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Letter 1798

Darwin, C. R. to Murray, C. A.

24 Dec 1855

    Summary Add

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    CD has "for many years been working on the perplexed subject of the origin of varieties & species".

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    Asks CAM if he can help procure skins of domestic pigeons, poultry, ducks, and rabbits from Persia. Gives general instructions for anyone he might employ to obtain skins.

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    CD would also welcome descriptions of the larger, native quadrupeds.

Transcription

Down Bromley Kent

Dec. 24. 1855

Sir

I venture to hope that your Excellency will forgive the liberty I take in writing to you: my old friend, Sir C. Lyell has told me that I might use his name as some sort of introduction, & as I know from your Travels that you are interested in Natural Science, perhaps the circumstance that I have devoted my whole life to Natural History (having volunteered to accompany Capt. FitzRoy in his circumnavigation, & having published an account of it) will lead you to excuse the great liberty I am taking.

I have for many years been working on the perplexed subject of the origin of varieties & species, & for this purpose I am endeavouring to study the effects of domestication, & am collecting the skins of all the smaller domesticated birds & quadrupeds from all parts of the world. Let me remark that I am not so unreasonable as to suppose for one moment that you, in your position can help me directly, but I think that perhaps indirectly you could, if kindly so inclined, render me & my subject the most essential assistance; but this, again, must depend on there being anyone near who can, for payment, prepare skins; for owing to weight, it would, I apprehend, be impossible to transmit specimens in concentrated brine or spirits.—

I have thought that I shd do my work best by carefully attending to a few small groups of varieties; & I have taken especial pains with the domestic Pigeon, Poultry, Ducks, & Rabbits.— Pigeons if really descended from one wild stock, as after much consideration I believe to be the case, have varied most wonderfully in almost their whole organization.— Persia is reputed to be the birth place of several races, as Carriers, Tumblers Pouters, Bussorah Runts &c; & the comparison of, for instance, a Persian with an English Carrier would be of extreme interest to me. The Poultry, also, and Ducks & Rabbits (if kept) would doubtless be new breeds to me.—

My work will perhaps appear at first foolish, but I trust that you will think the final object worthy of scientific investigation.— If you are are so very kind as to be inclined to aid me, I have thought that you might enquire through merchants &c, the names of the several breeds kept by Persian Fanciers, of Pigeons &c, & getting their native name, instruct (through any one whom you could induce to take the trouble) any Bird-skinner to purchase & preserve the skins; & I would most gratefully (permit me to add) repay to your London Agent any expence to which you might be put.— For the chance of your Excellency being willing to aid me & to excuse the very great liberty I am taking, I will append a few instructions for anyone you might employ.—

With the most sincere apologies, I beg to remain | Your Excellency's | Obliged & obedient servant | Charles Darwin | F.R.S.
To his Excellency | The Honble. C. Murray

Should you know anyone who has attended to the larger domesticated quadrupeds, as cattle, sheep, Dogs, & could induce such person to send me descriptions, or a mere enumeration they would be most gratefully received & acknowledged.—

Instructions

Skins of any domestic breed of Pigeons, Poultry, Ducks Rabbits or even Cats (or skeletons of Dogs) which have been bred for many generations in domestication would be of great value: recently imported breeds from Europe to be avoided. It would be necessary to observe & select a characteristic specimen of adult animals of any breed. In Poultry both cock & hen, but especially the cock, shd. be procured. The whole bones of legs & wings, & as much as possible of the skull, should be left in the skin.— Each specimen should be ticketed with native name, habitat, & any procurable information on habits.—

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 1798.f1
    Murray was envoy and minister plenipotentiary to the court of Persia, 1854–9 (DNB).
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    f2 1798.f2
    Travels in North America (Murray 1839).
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    f3 1798.f3
    CD's arguments for this conclusion are given in Variation 1: 180–224.
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    f4 1798.f4
    Murray sent CD two carrier pigeons and a pair of Persian Tumblers (Variation 1: 141 and 150).
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