From Edward Blyth [22 September 1855]1
Memoranda for Mr Darwin.
Extracts from a letter from Capt. S. R. Tickell, Principal Asst Commr Tenasserim Provinces.2 Dated Moulmein, Augt 29/55. (N.B. Capt. T. is an ornithologist of more than 20 years standing, & a practised observer in other classes.)
“You need not suspect the Burmese of training Otters to catch fish, or doing anything in fact but chew pawn & spit it out again!3 Otters are not uncommon here” (L. nair, L. leptonyx). “A very large one was sent me which came out of the estuary of the Thaulwen (Anglise Salween) at Amherst & pursued a kid into a house! This is a fact worthy of noting.
“Need I say Rabbits are not bred by the Burmese? If they could fight & be a source of gambling they might be! A few have been kept by Europeans here & I believe have bred; but I have never seen one here; though several with their young in Akyab (Arakan). Rabbits and Hares are altogether unknown in Tenasserim.” N.B. A species is, however, common in Pegu, which I have recently described as Lepus peguensis: it is nearly affined to the Bengal Hare or L. ruficaudatus (not nigricollis as Waterhouse states).4
“Of domestic Geese (bred by Mûslmans) we have both the common European & the Chinese breeds. The latter were probably imported originally by Chinamen, of whom there are hundreds in Moulmein”,—& the latter doubtless introduced from the European shipping & certainly not from India, or they would be of the hybrid race.; so that we may infer (or presume rather) that domestic Geese are a very recent introduction into Lower Burma.
Wolves: If you turn to Blackwood’s Magazine for 1851 (Vol 70), p. 675, you will find a curious notice of the dog-like propensities of American Wolves;5 of which there are certainly different species; the “grey wolf” subsequently noticed being the C. (I can’t find the notice just now, but I mean the short-tailed Wolf described in a recent American Nat. Hist. Periodical).6 What is the “Indian Devil” noticed 2 or 3 times in the article? Surely not the common “Bay Lynx”, or “Wild Cat” of the Anglo-Americans? Nor the Arctic Lynx, which is their ‘mountain Cat’ or ‘Catamount’!7 The only other N. American Feline is the Puma, or ‘Painter’ of Cooper’s novels,8 a corruption of the word Panther. Try & see the work reviewed, viz. “Forest-life & Forest Trees”, by John S. Springer, Sampson Low being the London publisher.— I think the dog-like propensity (or instinct if you admit the word, as I do,) of a wild Wolf voluntarily accompanying man in the way narrated, & apparently without the least hostile intent, to be extremely remarkable.9 In general, the N. American Wolves do not attack man, as the European do (notwithstanding what is said of the ‘grey Wolf’);10 but in proportion as the dog has been fostered through countless generations, so has the Wolf been persecuted to the very utmost, in Europe at least (much less so in America); & as acquired habits are known to become hereditary instincts (as in the case of untaught pointer pups, also birds, &c. in desolate islands acquiring permanently a fear & distrust of man, after experience of his predatory character), so I have always thought that the diverse intuitions of the Wolf & Dog, of which Buffon & others have made so much, can be sufficiently accounted for.
Reason & Instinct.11 I presume that you agree with me in denying neither of them to man or to the lower animals! Surely the instinct of self-preservation, the sexual, or the maternal instinct, is equally strong in man & other animals! As regards the second, I discern a pairing instinct in mankind (& why not in other properly monogomous animals?) Young folks fall in love, quite apart from carnal desire, and certainly not always as reasoning would dictate. Mere carnal desire would prompt somewhat promiscuous intercourse; as in animals that do not naturally pair, or (may I add?) youths of ordinary morals pretty generally, until their turn comes to be smitten; which, with fair opportunities, is pretty sure to come to pass! A want of those opportunities, & the difficulties of the ‘battle of life’, I look upon as the main sources of sexual immorality (under the European system of civilization) and of course allowing something for diversities of temperament. Observe the thousands of young men from the country crowded into London & other large towns, & labouring hard for an unreasonable proportion of hours of every day of their existence, who really are completely cut off from all decent female Society; while their sisters are pining in the country with as little chance of ever finding a mate. Can we be surprised at the result of such a state of things? Man’s natural instinct prompts, in due time, a special attachment; & to the object of that genuine attachment I suspect he would be rarely inconstant, always supposing the lady proved worthy of his love, & regard, & moreover that he was not utterly depraved & contaminated by pernicious example. A libertine is reformed by a genuine passion (uninspired by lust); for the latter is utterly incompatible with sexual faith. With the great mass of mankind, it follows therefore that morality is best promoted by allowing young folks to follow their natural instincts in the matter. Perhaps you will smile at all this; but the monogomous instinct of our race does not appear to me to have been hitherto sufficiently regarded.
Those who deny all instinct must explain the human instincts referred to; nor are those all,—various primitive instincts may be lost in a state of domesticity: witness Stokes’s account of the Australian, who when far out to sea, without a star or other visible object to guide him, could always in a moment point to the direction of his home;12 perhaps another instance is afforded by the fact of domestic cattle eating of poisonous plants, which in the wild state they would instinctively (?) have rejected. In the former case, we have the parallels of Bees, Pigeons, &c, finding their way home from enormous distances, even when carried away by a different route & covered up; do. Cats, Dogs, cattle, horses, &c, the latter returning to their accustomed pastures direct across country; again, migratory birds returning every year to their accustomed haunts, & although travelling by night! Even to the same winter quarters in some instances, e.g. Bewick’s white Woodcock;13 & above all, Jesse’s story of the tame & branded Turtle finding its way back from the British Channel to Ascension island where it was caught!14 The migratory instinct, too, as illustrated by the British Cuckoo & Swift disappearing at the time of the year that their food is most abundant! And the untaught young Cuckoo migrating some time afterwards, though reared by permanently resident foster-parents Add the occasional migrative instinct, displayed rarely by Rats, Red Deer, &c &c.— The parental instinct, not only as manifested by strange birds to an unfortunate squab of a different species; but as exemplified also by the wasp crawling forth from its pupa envelope & immediately commencing to feed the neighbouring larvæ! The multifarious instinctive provisions made by insects for their future progeny!— The constructive instinct, as shewn by birds or insects of the same species invariably building the same kind of nest; thus the British chiff-chaff & willow-wren invariably line with feathers, the closely affined Wood-wren never does so;15 the Song Thrush always with plaster, &c &c.— The republican labours of the Beavers, even when not necessary to their existence; thus the European Beaver has been stated to differ from the American in not having the habit of felling trees & constructing a dam, &c; but this was long ago stated by Strahlenberg of the Beavers of Siberia16 (which may be presumed to be identical); & the Austrian Emperor has a park upon the Danube where the European Beavers have multiplied & are carefully preserved, & where they exhibit all the same habits as the American.— The instinct also, which distinguishes a natural enemy, knows its mode of attack, & resents by attempting its own characteristic mode of attack or defence even before its weapons are developed,—vide White’s Selborne;17 also his notice of the different conduct of a newly hatched chick at a window pane, towards a fly or a wasp!18 Or fancy the young Megapodius, Talegalla, &c, independent (like an insect) from the very first! Or put a wasp into a Spider’s web, & see the Spider, if it cannot shake off the intruder, proceed to cut him clean away! Observe a Rat defending itself from a Ferret, & trying to save its neck! Lastly, remember the undeniably instinctive simulation of death by so many animals, as insects, birds, &c,—the squatting of newly hatched Partridges, for instance,—“possuming”, as it is called in America & see Audubon’s account of the Opossum,19 NB.“Possum up a gum tree” is not from Yankee land. Gum trees are Australian!20 which amply finds its parallel in an Indian Jackal worried by a lot of dogs! Long enough after you would have made sure he had got his quietus his eye is stealthily opened, & away he starts if the coast is clear. The amount of mauling he will thus stand is simply incredible to one who has not witnessed it. We may even yet add the hoarding instinct; & the different modes by which different animals proceed instinctively & invariably to get at the same food; the kernal of a nut for example, as got at by a Squirrel, or a Dormouse, or a Nuthatch, &c— No teaching is required by them when young to let them know how to go to work.
So much for instinct, or innate or intuitive knowledge, as distinguished from the result of observation & ratiocination, properly distinguished as reason; and as we possess certain instincts, so do the lower animals reason to a very considerable extent, as it would be waste of time in me to prove to you. Your work will afford an admirable opportunity of disseminating correct notions in this matter, popularly so much misunderstood. The faculty which animals possess of conveying information one to another is also a curious subject of enquiry. You may have heard of a case or cases where cattle were much frightened the first time they saw a train pass, but when they got used to it their fear ceased; & when most of them were sent away & their place supplied by others, the new arrivals exhibited no fear, though the train was equally new to them.
You can scarcely avoid entering upon the reason versus instinct question when you come to treat of such facts as those mentioned by Prichard, Nat. Hist. Man, p.p 69 to 73.21 Reason must be admitted to the lower animals, however ungraciously; as by Dr Hancock, vide Prichard, p. 61.22 This reminds me of Lyell & Schlegel,23 as well as Prichard; so now to redeem my promise.
Prichard, Edit, 1843. P.18, Sect. V.24 This section would be the place to notice the curious theory of Streszlecki;25 since confuted, however, satisfactorily by Westgarth (vide his Australia Felix,26 & I think also his article on the Australian aborigines in Jameson’s Edinbro Jl).27 I presume that you have read both Streszlecki’s & Westgarth’s works on Australia. As for the hybridity question, there is the fact of the tame Geese of India; & certainly no animal can have more strongly marked specifical characters than either the knobbed Goose, or the humped Ox. No such marked races have originated in America; in fact nought worthy to be termed a marked race, of any old world animal! Races as distinguished from breeds (artificially & intentionally produced); vide my concluding remarks, which will bear much amplifying. There is even no tendency exhibited to the assumption of such characters Nor will many, I should think, assent to John Hunter’s conclusion, that because the Wolf, Dog, & Jackal, interbreed & produce fertile offspring, therefore all have descended from one original parentage.28 The Jackal is largely diffused over Asia, & with no variation of size that I know of, or other variation than an occasional & very rare melanism, or pyrrhism (to coin a bad word)! We have lately received the skin of one shot at Madar, (above Prome on the Irawadi). In referring on a former occasion, to the distinctions of the humped cattle, did I notice their narrow pointed ears, as compared with the broad round ears of the humpless cattle? Prichard, pp. 21, 23, & pl. 1. I have seen more than one Hindu with as fine a mop as that figured in p. 21! “Alforas,” &c, p. 23.29 Earl, in his late work on the Papuas, has quite demolished this appellation; he is largely indebted to that Dutch ‘voyager’,30 & to the French Dr at Manilla, I forget his name just now, but have read his work,31 & other notices of the extraordinary settlement he founded, on the banks of an inland lake.— Prichard, p. 27. Where have tame Sheep ever become wild?32 Camels have, I believe, in one or two of the Canary islands even; vide account of the ill-fated expedition under Commr Allen.33 By the way, the adaptation of the 2-humped Camel (bactrianus) to the coldest climates is repeatedly illustrated in Huc & Gabet’s work;—enjoying to stand on the brink of a precipice to inhale the keen N. wind below zero in temperature!34 —I write from memory—& elsewhere seen in juxta-position with the Rein Deer! As regards the latter animal, it would seem from Von Wrangell that, as a beast of draught, it is getting superceded in N. Asia by Dogs (akin to the Esquimaux dog, & such a dog I have seen from Butan, brought down together with Tibetan Mastiffs). The only 2-humped Camel I ever saw was a noble animal, of a dark brown colour with long black hair, which was exhibited in London prior to the establishment of the Z. Society. I remember him perfectly; & think that it is the identical one figured in F. Cuvier’s ‘Mammiféres’!35 That figured in Capt. T. Hutton’s scriptural geology volume,36 drawn & coloured from life in Afghánistán (where they are not often brought), is of the same pale colour as the ordinary Arabian Camel; but the Caramanian Camel (a hybrid between the two, & always 1-humped) is generally, if not always, dark. There were fine specimens in the Z. Gardens many years ago, & I saw there a new-born young produced by this hybrid race! For account of it, vide Burckhardt & others.37 Also Hutton, in Journ. As. Soc. B. Vol. XI, p. 1182.38 Anent the colouring of Camels, Denham or Clapperton (I think), or Lander, describes those ridden by the Tuariks, which would seem to vary after the fashion of the Alpaca!39 Be it remarked, that (in the English edition at least) of Huc & Gabet’s work, the wood-cuts all represent 1-humped camels; but “the humps” & “between the humps” of a camel are mentioned in the narrative, to set all doubt at rest.
Has the domestic fowl ever returned to wildness? I think not. The Guinea-fowl is said to have done so in Sylhet! But both this & the Peafowl would readily do so, wherever they could support themselves; being but very partially domesticated or reclaimed, & shewing no further variation than partial or complete albinism; less in fact than the British Pheasant or Fallow Deer. Neither, I suspect, have fancy pigeons of any kind ever returned to wildness. Prichard does well to dwell upon the phenomena presented by the introduced animals of America. But is it really a fact that the feral horses & cattle of America have returned to uniformity of colouring? I think that testimony is very conflicting on this point! You have personally observed those of the Falkland islands. Much would depend on the particular variety originally introduced; & fortunately for the determination of this question, Spain is not rich in different varieties of cattle, horses, &c. Might not the “creole pullets” of Garcilasso, & the “Nicaraguan fowls” noticed by Prichard, p 38, have been introduced from the Philippines? Or some other Asiatic country? What more probable than that the experiment should have been tried of introducing fowls from a hot country; especially as European fowls did not thrive? Now I believe the black-skinned fowls are found all over S.E. Asia & its islands (the hens being common, the cocks so rare that I have never seen one,—vide also Layard in Ann. Mag. NH.,40 —& this being a curious sexual fact, not quite analogous to that of Tortoise-Shell Cats). As for the “creole pullets”, I believe that this is a case of inaccurate or merely partial observation; and that these have the usual down when first hatched, which is not succeeded by the usual short clothing feathers; so that the chicks are naked except on the wings & tail (more or less completely so) while still small & following the mother, as is very commonly the case here. The next set of feathers appear to be developed constantly; but before these come, the birds have the queer appearance of having been plucked. It therefore remains to be shewn that either of the peculiarities noted by Prichard is attributable to the climate of the part of America where now found, & that the races of fowls referred to were otherwise when first introduced.41
P. 32. The skulls of wild Boars vary so much in different countries, & there are in fact so many species of them (as I believe), that it becomes important to know whence the wild boar skull figured by Prichard.42 I much suspect it is Indian. The figure in Cuvier’s Ossemens fossiles would seem to be that of a French domestic sow.43 In Buffon’s remarks quoted by Prichard,44 the Cape Verde Hog is doubtless the wild Phaecoctheris; the Chinese do. certainly a distinct species; & the Guinea race probably so. Compare the Indian & German wild boars now living in the Z. gardens; & see Gray’s remarks on them;45 & also see the various skulls of different species of Wild Hogs from the Malay countries figured by S. Müller & Temminck.46 The tame Hogs of India differ little from the wild: and some that appear to be distinct? wild species in this genus are so nearly affined & the tribe so prolific, that they might be expected to produce a mixed offspring that should likewise be fertile. Are there not also some striking cases of the kind in certain vegetable genera, as especially Calceolaria Erica, Pelargonium, &c?
Milking of cows, p. 34. In this country, the (humped) cow is sacred, & has been milked from a very highly remote antiquity; i.e. generation after generation: nevertheless, the calf is always held to the mother when she is being milked; & if the calf dies she loses her milk, except in very rare cases— European cows do not require the calf to be held to them, & are always milked regularly; if they were not to be milked, I suspect the secretion would soon cease, as in the feral cows of America.47 In no animal are the teats subject to become so much enlarged as in Goats; especially in the Jumna Pari breed of N. India, which is the same as the Syrian Goat, with very long limbs & pendent ears often 16 in. long: these do not thrive in Lower Bengal; where our common Goat is a small-limbed & short haired race, rather small, & exceedingly prolific, generally producing twice in the year, & often 4 kids at a birth.— P. 42. The Spanish Sheep of Prichard. Is not this the Strepsiceros or Cretan Sheep of Belon?48 P. 42, line 4 from bottom. I have seen hairy sheep in Madras, but there are none here. All the Bengal sheep are well covered with wool, of coarse quality, partly perhaps because breeding is altogether neglected. They are long-tailed; but the tail is sometimes deformed, more or less short and twisted; & the ears, also, which are sub-pendent, have often a twist. A black or brown-black colour prevails, but very many are parti-coloured, indeed the majority. They are of small size, & the mutton very good, especially if grain-fed. A strong rank odour is diffused by a flock of them. They have the habit of plunging their heads under-cover of each other’s bellies, for protection from the sun; & generally carry the head low. Many are hornless, & others have small horns. For notices of Himalayan Sheep, vide Hodgson, in Journ. As. Soc. B. Vol. XVI, p. 1004, & also XI, 284 & plate.49 In the Malay countries generally, in Ceylon, & up the E. side of the Bay of Bengal & so on to Asám, few sheep can be kept, on account of the numerous grass-leeches. For notice of those in Afghánistán, see Hutton in J. As. B. XV, 153 et seq,—& for Camels (and a note of mine upon them) p. 162 et seq.50 Prichard,—P. 46. For breeds of horses (ponies) in the Indian archipelago, see the excellent notice in Moore’s ‘Notes on the Indian archipelago’;51 which you will find in the India-house and other libraries.— P. 58. The “Iceland dog” figured is very like a Chinese dog which I saw in the Regent’s Pk garden, & of which I still possess a drawing. It is the race, I believe, which the China-men are so fond of eating, & which is noticed by Gilbert White.—52 P. 67 As genera of insects are now recognised, most of the discrepancies mentioned are generical rather than specifical. Thus the different Indian species of Xylocopa, &c, have the same habits as their European congeners. By the way, should not the Bee be added to the brief list of domesticated Insects? As the Saturnia cynthia also bids fair to become, now that it has been transported to S. Europe.— P. 63. Variation of the Asiatic Elephant; which is remarkable for being one of the most variable of wild quadrupeds! Vide Corse in Phil. Trans., Falconer & others.53 Thus much for Prichard. As the domestic animals of Europe have so multiplied in America, so also have our weeds wherever European grain has been cultivated & it is surprising how various tropical & subtropical American plants have multiplied in the east. Thus whole tracts of country are covered here, at one season, with the Argymone mexicana, a papaveraceous plant (like a thistle, with a yellow Poppy-flower); various Cacti (Opuntia chiefly) would be thought wild; &c, &c, I am told that the Argymone is equally superabundant in the Punjab; & though neglected hitherto, a fine oil is produceable from the seeds. It occurs to me to add, that no ‘varieties’ have ever sprung up in America analogous to the humped Ox, the fat-rumped Sheep, or new races of fowls or Pigeons!!! I distinguish races from breeds artificially produced by the intermixture of the latter; which latter, like hybrids generally, have little tendency to become permanent.54
Enough for the present Mail!
Gives extract from a letter from Capt. R. Tickell: rabbits are not bred by the Burmese; common European and Chinese geese are bred but have probably only recently been introduced.
EB gives references to works illustrating the dog-like instinct of N. American wolves.
Discusses reason and instinct; ascribes both to man and animals. Comments on various instincts, e. g. homing, migratory, parental, constructive, and defensive. Reasoning in animals; cattle learning to overcome fear of passing trains.
Hybrid sterility as an indication of distinct species. Interbreeding as an indication of common parentage.
Enlarges upon details given by J. C. Prichard [in The natural history of man (1843)].
Adaptation of the two-humped camel to cold climates. Camel hybrids.
Doubts that domestic fowl or fancy pigeons have ever reverted to the wild.
Feral horses and cattle of S. America.
Believes the "creole pullets" to be a case of inaccurate description.
Variations in skulls between species of wild boar.
Pigs are so prolific that the species might be expected to cross.
Milk production of cows and goats.
Sheep and goats of lower Bengal.
Indian breeds of horses.
Variation in Asiatic elephants.
Spread of American tropical and subtropical plants in the East.
EB distinguishes between races and artificially-produced breeds.
[CD’s notes are an abstract of this memorandum.]
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1755,” accessed on 20 February 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-1755