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Letter 1844

Darwin, C. R. to Tegetmeier, W. B.

20 Mar [1856]

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    Discusses various pigeons and would welcome receiving any odd breed. Some pigeons have died from overeating bag salt.

Transcription

Down Bromley Kent

March 20th

My dear Sir

Many thanks for your note & kind offers of assistance.— I shd be very glad indeed if you could procure me the Carriers as you propose. I shd considerably prefer black Carriers, as I have dun Dragons & the colour will be useful in distinguishing crosses. And I thank you for not buying the Runts: I have had a sick Scanderoon & the skeleton is now making. I was aware that the Leghorn Runt is very like the Scanderoon, but yet according to the German Pigeon Book, there seems some difference, the neck being not so long or so curved, & the body larger.—

If ever you shd stumble on any odd breed of Pigeon at Stevens, not very dear I shd be glad to purchase.

By the way I must mention that Mr Brent has sent me a splendid Cochin Cock, so that I shall not want such.

What an excellent table you have sent me, as a specimen; I cannot doubt you will make a first-rate work on your subject.—

I saw quite lately (& have just now been relooking over my papers, but cannot refind the note) that Pallas in his Spicilegia Zoologica (I think vol. 2.) has described the protuberance on the skull of the Polish Fowl.— This, perhaps, would be worth your looking to.—

I have had a most unfortunate, & curious in medical point of view, accident this morning; viz in 3 of my best, old Pigeons dying & 2 or 3 others ill, from overeating Bay Salt: & what makes it odder, they have been accustomed to it; but have not had any for 2 or 3 weeks: I noticed that they ate very much, but I never dreamed of its making them ill; but in 3 or 4 hours I had half-a-dozen very ill & 3 are now dead. I now remember before that it seemed to make them sick on a former occasion; this seems to me very surprising; but I cannot doubt in the least, that it was the salt & nothing but the salt.— The deaths happened in two houses.—

Pray believe me, Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 1844.f1
    The year is established by the incident with the pigeons overeating salt, which is reported in the letter and was subsequently published by Tegetmeier (see n. 9, below).
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    f2 1844.f2
    See letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 15 March [1856].
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    f3 1844.f3
    Notes recording the results of CD's crosses between various races of pigeons are preserved in DAR 205.7: 166–89 and in CD's Catalogue of Down specimens (Down House MS).
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    f4 1844.f4
    Scanderoons are described in Variation 1: 142–4. There is an entry in CD's Account book (Down House MS) for 10 March 1856 that reads: ‘Townsend: Skeletons’. There are several subsequent entries to the same effect. CD had previously prepared his own skeletons (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to T. C. Eyton, 26 November [1855]).
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    f5 1844.f5
    Neumeister 1837. CD's annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
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    f6 1844.f6
    Bernard P. Brent was one of CD's chief sources of information on poultry.
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    f7 1844.f7
    CD possibly refers to some preliminary work for Tegetmeier's Poultry book (Tegetmeier ed. 1856–7), the first number of which was issued in May, or to Tegetmeier 1856 (see n. 8, below).
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    f8 1844.f8
    Pallas 1767–80, pt 4, pp. 18–23 and Plate III. One of Tegetmeier's specialities was the breeding of Polish fowl, which are characterised by a skeletal protuberance on the crown of the head exaggerated by colourful crest feathers. Tegetmeier exhibited live specimens and skeletons of this breed at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London on 25 November 1856. In the written report (Tegetmeier 1856) he mentioned Pyotr Simon Pallas's earlier description but corrected Pallas's opinion that the breed was a product of a cross between a domestic fowl and the guinea-fowl.
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    f9 1844.f9
    Tegetmeier published an account of the death of CD's pigeons. He stated it was ‘communicated to me by one of the most distinguished naturalists of the day, whom I am most proud to number on my list of friends’ (Cottage Gardener 16 (1856): 73–4). Tegetmeier concluded that ‘it is necessary to limit the quantity of salt given to birds, after they have been deprived of it for any time.’
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