I have sent your fact to be inserted, if not too late, in four foreign editions which are now printing. I am delighted to hear that you approve of my book; I thought every mortal man would find the details very tedious, and have often repented of giving so many. You will find pangenesis stiff reading, and I fear will shake your head in disapproval. Wallace sticks up for the great god Pan like a man.
The fertility of hybrid canaries would be a fine subject for careful investigation.
LETTER 439. TO J. JENNER WEIR. Down, April 4th .
I read over your last ten (!) letters this morning, and made an index of their contents for easy reference; and what a mine of wealth you have bestowed on me. I am glad you will publish yourself on gay-coloured caterpillars and birds (439/1. See "Descent of Man," Edition I., Volume I., page 417, where Mr. Weir's experiments are given; they were made to test Mr. Wallace's theory that caterpillars, which are protected against birds by an unpleasant taste, have been rendered conspicuous, so that they are easily recognised. They thus escape being pecked or tasted, which to soft-skinned animals would be as fatal as being devoured. See Mr. Jenner Weir's papers, "Transact. Entomolog. Soc." 1869, page 2; 1870, page 337. In regard to one of these papers Mr. Darwin wrote (May 13th, 1869): "Your verification of Wallace's suggestion seems to me to amount to quite a discovery."); it seems to me much the best plan; therefore, I will not forward your letter to Mr. Wallace. I was much in the Zoological Gardens during my month in London, and picked up what scraps of knowledge I could. Without my having mentioned your most interesting observations on the display of the Fringillidae (439/2. "Descent of Man" (1901), page 738.), Mr. Bartlett told me how the Gold Pheasant erects his collar and turns from side to side, displaying it to the hen. He has offered to give me notes on the display of all Gallinaceae with which he is acquainted; but he is so busy a man that I rather doubt whether he will ever do so.
I received about a week ago a remarkably kind letter from your brother, and I am sorry to hear that he suffers much in health. He gave me some fine facts about a Dun Hen Carrier which would never pair with a bird of any other colour. He told me, also, of some one at Lewes who paints his dog! and will inquire about it. By the way, Mr. Trimen tells me that as a boy he used to paint butterflies, and that they long haunted the same place, but he made no further observations on them. As far as colour is concerned, I see I shall have to trust to mere inference from the males displaying their plumage, and other analogous facts. I shall get no direct evidence of the preference of the hens. Mr. Hewitt, of Birmingham, tells me that the common hen prefers a salacious cock, but is quite indifferent to colour.
Will you consider and kindly give me your opinion on the two following points. Do very vigorous and well-nourished hens receive the male earlier in the spring than weaker or poorer hens? I suppose that they do. Secondly, do you suppose that the birds which pair first in the season have any advantage in rearing numerous and healthy offspring over those which pair later in the season? With respect to the mysterious cases of which you have given me so many, in addition to those previously collected, of when one bird of a pair is shot another immediately supplying its place, I was drawing to the conclusion that there must be in each district several unpaired birds; yet this seems very improbable. You allude, also, to the unknown causes which keep down the numbers of birds; and often and often have I marvelled over this subject with respect to many animals.
LETTER 440. TO A.R. WALLACE.
(440/1. The following refers to Mr. Wallace's article "A Theory of Birds' Nests," in Andrew Murray's "Journal of Travel," Volume I., page 73. He here treats in fuller detail the view already published in the "Westminster Review," July 1867, page 38.