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Letter 1776

Blyth, Edward to Darwin, C. R.

[8 Nov 1855]

    Summary Add

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    History of the rose in India.

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    Looks forward to reading what Hooker and Thompson say on species and varieties in their Flora Indica [1855].

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    Domestication of the turkey in America. The Peruvians had domestic dogs. W. W. Robinson of Assam reports that otters are extensively trained for fishing but cormorants never are. Gives Robinson's comments on local domestic geese, rabbits, and cats.

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    EB has skins of jungle fowl from different localities to send.

Transcription

Notes for Mr Darwin.

You will be surprised to learn that there is actually no Sanscrit word for a rose! That given in Monier Williams's Sanscrit Dictionary signifies the common ‘Shoe Flower’ (as here called), or Hibiscus rosa-sinensis!!! The petals of which are used for cleaning shoes. A most abundant plant, of which three double varieties are common, viz. crimson, red-salmon-coloured, & yellow-salmon-coloured; but the single crimson-flowered variety is much the handsomest to my eye. Roses would appear to have been unknown in India prior to the Musalmán invasion! And throughout India they bear the name Guláb, which properly means rose-water. Gul is Persian; & I think áb too, for water, as it is also our Hindustani term; wherefore Gul-áb, Rose-water (‘Guláb Singh’ to wit)—pánj-ab, the country of the 5 waters, or rivers, (Greek penta!)—do-ab, an equivalent for Mesopotamia, &c. A servant who attends to the drinking-water is the Ábdar. But why the flower should be called Gul-áb}, deponent saith not.—

I have not yet seen, & look forward with much interest to read, what Hooker and Thomson have written on the general subject of species & varieties of plants, in their Flora Indica; embracing (if I understand aright) some speculations on the origin of species. Thomson has been my neighbour for some months; within a few miles: but I have not yet been able to find time to spend a day with him, though pressingly asked to do so. Now that the cold weather has fairly set in, I mean to do so soon. From conversation with him, I infer that they sweep away generally acknowledged species of plants by wholesale!— What has become of Ogilby, formerly Secretary of the Zooll Society? I don't think that I have heard of him since I left England.

—In a conversation just now with the brothers Blanford (two clever youths who have just come out to join the Govt Geoll Survey from the School of Mines), I learn that the much lamented Prof. E. Forbes anticipated me in the remark which I made to you respecting the domestication of the Turkey by the aboriginal Americans. It surely must have occurred, however, to any qualified naturalist who had read Prescott's & other works on the conquest of Mexico. I remember mentioning it also to Dixon; & can only wonder that it has not long been generally accepted doctrine, whereas I was not aware that it had ever been brought specially to notice.— Are you aware that the old Peruvians had domestic Dogs, regular parti-coloured curs! Vide Tschudi's plates on Peruvian Antiquities. (Pl. 23, I think); & I especially call your attention to this. Whence derived? From the Mexican Coyote (C. ochropus of Eschscholtz)? An animal of very Jackal-like habits! I know of no true wild Canis (with circular pupils) W. of the Andes! For a tolerably good Etruscan (or really Greek?) figure of the antique Grai-hound, Canis graius , Romanorum, see the ‘Bulletin Archéologique de l'Athénæum Français’ for July last. The same style of dog recurs frequently in Greek sculptures.

—I have been having a long talk with Mr W. Robinson (author of a well known work on Asám, I did & who has lived some 18 years in that province, all concerning which has been his study). not, however, then go much into the topics in which you are now specially interested. Still I learn from him that Otters are extensively trained & used for fishing along the whole course of the Brahmaputra, from the extreme east of Upper Asám, i.e. the head of the long valley; the species being Lutra chinensis. Cormorants never (though Ph. carbo is not uncommon); and so far as I can yet make out, the employment of Cormorants is confined to the Chinese (in China). The tame Geese of Asám are of the mixed race, like ours here; & tame Rabbits have found their way there. The domestic Cat is of the grey streakless race seen here.— I have just got a lot of bird-skins, from Asám; & have secured for you a fine skin of a jungle-cock, which precisely resembles the Bengal race. I have also got for you another skin of one from Malacca; which, like all others that I have seen from the Malayan peninsula & from Java, is more intensely coloured than our Indian bird. I think too, that the ear-lappet is not white; as constantly in our bird, & also in the Spanish domestic race; but red like the comb: and the legs seem coarse, & shew a yellow tinge, instead of the decided slaty-blue of our bird. Moreover this Malayan & Burmese race is certainly far more domesticable, why so I cannot say! And is therefore the probable source of all our tame fowls. But how did these first get into Egypt, malgré the obstinate prejudices of the Hindus! A large portion of the population of India never was Hindu, either in race or creed. I have seen fowls in profusion among the Sont'háls. Possibly through Arab (or say Semitic) commerce even at that remote period. They were familiar to Homer; but enough!

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 1776.f1
    The date is based on an endorsement in CD's hand reading: ‘Nov 8: 1855.’ However, CD numbered these notes ‘9’ (see CD annotations, above), indicating that they should follow the letter from Blyth, 8 December 1855, which is numbered ‘8’. It is possible that these notes were enclosed with that letter and that CD mistakenly dated them November instead of December.
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    f2 1776.f2
    See letter from Edward Blyth, [22 October 1855].
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    f3 1776.f3
    Monier Williams, professor of Sanskrit, Persian, and Hindustani at Haileybury College, had published an English–Sanskrit dictionary in 1851.
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    f4 1776.f4
    J. D. Hooker and Thomson 1855, introductory essay, pp. 19–44.
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    f5 1776.f5
    Thomas Thomson succeeded Hugh Falconer as superintendent of the Calcutta botanic garden and as professor of botany at the Calcutta Medical College in 1854.
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    f6 1776.f6
    William Ogilby had served as honorary secretary of the Zoological Society from 1839 to 1846 before settling in Ireland at Altnachree Castle, Tyrone, following the death of his father (Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 45 (1889) pt 2: 46).
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    f7 1776.f7
    William Thomas and Henry Francis Blanford both joined the Geological Survey of India in 1855.
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    f8 1776.f8
    Edward Forbes lectured on natural history at the Royal School of Mines during the period that William Thomas and Henry Francis Blanford were students there. The wild Mexican turkey is discussed in Variation 1: 292, where John Gould is cited as having ‘fairly well established’ that domestic varieties are descended from it.
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    f9 1776.f9
    Prescott 1843. See also letter from Edward Blyth, 21 April 1855 and n. 4.
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    f10 1776.f10
    Edmund Saul Dixon was of the opinion that ‘those who brought [the turkey] to the Old World had no idea of the value of what they were importing; but probably regarded it like any other remarkable production of nature … The young would be distributed among friends … and the nation would suddenly find itself in the possession of a race, not of pleasing pets, but of a valuable, prolific, and hardy stock of poultry.’ (E. S. Dixon 1848, pp. 33–4).
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    f11 1776.f11
    Tschudi 1851, plate 23.
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    f12 1776.f12
    Canis ochropus is described and figured in Eschscholtz 1829–33, pt 3, pp. 1–2 and Plate XI.
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    f13 1776.f13
    The July 1855 issue of Bulletin Archéologique de l'Athenæum Français contains a description (pp. 63–5) and illustration (Plate IV) of ‘Miroir Étrusque. Les Filles de Pélias.’ At the base of the mirror a crouching greyhound is figured.
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    f14 1776.f14
    Robinson 1841.
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