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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henry Reeks   8 June 1871

North End, | East Woodhay, | Newbury.

June 8th 1871

My dear Mr Darwin,

I felt bound to write and express my sympathy for your failing health. I am sorry to say that I had been made aware of this through your published writings, but had hoped that when you had completed the laborious undertaking of the “Descent of Man” it would have greatly improved: I very much regret to hear now that such has not been the case;1 I sincerely trust, however, that you may be spared to us for many, very many years to come, and enjoy the deservedly high reputation of your works and their author—

At the conclusion of your note you ask me “how comes it that a Fowl has white eggs”? Now if it has been indisputably proved that the wild stock of the domestic fowl lays white eggs and ineffectually concealed (which I really must doubt) then, and not till then, I admit it to be one of those very few anomalous cases which at present cannot be accounted for on your theory. With regard to the domestic fowl I see no such difficulty, for it must be borne in mind that from having been domesticated from time immemorial, man has entirely removed the influence of selection by raising chickens from any colored eggs. We must also bear in mind that a great proportion of hens’ eggs are buff-colored; resembling the eggs of many ducks that breed in similar situations, such as Œdemia, Histrionicus, &c,2 and no one who has hunted for these eggs as I have done can say that they are not protectively coloured. Of course I am aware of the fact of ducks covering their eggs, but they have not time to do so when disturbed suddenly.

The eggs of the Columbidæ appear much exposed, but then they are pretty well removed from ground enemies, and the young, as well as the adults are protectively coloured.3 They are generally extremely abundant as species, and from being graminivorous the young would, I think, at that season, when vegetation is most luxuriant, stand a better chance than the young of insectivorous or carnivorous birds.

Trusting that your health may greatly improve, | Believe me, dear Mr Darwin | Very faithfully yours | Henry Reeks.

To | C. Darwin, Esqre. M.A., F.R.S. &c—


CD’s letter has not been found but was evidently a reply to the letter from Henry Reeks, 3 June 1871. Reeks refers to Descent. CD mentioned the delay in publication caused by his ill health in Variation 1: 2 n. 1.
Oedemia (or Oidemia) was the genus of scoters, which are now in the genus Melanitta; Histrionicus is the genus of harlequin ducks.
Columbidae is the family of pigeons and doves.


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

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


Argues that coloration of eggs is a protective adaptation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Stephen (Henry) Reeks
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 81
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7811,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19