LETTER 425. TO JAMES SHAW. Down, February 11th [1866].

I am much obliged to you for your kindness in sending me an abstract of your paper on beauty. (425/1. A newspaper report of a communication to the "Dumfries Antiquarian and Natural History Society.") In my opinion you take quite a correct view of the subject. It is clear that Dr. Dickson has either never seen my book, or overlooked the discussion on sexual selection. If you have any precise facts on birds' "courtesy towards their own image in mirror or picture," I should very much like to hear them. Butterflies offer an excellent instance of beauty being displayed in conspicuous parts; for those kinds which habitually display the underside of the wing have this side gaudily coloured, and this is not so in the reverse case. I daresay you will know that the males of many foreign butterflies are much more brilliantly coloured than the females, as in the case of birds. I can adduce good evidence from two large classes of facts (too large to specify) that flowers have become beautiful to make them conspicuous to insects. (425/2. This letter is published in "A Country Schoolmaster, James Shaw." Edited by Robert Wallace, Edinburgh, 1899.)

(425/3. Mr. Darwin wrote again to Mr. Shaw in April, 1866:--)

I am much obliged for your kind letter and all the great trouble which you have taken in sending to all the various and interesting facts on birds admiring themselves. I am very glad to hear of these facts. I have just finished writing and adding to a new edition of the "Origin," and in this I have given, without going into details (so that I shall not be able to use your facts), some remarks on the subject of beauty.

LETTER 426. TO A.D. BARTLETT. Down, February 16th [1867?]

I want to beg two favours of you. I wish to ascertain whether the Bower- Bird discriminates colours. (426/1. Mr. Bartlett does not seem to have supplied any information on the point in question. The evidence for the Bower-Bird's taste in colour is in "Descent of Man," II., page 112.) Will you have all the coloured worsted removed from the cage and bower, and then put all in a row, at some distance from bower, the enclosed coloured worsted, and mark whether the bird AT FIRST makes any selection. Each packet contains an equal quantity; the packets had better be separate, and each thread put separate, but close together; perhaps it would be fairest if the several colours were put alternately--one thread of bright scarlet, one thread of brown, etc., etc. There are six colours. Will you have the kindness to tell me whether the birds prefer one colour to another?

Secondly, I very much want several heads of the fancy and long-domesticated rabbits, to measure the capacity of skull. I want only small kinds, such as Himalaya, small Angora, Silver Grey, or any small-sized rabbit which has long been domesticated. The Silver Grey from warrens would be of little use. The animals must be adult, and the smaller the breed the better. Now when any one dies would you send me the carcase named; if the skin is of any value it might be skinned, but it would be rather better with skin, and I could make a present to any keeper to whom the skin is a perquisite. This would be of great assistance to me, if you would have the kindness thus to aid me.


(427/1. We are not aware that the experiment here suggested has ever been carried out.)

Down, March 5th [1867].

I write on the bare and very improbable chance of your being able to try, or get some trustworthy person to try, the following little experiment. But I may first state, as showing what I want, that it has been stated that if two long feathers in the tail of the male Widow-Bird at the Cape of Good Hope are pulled out, no female will pair with him.

Now, where two or three common cocks are kept, I want to know, if the tail sickle-feathers and saddle-feathers of one which had succeeded in getting wives were cut and mutilated and his beauty spoiled, whether he would continue to be successful in getting wives.

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