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Letter 1833

Blyth, Edward to Darwin, C. R.

26 Feb 1856

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    There is a possibility of establishment of a Government Museum at Calcutta, with which the Asiatic Society Museum would be merged. EB would like the curatorship but fears other possible applicants. Asks CD to represent him to W. H. Sykes.

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    Discusses the ancients' awareness of various cats as deduced from the etymology of their names.

Transcription

Calcutta,

Feby 26/56.

My dear Sir,

A mail viâ Bombay is advertized for today, and you will probably get this letter by the same steamer which conveys my last, of a few days back. Now it is quite as well to anticipate contingencies, & to take time by the forelock; and a long experience of India and its doings makes one uncommonly vigilant and what is commonly termed wide-awake. Now that a movement is in contemplation for the establishment of a Presidency or Govt museum here, to which our Asiatic Society's Collections are likely to be transferred, it is probable that the whole thing will be done on a liberal and efficient scale, & that a decent salary will be attached to the Curatorship. In that case, the office will undoubtedly be sought, and (if we don't look sharp) very possibly obtained by some member of the medical body here, who will assuredly look upon it as virtually appertaining to their service, and I am quite sure will try for it: & I, who have so long borne the burden & heat of the day, may find myself placed in a subordinate position! That I have not performed impossibilities with insufficient means will then doubtless be attributed to incapacity, & so forth. Now, it is really a fact that I have been able to do very little of late, for want of the most necessary aid in the museum; our only taxidermist and general assistant in my department having been laid up for more than a fortnight past, & prior to that having been much away from his post all this year; so that I can get nothing done that I want done. Judging from past experience, I know full well that no allowance will be made for all this by & bye, when a good salary is to be striven for; people will be interested in misrepresenting the matter, whom I too well know are not at all scrupulous; & so because I can't get on as I could wish without proper assistance, it will be made out that I am incompetent to take official charge of a proper establishment; & this you must kindly manage to represent properly to Col. Sykes. I enclose a portion of a letter just recd from our Secretary, which will shew you that my fears are not unfounded.—

Looking up materials for an article on the Leopard (for ‘Feline Animals of India’, No 3), I have just hit upon some important conclusions, which I feel satisfied are sound. 1, That the ancients never descriminated the Panther and Leopard of modern zoologists, respecting the distinctions of which no two original observers seem to be agreed even now.— 2, that they were acquainted, however, with two large spotted cats, viz. the Nimmer and the Fáádh of the Arabs, both of which are common enough in Asia minor to this day. These two being the Guepard or ‘Harting Leopard’ and the true Pard.— 3, that the Panther of the Greeks was the Guepard; and their Pardus and Pardalis the two sexes of the other.— 4, that the Pardus of the Romans signified the male, and their Panthera [ var] Varia the female, of the Pard; and wanting a name for the other, when they came to know it in after-times, they christened it the Leo-pardus, i.e.‘maned’ or ‘Leonine Pard’, in allusion to the lengthened fur upon the nape; whence also the name F. jubata. Hence, it appears, that the Guepard was the original &pgr;&agr;&ngr;&thgr;&eegr;&rgr; of the Greeks, & also the original Leo-pardus of the Romans; both of which names have since been transferred to the other! While the name Cheeta now applied to it in zoological works belongs properly to the other, the Chita-bagh (i.e. ‘Spotted Tiger’) of the natives here!! Now I should hardly have hit upon this éclaircissement, had I not recently learned from Chesney's work how common the jubata is in Syria; and if you look to the authorities cited in Cuvier's Ossemens fossiles, I think you will agree with me in these interpretations.—

Are you aware that in China Ducks are artificially hatched on a grand scale? In an elaborate article ‘on the diet of the Chinese’, published in the ‘Chinese Repositary’, Vol. III, 463, it is stated— “Ducks are reared in great numbers. The eggs are hatched by artificial heat much in the same manner as in Egypt; and the young are kept in boats, which are provided with coops and railings”. We have read often enough of the ‘De'il take the hindmost’ style in which the Ducks in China rush back into their boat at night, the last being touched up with a whip! Well, my idea some time ago was, or at least my suggestion, that the Egyptian artificial hatching in the olden time may have referred to Geese. That fowls are now so hatched there, I am well aware; and for highly interesting and elaborate notice thereof vide our Journ. As. Soc. Vol. VIII, pp.38 et seq.—

Yours ever most truly, E Blyth.

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 1833.f1
    Letter from Edward Blyth, 23 February 1856.
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    f2 1833.f2
    See letter from Edward Blyth, 23 February 1856, n. 7. Blyth's salary as curator of the Asiatic Society's museum was 250 rupees a month and was never increased during his time of service. When the National Museum was eventually established in Calcutta in 1865, the new curator was paid as a government official. According to Blyth, he received ‘just double what I had after more than twenty years' work, with an additional £50 yearly, and house accommodation!’ (Grote 1875, p. xiii).
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    f3 1833.f3
    William Henry Atkinson was secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. The portion of the letter referred to has not been preserved.
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    f4 1833.f4
    Part of the article published in the Calcutta Sporting Review. See letter from Edward Blyth, 8 January 1856.
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    f5 1833.f5
    Chesney 1850, 1: 442.
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    f6 1833.f6
    Cuvier 1834–6, 7: 390–412.
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    f7 1833.f7
    This quotation is taken from the article entitled ‘Diet of the Chinese: little known of their domestic life; grains, garden vegetables, fruits, and other plants cultivated for food; fish extensively used for the same purpose; also domesticated and wild animals; beverages of the Chinese; modes of cooking, and eating; cost of living’ (Chinese Repository 3 (1835): 457–71).
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    f8 1833.f8
    Demas 1840.
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