LETTER 447. TO J. JENNER WEIR. Down, June 18th [1868].

Many thanks. I am glad that you mentioned the linnet, for I had much difficulty in persuading myself that the crimson breast could be due to change in the old feathers, as the books say. I am glad to hear of the retribution of the wicked old she-bullfinch. You remember telling me how many Weirs and Jenners have been naturalists; now this morning I have been putting together all my references about one bird of a pair being killed, and a new mate being soon found; you, Jenner Weir, have given me some most striking cases with starlings; Dr. Jenner gives the most curious case of all in "Philosophical Transactions" (447/1. "Phil. Trans." 1824.), and a Mr. Weir gives the next most striking in Macgillivray. (447/2. Macgillivray's "History of British Birds," Volume I., page 570. See "Descent of Man" (1901), page 621.) Now, is this not odd? Pray remember how very glad we shall be to see you here whenever you can come.

Did some ancient progenitor of the Weirs and Jenners puzzle his brains about the mating of birds, and has the question become indelibly fixed in all your minds?

LETTER 448. TO A.R. WALLACE. August 19th [1868].

I had become, before my nine weeks' horrid interruption of all work, extremely interested in sexual selection, and was making fair progress. In truth it has vexed me much to find that the farther I get on the more I differ from you about the females being dull-coloured for protection. I can now hardly express myself as strongly, even, as in the "Origin." This has much decreased the pleasure of my work. In the course of September, if I can get at all stronger, I hope to get Mr. J. Jenner Weir (who has been wonderfully kind in giving me information) to pay me a visit, and I will then write for the chance of your being able to come, and I hope bring with you Mrs. Wallace. If I could get several of you together it would be less dull for you, for of late I have found it impossible to talk with any human being for more than half an hour, except on extraordinary good days.

(448/1. On September 16th Darwin wrote to Wallace on the same subject:--)

You will be pleased to hear that I am undergoing severe distress about protection and sexual selection; this morning I oscillated with joy towards you; this evening I have swung back to the old position, out of which I fear I shall never get.


(449/1. From "Life and Letters," Volume III., page 123.)

Down, September 23rd [1868].

I am very much obliged for all your trouble in writing me your long letter, which I will keep by me and ponder over. To answer it would require at least 200 folio pages! If you could see how often I have rewritten some pages you would know how anxious I am to arrive as near as I can to the truth. I lay great stress on what I know takes place under domestication; I think we start with different fundamental notions on inheritance. I find it is most difficult, but not, I think, impossible to see how, for instance, a few red feathers appearing on the head of a male bird, and which are at first transmitted to both sexes, would come to be transmitted to males alone. It is not enough that females should be produced from the males with red feathers, which should be destitute of red feathers; but these females must have a latent tendency to produce such feathers, otherwise they would cause deterioration in the red head-feathers of their male offspring. Such latent tendency would be shown by their producing the red feathers when old, or diseased in their ovaria. But I have no difficulty in making the whole head red if the few red feathers in the male from the first tended to be sexually transmitted. I am quite willing to admit that the female may have been modified, either at the same time or subsequently, for protection by the accumulation of variations limited in their transmission to the female sex. I owe to your writings the consideration of this latter point. But I cannot yet persuade myself that females alone have often been modified for protection.

Charles Darwin

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