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Letter 1784

Darwin, C. R. to Eyton, T. C.

26 Nov [1855]

    Summary Add

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    Asks TCE's advice on preparation of birds' skeletons.

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    His pigeon collection is growing; now has pairs of ten varieties.

Transcription

Down Bromley Kent

Nov. 26th

My dear Eyton

As you have had such great experience in making skeletons, will you be so kind as to take the trouble to give me some pieces of information. But I must premise that I have been making a few, & when I took the body out of the water, the smell was so dreadful that it made me reach awfully. Now I was told that if I hung the body of a bird or small quadruped up in the air & allowed the flesh to decay off, & the whole to get dry, that I could boil the mummy in water with caustic soda, & so get it nearly clean, but not white, with very little smell. What do you think of this plan? And pray tell me how do you get the bones moderately clean, when you take the skeleton out, with some small fragments of putrid flesh still adhering. It really is most dreadful work.— Lastly do you pluck your Birds?—

I am getting on with my collection of Pigeons, & now have pairs of ten varieties alive & shall on Saturday receive two or three more kinds.—

Do pray help me with your advice, & forgive this trouble.

Your's very truly | C. Darwin
T. C. Eyton Esqe

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 1784.f1
    Eyton had himself prepared the majority of the skeletons in his large museum on the family estate at Eyton. He possessed one of the finest collections of bird and animal skins in Europe (DNB).
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    f2 1784.f2
    See, for example, letter to W. D. Fox, 22 August [1855].
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    f3 1784.f3
    See letter to J. D. Hooker, 11 [December 1854], n. 13.
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    f4 1784.f4
    In CD's Address book (Down House MS), the following recipe appears under ‘Skeletons’: ‘Skeletons 14 oz Caustic Potash to Pint of Water Siver Oxide 12 gram: twice a day, for month’. In 1856, however, CD began sending his specimens out to have skeletons prepared.
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