To Edgar Leopold Layard 9 December 1855
Down Bromley Kent
Dec 9th. 1855
I have read your several communications on the Nat. History of Ceylon with very much interest; & I have thought that the love & zeal shown by you for science, would make you forgive the liberty I take in addressing you; & that perhaps you could give me a little information if your official duties afford you any quite idle time.—1
I have during many years been collecting all the facts & reasoning which I could, in regard to the variation & origin of species, intending to give, as far as lies in my power, the many difficulties surrounding the subject on all sides. One chief line of investigation naturally is concerned with the amount of variation of all our domestic animals.
For various reasons, I have determined to work especially on pigeons, poultry, ducks & rabbits; though at the same time I am most grateful for any facts on all our other domesticated quadrupeds & birds. I have been buying all the races of Pigeons, in order to watch them living & make skeletons of them when dead.— I find from various old works, that the Dutch formerly (as now) were great Fanciers, & it has occurred to me that breeds may in former times have been carried to the Cape of Good Hope & may still be retained there; & that these might possibly belong to breeds now lost in Europe, or rare, or even slightly modified.—
Now would you confer the very great favour on me to make enquiries for me on this head; & I have thought that you might employ any bird-skinner (if such exist) at my expence, to look out for & skin old examples dying a natural death of any breed whatever leaving in the bones of legs & wings, which there is any reason whatever to suppose has long been bred at the Cape. I shd. be extremely glad to get a common Dovehouse Pigeon, if long introduced. I could, I imagine easily repay you for any expence to which you might be put.— It is of course quite possible there may be no Fanciers, but such seem to exist in almost every part of the world; or perhaps you may not have time to spare from more important or interesting employments.— In the same way I shd. be most grateful for any breeds of the domestic Duck; or Poultry if bred at the Cape for many generations; or for any information regarding any Poultry kept by any of the aborigines, but these it would be impossible to get skinned.—
Mr Andersson2 has promised to draw up for me an account of the several breeds of cattle & dogs kept by the several tribes on the Western coast; if at any time you could aid me in this respect the aid would be very valuable. Very slight differences in some respects are almost as interesting as greater ones in the different breeds. But I fear that I shall have exhausted your patience; & I do not know whether your goodnature will lead you to forgive this intrusion of a brother naturalist, who collected & worked on board H.M.S. Beagle in her voyage round the world.—
Pray believe me, dear Sir, with many apologies, Yours faithfully | Charles Darwin
Can you tell me whether there are any Pigeon Fanciers in Ceylon, as perhaps I could get skins made for me there.—
I have thought of writing to Mr Thwaites,3 but any hints from you so that I might guide him, would be very useful; but I am well aware that it is a mere chance whether you have ever attended to domestic Pigeons.—4 I have just remembered one other point, on which I shd. be very much obliged for an answer, viz whether you are sure that the Cyclophorus stemostoma Sow. & the Pterocyclus bilabiatus Sow. are certainly found in Ceylon: I have had a letter from Mr. Benson5 in answer to a query of mine whether any alpine shells were common to the heights of Ceylon, Neilgherries & Himmalaya & he speaks somewhat doubtfully on your authority in regard to the two above-named species.
Is collecting facts for Variation; would be grateful for skins of local [Cape of Good Hope] breeds of pigeons, ducks, and poultry.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1794,” accessed on 27 February 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-1794