RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1921. [Letters to Alfred Newton, 1867]. In Alexander Frederick Richmond Wollaston, Life of Alfred Newton: Professor of Comparative Anatomy, Cambridge University, 1866-1907. London, pp. 294-5.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 4.2022. RN1

NOTE: See record in the Freeman Bibliographical Database, enter its Identifier here. See the fully annotated letters in Correspondence vol. 15, pp. 39, 126.

"Newton, Alfred, 1829-1907. Ornithologist. Biography: A.F.R. Wollaston, Life of Alfred Newton, 1921. 1858 the retrospective account by N that he was converted by the Darwin-Wallace paper is contradicted by contemporary letters. 1860 H.B. Tristram to N, "The infallibility of the God Darwin and his prophet Huxley". 1865 Oct. 29 CD to N declining to write a testimonial for the Cambridge Chair on the grounds that N knew only about birds. CCD13. 1866-1907 First Prof. Zoology and Comparative Anatomy Cambridge. 1870 FRS. 1870 Feb. 9 CD to N; N, Swinhoe, Hooker and Günther spent Sunday 23 Jan. at Down House. ED recorded in 1870 Jan. 22 "Frank Mr Newton Gunther Swinhoe". 1870 May 23 CD visited N at Cambridge Museum. 1881 CD and ED took tea with N at Cambridge. 1882 N was on "Personal Friends invited" list for CD's funeral. The next record in ED's diary was in 1883 Dec. 1 where N, Huxleys, M. Forsters and A. Sedgwick dined. From 1884-96, he would have further dinners with ED with the last visit on 1896 May 25." (Paul van Helvert & John van Wyhe, Darwin: A Companion, 2021)

[page] 294

Down, Bromley, Kent, S.E.,

January 19, 1867.


Will you have the kindness to give me some information on one point? Not long since I was speaking to Mr. Wallace about his mimetic butterflies, and I told him of the case of the Rhynchæa, of which the female is more beautiful than the male, with the young resembling the latter. He answered me that you at Nottingham had advanced this or some such case, and that you had simply explained it by the male being the incubator. I should be extremely obliged if you would give me any information on this head and allow me to quote you. The subject interests me greatly, as in the 4th Edition of the ''Origin" I gave the obvious explanation of female birds not being gaudily coloured, etc., on account of their incubating; | knew then of the Rhynchæa but passed over the case, from not having space and from its appearing to me quite inexplicable.

I hope that you will forgive me troubling you, and believe me, my dear Sir,

Yours sincerely,


[page] 295

P.S.—As I am writing, I will ask one other question, for the chance of your being able to answer it. Does the male black Australian swan, or the black and white S. American swan, differ from the females in plumage? i.e in the intensity of the black, or in the amount of black in the black-necked species?

Down, Bromley, Kent, S.E.,

March 4, 1867.


Very many thanks about the Dotterel, and I am pleased to hear of this additional evidence. I have looked to Swinhoe's papers, but the case does not seem very conclusive. After writing to you I remembered that the female of the Carrion-hawk of the Falkland I's. (formerly called Polyborus N. Zealandii) is very much brighter coloured than the male, as I ascertained ("Zool. Voyage of Beagle: Birds") by dissection; I have written to the Missionaries there about its nidification and if I receive any answer, will inform you.

The other day I thought I had got a case at the Zoological Gardens in the Casuarmus galeatus, in which the female has the finest and brightest caruncles, etc., but Sclater tells me it would be rash to trust to the comparison of a single pair, and he tells me that the male Ostrich has the finest plumes.

With my best thanks,

I remain my dear Sir,

Yours very sincerely,


P.S.—Mr. Blyth tells me that according to Jerdan the natives say the male Turnix alone incubates and attends to young.

There is another consideration which might lead to the female being the most beautiful, viz., if they were the more numerous than the males and the species were not polygamous, for in this case the more beautiful females would be selected.

This document has been accessed 238 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 7 December, 2022