in the winter’).
Dawkins discussed Felis spelaea, the cave lion (now Panthera leo spelaea), and his conclusion that it was a large variety of Felis leo (now Panthera leo) in Dawkins and Sanford 1866–72, pp. xx, xlii, 146–50. He quoted the story about the attack on Xerxes’ camels while he was marching through southern Thrace and Macedonia (Herodotus, 7: 124–6) in a chapter on the retreat of lions from Europe in Dawkins and Sanford 1866–72, pp. 164–71. In the same section he cited Aristotle, Historia animalium 8: 28, on the occurence of lions in northern Greece.
The muntjac deer form the genus Muntiacus of the family Cervidae. The former genus Rusa is now considered a subgenus of Cervus, in the same family (Nowak 1999, 2: 1102). Muntjac deer are in many respects similar to primitive deer of Miocene times (Colbert et al. 2001, pp. 430–2).
In geological time, the Miocene epoch and the Pliocene epoch that follows it are part of the Tertiary period; the Pleistocene epoch is in the Quaternary period. The ‘Siwalik series’, a sequence of mammal-bearing deposits along the lower flanks of the Himalaya uplift, includes deposits from the Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene (Colbert et al. 2001, pp. 503–6). Fossils had been discovered and collected there by Hugh Falconer and Proby Thomas Cautley from the 1830s onward (ODNB s.v. Falconer, Hugh).


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

Nowak, Ronald M. 1999. Walker’s mammals of the world. 6th edition. 2 vols. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

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


Variation in recent leonine skeletons.

Miocene fauna of Europe.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Boyd Dawkins
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 121
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6244,” accessed on 16 September 2021,

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