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Darwin Correspondence Project


From Edward Blyth   7 September [1855]1

Notes for Mr. Darwin.

Felis himalayanus of Jardine’s ‘Nat. Library’.—2 I remember perfectly well the identical specimen upon which this name was founded; & have even nursed it upon my lap when alive, it was so perfectly tame and good-natured. Its size and weight were more than double those of any domestic cat; and I still believe (as I always did) that its species is F. viverrinus. I have the most vivid recollection of it when alive, & have since had a full grown Tom equally tame here; the species being far from uncommon in Lower Bengal, & pretty generally spread over India, extending even to the Tenasserim provinces. Rest assured, therefore, that Hutton is wrong in supposing it to be the common tame & feral(?) cat of the Himalaya; which is most probably the same as my alleged wild cat from the Punjab Salt Range.3 As for F. viverrinus, another large male which I formerly possessed attacked & killed a young Leopard much bigger than itself, after getting through the cage partition which separated them; but this one had not been long caught, and the Leopard was quite tame. However, in general this species is easily tamed; whereas the much less powerfully built F. chaus seems to be utterly untameable. Comparing Jardine’s coloured figure with a fine series of viverrinus of all ages in our museum here, it is quite obvious (independently of my recollection of the original) that this is the species intended; the great fault consisting in the very dark shade which is thrown over the middle of the face, crown, back, & tail, of Jardine’s figure. Read the Nat. Library article on the domestic Cat. What I called the ‘blue Spanish Cat’ is there termed the Chartreuse Cat. The supposed “Persian” is of course the Angora; & the pendent-eared puss of China is unknown to me. An aboriginally wild Tortoise-shell is bosh of course By the way, do you know that bosh is the Persian word for rubbish; of course introduced by Anglo-Indians; as also the Hindustani word cheese for thing; “quite the Stilton” being a meaningless quasi-improvement upon the use of it! Dieffenbach remarks that, in N. Zealand, “the Cat often runs wild”, and that “these wild Cats soon resume the streaky grey colour of the common wild Cat” II, 185.4 In Sardinia, on the contrary, according to Azuni,5 the feral Cats are, nearly all of them, black! Like the Falkland Island Rabbits!

Bos sondaicus, S. Muller;—leucoprymnus, Quoy & Gaimard,—bantinger, Tem. ‘Banteng’ or ‘Tandie Banteng’ of Java. In Gov. Grey’s ‘Australia’, I, 287, it is quietly remarked that—“Fine cattle are to be had at about 4 dollars a head at the town of Bally, in the Straits of Allass, between Lomboek & Sumbawa.”6 These are domesticated B. sondaicus , either of pure or mixed breed, & well known as the “Bali cattle” in the Straits’ settlements. I wish that I knew more of them. For figures & descriptions of B. sondaicus, vide Dr. S. Muller & Temminck’s great Dutch work on the zoology of the Eastern Archipelago.7

I think I before told you that I know an affined species, still undescribed, in the Burmese countries, where known as the Tsain; & long ago indicated by Pennant in his ‘Hindustan’ as the “white-horned wild cattle” of those countries.8 Perhaps the wild type of Raffles’s domestic cattle of Sumatra. See Lin. Trans. Vol. XIII.9

I also remember referring you to a most interesting account of the gradual domestication of wild herds of Gayals—(Bos frontalis, Lambert,—B. gaurus, Colebrooke,—& B. sylhetanus, F. Cuv.,)—in Lin. Trans. VII, 303–4.10 Remember to cite this animal as the “Gayal or Mit’hun ” of authors; the latter being the name which it is best known by on the mountains of Asám. N.B. The “A’{sl Gayal} or Seloi”, As. Res. VIII, 495,11 is the same as the Gasur (Bos gaurus); a female head of which in the India house museum has been designated Bos assul by Dr Horsfield!12 I know the specimen well, & have a drawing of it; and can assert positively that it is merely a cow of the Bos gaurus. This species also was seen in a state of domestication in the interior of the Tippera hills, by the Rev. J. Barbe, a missionary of the Romish faith, & a fair naturalist, who even brought me a pair of horns of one of these domestic individuals to convince me that he was right regarding the species. The Gasur has generally been considered as untameable; & it is the finest of all known living Boves.

I happened to look in this morning at 2 or 3 shops kept by dealers in Rabbits; & was struck by the small size and great preponderance of pink-eyed albinos.

Jackals. Have I mentioned that pure black & smoky-black & also bright rufous individuals occur occasionally, in structure undistinguishable from the ordinary Jackals. We have also a melanoid Wolf’s skin from Tibét. But Jackals sometimes interbreed with Pariah Dogs, & the hybrids are again prolific any way; & these varieties may sometimes be the result of intermixture with pariah dogs, 2 or 3 generations back! The P. Dog has a long smooth tail, & the Jackal a brush; the hybrid having a smaller brush. In the Upper Provinces I believe the P. Dogs have also a brush-tail! Of a litter belonging to a friend of mine, from a 12 bred Jackal bitch by an English terrier, the more Dog-like young were Jackal-like in habits, & vice versâ.

Septr—7. You ask if I consider the Columba intermedia to be a species, or a mere race of C. livia. I did not reply to this at the time; but referred you to a notice by the Prince of Canino of many such races, admitted by him as species.13 However, this is just the vexata quæstio; on which difference of opinion will perhaps always exist. Among zoologists admitting of species, about the extreme representatives will be found in the Prince & in Prof. Schlegel.14 But Schlegel & Temminck have recently admitted many species which formerly they ranked as varieties of the same (vide Fauna Japonica); and certainly in Dr. Salomon Muller’s great Dutch work on the zoology of the Indian Archipelago, with whose name that of Temminck is conjoined, we have (for instance) a Cuckoo noticed as Cuculus canoroides, described as absolutely similar to C. canorus! Why then separate it at all? Especially as C. canorus is common in India; & I suspect much that Gould’s C. optatus of N. Australia is no other, although he has since identified it with his C. micropterus of India, (which bears the prior name of C. striatus, Drapiez), and is quite a different bird from that figured as optatus. Again, the establishment of the named division Cacomantis in the same work for the Cuculi of the C. flavus type, is a separation very little in conformity with the usual system of classification adopted by the (somewhat tardigrade) Dutch naturalists.15 Subdivision of groups can indeed scarcely go farther! The opposite extreme occurs in Schlegel’s work on serpents; where a large proportion of the species correspond with genera of the Prince of Canino, Gray, & others; & Schlegel’s varieties with the species of the latter! No doubt there are cases in which each is right, & vice versâ. But what constitutes a species? You should read Schlegel’s introductory letter on the subject, addressed to Temminck, & prefatory to his work on serpents. —No, I find I am wrong; it is in his ‘Essay on the geographl. distribution of Ophidians’, which is not in my French copy, but in Traill’s English Translation of Schlegel’s work on Serpents.16 It contains much sound and good matter; but whatever does he mean by the “variety” of Jay found in the Himalaya (p. 219)? If either of the two Himalayan Jays is to be considered a variety merely of any other, there is an end to all specifical discrimination!17 By next mail, I will send you some comments on this Essay, & also on certain remarks of Lyell, in his ‘Principles’. There are some groups in various classes in which it would seem impossible to come to satisfactory conclusions. Among mammalia, the Wolves of different countries for instance. I do not hesitate, however, to regard the Indian (C. pallipes, Sykes), as distinct from the European; being a much smaller animal, with less powerful teeth, & confined to the plains; attacking children (to indeed an awful extent), but never grown men: whereas we well know what the European Wolves will do, and that they resort much to mountains. Now the Indian, though common over the plains of India, is quite unknown in the Himalaya, even in the first and lower ranges! Yet the Tibetan Wolf more resembles it than it does the European, osteologically at least; & then there are the various arctic & N. American Wolves to consider—

—It is perhaps impossible to define apart satisfactorily the many races of gigantic Flying Squirrels, of which Pteromys petaurista is one; & the various races of gigantic Squirrels, which Temminck brings together under the one name Sc. giganteus. Nevertheless, some of them seem distinct enough; & if we admit them we must admit others, till in one stage or another of approximation different systematists will be sure to disagree! Various other Asiatic Squirrels present the same difficulty; and in a note on the subject to a recent report of mine,18 which you will receive probably by next mail, you will perceive that I have admitted a very considerable number of such races (or species ?) which seem intelligibly defined apart. At any rate, we have two common Indian small striped Squirrels, the Sc. palmarum & Sc. tristriatus, which exactly agree in size and proportions,19 & approximate a good deal in colouring; so that on the Schlegel & Cantor principle they should be “local varieties” of the same; yet each is widely distributed over the country, one however keeping to the jungles & never habitually frequenting houses & gardens, as the other does; and the voices of the two are utterly unlike! Most singularly & remarkably so; a bird-like chirp or chirrup in both instances; but when I first heard tristriatus, I was at once struck with the note, & watched for it long before I caught sight of the animal, fully expecting it to have been some bird with whose note I was unacquainted. No naturalist, I should think, who had heard the voices of these two animals could hesitate about acknowledging them as species, however he might have previously doubted their absolute distinctness. (Like the Willow Wren & Chiffchaff among British Birds.) One more example from the class of mammalia. The Mustela flavigula is a very common Himalayan animal, which seems always there (& also in the Arakan mountains) true to its normal colouring; but in the Malayan peninsula there is a precisely similar animal (flavigula of Cantor’s list)20 , which differs constantly in having a pale brown (instead of black) head & nape, the nape quite pale, & a black streak running back from each ear, indicating the boundary of the black nape in the Himalayan animal. Again, in the Nilgiris, there is a third equally affined race, the M. Gwatkinsii, H. Smith, which has invariably the whole upper parts black!

Among birds, the Pigeons, as a group, present very many instances analogous to that of the three races of Mustela just named, the specific value of which will be differently estimated by different systematists. Not only are there the different races of wild Pigeon of the livia type; but C. palumbus (the Cushat) has its double in middle Asia, & common in the N.W. Himalaya (as about Simla, &c) The eastern bird either altogether wants the great pure white nuchal patch, or it is small and always of a deep buff colour. The C. (or Palumbus) Elphinstonei of the Nilgiris is represented in the mountains of Ceylon by the equally affined P. Torringtonii . Carpophaga ænea takes a most extensive range; but the presumed race of it is very distinct in the Nicobar islands. The three yellow-footed green Pigeons of India, Treron phænicoptera of Bengal & all Upper India, & chlorigaster of S. India & Ceylon, & Tr. viridifrons of Burma, afford another instance; the two first named certainly interbreeding where their ranges meet; as is still more manifestly the case with Coracias indica & C. affinis; whether so with C. indica & the European C. garrula in the N.W. of India, I as yet know not.— Treron malabarica of all India & also Burma, is in like manner represented in Ceylon by Tr. pompadora.; Tr. apicauda of the E. Himalaya by Tr. oxyura of the Malay countries; Tr. sphenura do, by another do, & so on. The Doves of the genus Turtur afford other & remarkable illustration, consisting of a series of clusters of species or varieties or races, whatever we choose to call them; but I think it will be found, as a general rule, that these excessively affined races differ not a little in voice, or coo, which would be in favor of their being regarded as species.21 Now what these races are to each other, such I believe C. livia & C. intermedia to be; & though the wild British Turtle dove produces unfertile offspring with the domestic ring-necked T. dove, it does not follow that the different races of either type should do the same; but they would more probably blend under favorable circumstances, & more especially if domesticated, as in the instance of the different races affined to C. livia, & the Dogs derived from different wild Canines, & ditto Cats, & Hogs, & Sheep. Is not the Horse thus a blended species, from several wild types; bearing especially in remembrance the different races of ponies ?

CD annotations

Top of first page: ‘Sept 8/1855’ ink; ‘(2)’ brown crayon


CD wrote ‘Sept 8/1855’ on the top of these notes and dated his abstract (DAR 203: 4) 8 September. Presumably the notes were sent with a covering letter of this date that is now missing.
See letter from Edward Blyth, 22–3 August 1855, n. 6.
See letter from Edward Blyth, 22–3 August 1855, n. 7.
Dieffenbach 1843, 2: 185.
Azuni 1802, 2: 43.
Grey 1841, 1: 287.
S. Müller and Temminck 1839–45, 1: 197–205 and plates 35–9.
There is no discussion of ‘white-horned’ cattle in Pennant 1798; Blyth may have intended to cite a description of white oxen with perpendicular horns given in Pennant 1798, 1: 100.
Raffles 1822, p. 267, where the Sumatran cattle are described as ‘short, compact … without a hump, and almost without exception of a light fawn-colour relieved with white.’
Lambert 1804. See letter from Edward Blyth, 21 April 1855, n. 30.
Colebrooke 1805.
Thomas Horsfield, keeper of the museum of the East India Company in London.
Bonaparte 1854, p. 1107: ‘La sixième et dernière de nos vraies Colombes est Col. intermedia, Strickl., de l’Asie centrale’.
Blyth refers to Charles Lucien Bonaparte’s tendency to classify many varieties as species and the opposite tendency in Hermann Schlegel.
Blyth’s references are to Siebold 1833–50, S. Müller and Temminck 1839–45, and Gould 1848. For Blyth’s own classification of the Cuculidae, see Blyth 1849a, pp. 70–2.
Schlegel 1843, pp. 195–243. CD’s copy, now in the Darwin Library–CUL, is annotated.
See letter from Edward Blyth, 21 April 1855, n. 22.
Blyth 1847c.
Blyth 1847c, p. 874.
Cantor 1846, p. 194.
For Blyth’s classification of pigeons, see Blyth 1849a, pp. 228–38.


Comments on the ease with which different species of Felis can be tamed.

Asian species of wild cattle.

Variation in colour of jackals.

Discusses the difficulties of differentiating between varieties and species. EB recommends Herman Schlegel’s definition of species [in Essay on the physiognomy of serpents, trans. T. S. Traill (1843)]. Problems of defining species of wolves and squirrels. Pigeons and doves afford an illustration of "clusters of species, varieties, or races". Various pigeons have local species in different parts of India and Burma, some of which interbreed where their ranges cross; as do the local species of Coracias [see Natural selection, p. 259].

[CD’s notes are an abstract of this memorandum.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Blyth, Edward
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 98: A51–5
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1752,” accessed on 24 July 2016,