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Letter 1746

Blyth, Edward to Darwin, C. R.

22 & 23 Aug 1855

    Summary Add

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    Gives extracts from a letter by Thomas Hutton.

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    Rabbits are kept (generally by Europeans) in the NW. provinces and breed freely. Canaries are not well adapted to the climate. Reports on domestic cats and pigeons of the area. EB gives references to further information on cats, pigeons, and silkworms.

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    [CD's notes are an abstract of this letter.]

Transcription

Calcutta,

Augst 22/55—

My dear Sir,

I had actually despatched the accompanying memoranda when I received a letter from Capt. Thos Hutton of Mussooree (or Masuri, to spell it classically), containing replies to the queries I had sent him for you; so I recalled it only just in time, & now proceed to make such extracts from Capt. H's letter as you require. NB. I will now write to him on the subject of the Bombyx Huttoni, about which he will be sure to know; & you must pardon this very hasty scrawl, which I do trust will be legible.

Rabbits are kept in domestication pretty generally in the N.W. provinces; breeding freely and fattening well & readily for the table. We have them at Masuri, Dehra, Meerut, Bareilly, Neemuch, & every where else I believe. Of colours, grey is seldomer seen than any other, black,—black & white,—red & white,—sandy or dunn colour, & pure white with red eyes, are very common. I don't think, generally speaking, that they are so large as the English Wild Rabbit. They pass as the Bilati Khur-gosh (or ‘European Ass-ears’!). At Hansi too they thrive well. The lop-eared variety is merely a pet but it thrives well enough at Delhi & Hansi, the only two places where I know it to be kept.” N.B. Some lop-eared Rabbits which the late Ld Derby sent out to a Babu here, were novelties to the Calcutta natives! They did not live long, & the breed was lost. What Hutton means by a “red” colour, I know not; for he particularizes sandy or dun. He corroborates what I remarked of their small size. Lastly, it does not yet appear that any but Europeans are consumers (i.e. eaters) of tame Rabbits; & from what I have elsewhere learned, they appear to have been pretty generally introduced to the European stations, & scarcely (if at all) elsewhere.— Tame Otters he knows nothing particular about.

“Few Canaries are kept in our neighbourhood, from the difficulty of procuring them, & I have known 50/-” (£5) “demanded for one. They breed if properly attended to, but I do not think our climate well adapted to the bird— I brought out some from England several years ago, & took them to Neemuch with me, where they throve and bred freely, as did their progeny also. The mosquitoes annoyed them sadly.”— So also here.

Geese are brought up here from the plains generally speaking, & like yours are hybrid cygnoides.

Cats. We have a few tabby cats here & there” (Qu. the genuine English tabby?) ; “but the tame species proper to the hills is a grey animal with dark spots and stripes, & which I am inclined to regard as the F. himalayanus of the ‘Naturalist's Library’; the animal being as often wild near habitations as tame, & very destructive to poultry”.— Probably therefore the same as my alleged wild Cat of the Punjab Salt Range; & also Fraser's, but not Ogilby's! NB. I am writing this at my own house, during a most pelting tropical rain, & cannot now refer to the Nat. Library.

Pigeons are kept tame, but present nothing peculiar, being brought from the plains; & they consist of C. intermedia with its domestic varieties; the white Fantail, Nun, Shirazi, Tumblers, and a white kind with nuchal crest & feathered legs & feet. They are not in any quantities, as the Hawks pounce upon them if suffered to fly at large.”

Such are a few notes which may be depended upon, as those of a minutely accurate & practical observer. In due time, I hope to send you more from Burma, Ceylon, &c.; but for aught relative to Ceylon, you had better write to E. L. Layard, Colonial Office, Capetown; & he will also be able to aid you regarding the domestic animals of S. Africa—

Yours truly ever | E Blyth— Miscellaneous Notes for Mr Darwin Cat. In Ogilby's ‘Mammalogy of the Himalaya’, published in the Introduction to Royle's Ill. Him. Bot, p. lxv, a wild Himalayan Cat is mentioned, affined to the European Wild Cat but streakless; & a specimen is stated to be in the Z. S. museum. I know of no such animal, at all corresponding to the description given; unless the mountain variety of F. chaus be intended! N.B. I observe that our Bengal chaus possesses the dorsal mane distinct enough, only like the rest of the fur it is less developed than in the mountain animal. It is not unlikely that the Z. Society possess a specimen of the streakless grey tame Cat of this country; for I remember seeing one alive, years ago, in the Giraffe-house in the Regent's Pk, & being particularly amused with the tricks played upon it by a certain long-armed Ape (Hylobates leucogenys, Ogilby.)

Silk-worms are extensively reared in middle Asia. Vide Burnes's ‘Travels in Bokhara’. The breed is probably the same as that of Afghánistán, moths of which I have seen, & observed nothing particular about them,—at the same time that I never minutely compared them with imago specimens of the Bombyx mori from elsewhere.

Pigeons. In the Appendix to Salt's Travels in Abyssinia, I remember that it is stated that the Col. guinea abounds there in a domestic state! This I cannot believe; its subgenus being preeminently an arboreal one. However, should it be true, R'{u}ppell would be sure to notice so singular a fact; but he says nothing about it in his Systematische uebersicht, p. 100; & his ‘travels’ I have never seen.

Cats again. In Huc's ‘Chinese Empire’. (Eng. Transl. II, 120), “Tailless Cats” are mentioned; & “white silky Cats are not unknown” there. —Also several sorts of dogs with black tongues! Again, in Fraser's Himn Travels, p. 351, it is stated that “small Cats” (Qu. chaus?) “of a size and colour approaching the domestic Cat, were more than once met with among the villages, but I do not recollect seeing”, he adds, “that animal ever retained in a house in a domestic state.”

See Huc, ibid. II, 100, for notice of trained Cormorants in China.

Silk-worms again. There is a wild Himalayan Bombyx Huttoni, described I think in one of the earlier vols. of the As. Soc. Journal which you had better enquire about of your entomological friends. It is nearly affined to the cultivated B. mori, & (as I think I remember) is also cultivated in Asám. If I can find time, I will hunt up what I can about it.—

Next week, too, I hope to devote two or three days to photography, (I mean the paper process); in which case I may be able to send you a few positives of certain specimens. Just now I am busy with the daguerretype, or rather my wife is, & she is quite an adept at it—

Yours truly ever | E. Blyth
Augt 23/55—

P.S. You will receive the Jungle fowl skeleton by the mail which conveys this. Cana<ries>. Vide Ann. Mag. N. H. June 1855, p. 433. Learn what you can from Mr Harcourt about the “cross” between the wild & tamed birds. N.B. Fr butyracea (as I understand it) is quite a different species, inhabiting S. Africa.

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 1746.f1
    Bombyx huttoni was first described and figured by John Obadiah Westwood (Westwood 1848, plate 12, fig. 4). Westwood ‘named this species in honour of Captain Thomas Hutton, by whom it was lately discovered, and to whom I am indebted for a specimen’ (Westwood 1848, p. 26). Hutton had discovered the species on 7 May 1842 (ibid.).
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    f2 1746.f2
    In a later letter to Charles Lyell, 20 [June 1860], CD complained that Blyth had ‘a dreadful handwriting’ (ML 1: 155).
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    f3 1746.f3
    Edward Smith Stanley, Earl of Derby, had served as president of the Zoological Society of London from 1831 to his death in 1851.
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    f4 1746.f4
    A baboo or babu is a ‘native Hindoo gentleman; also (in Anglo-Indian use), a native clerk or official who writes English; sometimes applied disparagingly to a Hindoo or, more particularly, a Bengali, with a superficial English education.’ (OED).
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    f5 1746.f5
    Blyth's interjection is enclosed in square brackets in the manuscript.
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    f6 1746.f6
    Jardine 1834, pp. 230–1 and plate 24*, which is entitled ‘Felis Himalyanus.?’
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    f7 1746.f7
    Blyth later described a wild cat of ‘the streaked or spotted type’ from the Punjab salt range in Blyth 1856, p. 442 n.†.
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    f8 1746.f8
    See n. 17, below.
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    f9 1746.f9
    William Ogilby's work in Royle 1839 (see n. 11, below).
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    f10 1746.f10
    Edgar Leopold Layard served in the Ceylon civil service, 1846–55, before being appointed to the Cape of Good Hope civil service in 1855.
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    f11 1746.f11
    Royle 1839, 1: lxv.
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    f12 1746.f12
    Burnes 1834, 2: 179–80.
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    f13 1746.f13
    Salt 1814, Appendix IV, p. xlviii.
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    f14 1746.f14
    R&apos;{u}ppell 1845.
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    f15 1746.f15
    R&apos;{u}ppell 1838–40.
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    f16 1746.f16
    Huc 1855, 2: 120: ‘The cat is domesticated, especially a tailless kind, very common in the south [of China]; and the white variety, with silky hair, is not unknown.’
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    f17 1746.f17
    Fraser 1820, p. 351.
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    f18 1746.f18
    The photographic process developed by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre involved fixing an image on a metallic plate. The ‘paper process’ or calotype was developed by William Henry Fox Talbot and by this method a negative was produced from which positive prints could be made.
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    f19 1746.f19
    In 1854 Blyth had married Mrs Hodges, a widow whom he had known as Miss Sutton (Grote 1875, p. ix).
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    f20 1746.f20
    Edward Vernon Harcourt, writing on the ornithology of Madeira, had stated: ‘The Green Canary (Fringilla butyracea, Linn.) is the original stock of the bird so well known to us as the Yellow Canary… . The cross between the wild and the tame canary seems to produce a bird which is both physically and vocally stronger than its domesticated ancestors.’ (Harcourt 1855, p. 433). CD scored this passage in his copy of Harcourt 1855 (Darwin Library–CUL). Blyth 1849a, p. 124, gives the habitat of Fringilla butyracea as ‘S. Africa; Mauritius?’.
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