I should be grateful for an answer on the point.

LETTER 441. TO J. JENNER WEIR. Down, April 18th [1868].

You see that I have taken you at your word, and have not (owing to heaps of stupid letters) earlier noticed your three last letters, which as usual are rich in facts. Your letters make almost a little volume on my table. I daresay you hardly knew yourself how much curious information was lying in your mind till I began the severe pumping process. The case of the starling married thrice in one day is capital, and beats the case of the magpies of which one was shot seven times consecutively. A gamekeeper here tells me that he has repeatedly shot one of a pair of jays, and it has always been immediately replaced. I begin to think that the pairing of birds must be as delicate and tedious an operation as the pairing of young gentlemen and ladies. If I can convince myself that there are habitually many unpaired birds, it will be a great aid to me in sexual selection, about which I have lately had many troubles, and am therefore rejoiced to hear in your last note that your faith keeps staunch. That is a curious fact about the bullfinches all appearing to listen to the German singer (441/1. See Letter 445, note.); and this leads me to ask how much faith may I put in the statement that male birds will sing in rivalry until they injure themselves. Yarrell formerly told me that they would sometimes even sing themselves to death. I am sorry to hear that the painted bullfinch turns out to be a female; though she has done us a good turn in exhibiting her jealousy, of which I had no idea.

Thank you for telling me about the wildness of the hybrid canaries: nothing has hardly ever surprised me more than the many cases of reversion from crossing. Do you not think it a very curious subject? I have not heard from Mr. Bartlett about the Gallinaceae, and I daresay I never shall. He told me about the Tragopan, and he is positive that the blue wattle becomes gorged with blood, and not air.

Returning to the first of the last three letters. It is most curious the number of persons of the name of Jenner who have had a strong taste for Natural History. It is a pity you cannot trace your connection with the great Jenner, for a duke might be proud of his blood.

I heard lately from Professor Rolleston of the inherited effects of an injury in the same eye. Is the scar on your son's leg on the same side and on exactly the same spot where you were wounded? And did the wound suppurate, or heal by the first intention? I cannot persuade myself of the truth of the common belief of the influence of the mother's imagination on the child. A point just occurs to me (though it does not at present concern me) about birds' nests. Have you read Wallace's recent articles? (441/2. A full discussion of Mr. Wallace's views is given in "Descent of Man," Edition I., Volume II., Chapter XV. Briefly, Mr. Wallace's point is that the dull colour of the female bird is protective by rendering her inconspicuous during incubation. Thus the relatively bright colour of the male would not simply depend on sexual selection, but also on the hen being "saved, through Natural Selection, from acquiring the conspicuous colours of the male" (loc. cit., page 155).) I always distrust myself when I differ from him; but I cannot admit that birds learn to make their nests from having seen them whilst young. I must think it as true an instinct as that which leads a caterpillar to suspend its cocoon in a particular manner. Have you had any experience of birds hatched under a foster-mother making their nests in the proper manner? I cannot thank you enough for all your kindness.

LETTER 442. TO A.R. WALLACE.

(442/1. Dr. Clifford Allbutt's view probably had reference to the fact that the sperm-cell goes, or is carried, to the germ-cell, never vice versa. In this letter Darwin gives the reason for the "law" referred to. Mr. A.R. Wallace has been good enough to give us the following note:--"It was at this time that my paper on 'Protective Resemblance' first appeared in the 'Westminster Review,' in which I adduced the greater, or rather, the more continuous, importance of the female (in the lower animals) for the race, and my 'Theory of Birds' Nests' ('Journal of Travel and Natural History,' No.

More Letters of Charles Darwin Volume II Page 43

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book