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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   8 January [1856]1


Jany. 8/55—

My dear Sir,

I have two letters of yours to answer, respectively dated Novr. 5th & 22nd2 but I have already penned three sheets of “Notes for Mr. D.” & I have also an interesting notice for you of wild humped cattle in S. India,3 —and finally a few queries for Mr. Moore, (Dr. Horsfield’s assistant in the India house).4 Will you kindly send to him the scrap of paper containing these last, and ask him to let me have the replies as soon as ever he conveniently can. Tell him that I am greatly obliged to him for his commn. about the Finches, &c; and that I will write to him by an early opportunity. My paper on Orangs is out, but I cannot send it to you by this mail;5 and also 2 papers of mine in the ‘Calcutta Sporting Review’, respectively on Asiatic Lions & wild Asses. These I recommend to your attention, but can only send you the first; so apply for the number to Lepage & Co, the London publishers,—no 44, for Decr. 1855.6 I am preparing several elaborate articles for this work, & have just sent one in on the Tiger; & I am writing also the gallinaceous tribes of India, which will probably furnish 3 or 4 articles. So I think you will not be disappointed if you take this Review henceforth. I get tolerably well paid for these articles, & therefore send them to this ‘Sporting Review’; but I endeavour to make them suggestive, & they may be the means of eliciting no small amount of information from the more observant of Indian sportsmen.

Now for your letters. Many thanks for your kind endeavours to procure specimens of the British Crustacea. Horns. Those of Red Deer are what I most want, & if on the skull or frontlet, of course so much the better; but unless fine specimens with branching ‘crown’, they are scarcely worth sending. Good Fallow-Deer frontlets would also be acceptable; and I should like a good pair of horns of C. virginianus, should such be procurable.

You have evidently quite misunderstood me about Treron and Coracias. Different species of Treron seem to interbreed, & ditto Coracias; but not Treron with Coracias!7 That would, indeed, be “an astounding fact”. I will treat further on this subject when I have got through the rest of your letters. My friend Bashford has recently returned to Bengal, & to his silk factory.8 You are doubtless right about the attitudes assumed by insects, spiders, &c, when shamming; not so, however, with beasts & birds when pulled about, & “possuming”!9 I cannot recollect where I met with that anecdote about the cattle near a railway; but think it was in the London Athenæum, in the review of some continental tourist’s work. No! I seem to fancy that it was headed ‘Communication of ideas among animals,’ or some such title; & it appeared probably in the Illustrated News, 3 or 4 years ago, & was certainly quoted from the work of some tourist in Germany. I am extremely sorry now that I did not note down the authority.10 You mention a breed of cattle “of American origin almost certainly, but I cannot make out the name—‘Niata’, it looks like.— 11

There is a Chinese breed of silky fowls, with white feathers & black skin (& periostæum of course); and also a Malayan race of silky fowls with white skin & feathers. The latter has the ordinary comb & wattles; but the other is a most singular bird about the head, having (as near as I can remember) an even comb as if cut, & no lateral wattles (as usual), but a tumid throat, with much blue about the naked skin of the face. A friend of mine here received a pair, which were presented to him as Eagles! The hen soon died, but the cock became the sire of some chicken by a Chittagong hen, which showed scarcely any trace of the peculiarities of their dad! I can send you the skin of a youngish cock of this mixed race. Our other black-skinned hens have nought else remarkable about them than the melanism of the skin, comb, &c Those you speak of, in England, “with hair-like feathers”, are probably some intermixture, perhaps of the Chinese silky fowl with black-skinned ordinary fowls. Vide Griffiths edition of the ‘animal Kingdom’ VIII, 222, for notice of black-skinned fowls in S. America, by Azara!12 Also feral, in p. 177!—13 I doubt much any breed of Canaries having intermixture of Siskin blood. Look to shape of beak, & length of tail. All domestic Canaries, so far as I know, remain quite true to the particular African type, exemplified by certain species which Ruppell refers to Serinus. His S. melanocephalus for instance.14 I much wish that you could get hold of & study the true wild Canary, & note its song; coloured figures of a pair of them are worthy of publication in your forthcoming work. The song of a Siskin-hybrid would, for certain, be much modified: & how curious it is that the Goldfinch and other mules should have even the song intermediate! There are some ten or a dozen species of true Siskin in both Americas; one only of which (Stanleyi) resembles the Himalayan spinoides by its thicker bill; & the Pr. of Canino makes a particular division of these two.—15

Camels. Those which I referred to as having bred in the Z. Gardens, were (both parents) of the large dark-coloured & 1-humped breed, known as the Armenian or Caramanian Camel, and which is stated by every author to be a mixed breed between the 1-humped & the 2-humped. Vide my note, in J. As. B. XV, 162, (to which I referred you before,)16 also Hutton’s remarks there,17 & Chesney, ‘Jl of Euphrates Expedition’, I, 582 & 82.18 In Hutton’s Scripture Geology book, he figures the 2-humped Camel pale;19 it is usually dark-coloured, & the 1-humped is always pale in India. The reference you cannot make out—“Bur—?” must be Burckhardt, ‘Travels in Nubia’, p. 222; but see my note as above.—20

The Jumni Pari Goat = the Syrian, a very remarkable race with long legs and excessively elongated pendent ears.— Have not all domestic Cats a very slight Lyncine tuft on the ears? As for the marks on Donkey’s legs, I have sufficiently gone into this subject in my paper on Wild Asses, to which I therefore refer you.21 I do not think that the stripes imply Zebra intermixture, but are merely what we see in so very many instances in various classes, of markings (often strongly pronounced) in the young, which disappear more or less in adults. Vide Lion & Puma cubs, reptiles innumerable, very many fish also (as the young of Salmonidæ), &c &c &c. Are not some caterpillars even more intensely marked and coloured when small? Some of your other queries I have noticed by anticipation in my ‘notes for Mr. Darwin’.22 The rest when I can manage it.

Yours truly ever | E. Blyth.

P.S. Coracias, 3 Indian species,—garrula in the N.W. only,— indica throughout India, replaced E. of the Bay by affinis. The 2 last interbreed, & shew every possible intermediate gradation, i.e. where they come into contact,—each race remaining pure in its proper region. Whether C. garrula & indica also interbreed, I am unaware.

Treron. 3 yellow-footed races,—chlorigaster in the Indian peninsula & Ceylon,— phœnicoptera in Bengal & all Upper India,—& viridifrons in Burma. The first and second seem to intergrade where they come in contact.23

Turtur suratensis of India & T. tigrina of the Malay countries, do. N.B. The latter is distinct from chinensis, with which the Pr. of Canino seems to confound it.24 But the Columbidæ present very numerous cases of species of different regions barely separable,—or what many would call distinct local races of the same species, but there is no knowing where to stop when this principle is once admitted. The C. livia group affords one instance out of very many: still I cannot help thinking that Carpophaga œnea of the Nicobars, as compared with œnea of all the surrounding countries, is just such a local race as Lagopus scoticus & Lepus hibernicus, which I have treated of in my ‘notes for Mr. D.’ now forwarded.

The Scandinavian Bottletit has no markings on the head; & compare, if you can, other Scandinavian Tits with British specimens.

For hybrid Kallij Pheasants, & the intermediate races, vide J. As. B. XVII, 694. 25

For representative species or races, differing only in certain details of colouring,—& which are never found in the intermediate country,—cite Mustela Gwatkinsii of the Nilgiris,—M. flavigula of the entire Himalaya & even Arakan Mountains,—& M. ——? (hitherto flavigula, var.,) of the Malayan peninsula.

The Mydaus meliceps thus occurs in Java, only on certain elevated table-lands, & never in the intermediate country; & the species seems absolutely the same in the Malayan peninsula! See Horsfield’s Zool. Res. in Java.26

Have you studied Corse’s paper on the Indian Elephant & its varieties in the Asc. Researches?27

The groups exemplified by Sciurus maximus & Pteromys petaurista are especial puzzles, as to what are to be considered species & what varieties!

Now for another matter. Is not the Kual-Kole (however should it be spelt?) or ‘turnip-rooted Cabbage’ quite a modern variety? Originating I think in S. Africa, famous for fat-rumped sheep & Hottentots, & to which the broad-sterned Dutch race have taken kindly! No particular analogy, but the Cape climate is likely to have originated the Kual Kole 28


CD annotations

0.1 Calcutta … tourist’s work. 3.9] crossed pencil
1.10 wild Asses] underl brown crayon
1.11 so apply … 1855. 1.12] scored brown crayon
1.12 no 44] underl brown crayon
3.1 You have … tourist’s work. 3.9] crossed brown crayon
3.13 You mention … looks like.— 3.15] crossed brown crayon
4.1 There is] ‘Fowls’ added brown crayon
4.1 There is … of tail. 4.16] scored brown crayon; ‘Fowlsadded brown crayon
4.19 & note … modified 4.21] ‘Canaries.added brown crayon
4.24 the Pr. of Canino … manage it. 6.11] scored brown crayon
8.1 the N.W… . separable,— 10.4] scored brown crayon; ‘Interbreeding’ added brown crayon
12.1 For hybrid … 694. 12.2] scored brown crayon; ‘10’67 added brown crayon
13.1 For representative … Mountains, 13.4] double scored brown crayon
14.1 The MydausJava. 14.3] double scored brown crayon
Top of first page: ‘(Fr. Moore Esqe)’pencil; ‘10’brown crayon
2.6 the ‘Guiney-hens’ … dealers. 2.11] scored brown crayon; ‘Consult Sloane’68 added pencil
2.10 ‘Bohemian Pheasant’] underl brown crayon
3.1 I have … crest! 3.13] ‘Guinea Fowl’added brown crayon
3.22 the English … N. Zealand. 3.23] double scored brown crayon
4.1 I think … Dindons! 4.15] ‘Peacocks Names’added brown crayon
6.1 On … varieties,] ‘10’ added brown crayon
6.1 On … montanus, Gm.), 6.12] scored brown crayon
6.1 On … Ireland; 6.6] double scored brown crayon
6.13 Hodgson … name.— 6.15] crossed brown crayon
7.1 Se also … islands. 7.2] double scored brown crayon
9.1 For information … 112.— 9.2] double scored brown crayon
9.5 I have … send you. 9.9] ‘Cattle’added brown crayon
11.1 I belive … postage. 11.39] crossed brown crayon
11.1 I believe … previously. 11.18] ‘Name of Turkeys’added brown crayon
11.25 which has … Malta.] underl brown crayon
11.25 In Sheridan’s … mistake! 11.36] ‘Names’added brown crayon
12.3 Now I have … us!! 12.9] double scored brown crayon
12.16 Domestic… Britain! 12.17] scored brown crayon
12.24 Curious … 732). 12.25] double scored brown crayon
13.1 I have … Zealand’. 13.9] crossed brown crayon
Top of first page: ‘Musk Duck’pencil


Although Blyth dated his letter 1855, this was clearly a mistake for 1856. The content of the letter indicates that it follows Blyth’s letters written in 1855 (see Correspondence vol. 5). CD’s numbering of Blyth’s letters (see CD’s annotations and n. 67, below) also indicate the letter was written in 1856.
CD began his correspondence with Blyth in 1855 (see Correspondence vol. 5), but none of the letters from CD to Blyth during the period that Blyth was curator of the museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal has been found.
For Blyth’s notes, see the enclosure following this letter. For the notice of the wild cattle of India, see the letter from C. W. Crump to Edward Blyth, [before 8 January 1856].
Thomas Horsfield, keeper of the East India Company’s Museum, Leadenhall Street, London, was assisted by Frederic Moore. Moore published several papers in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London describing specimens in the museum. The part of Blyth’s letter directed to Moore was evidently sent on by CD. It has not been located.
Blyth 1855b (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [30 September or 7 October 1855] and nn. 27 and 28). A lightly annotated copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
It has not been possible to locate the Calcutta Sporting Review. None of the papers referred to by Blyth as having been published in this periodical are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, 7 September [1855].
F. Bashford had earlier sent information on the interbreeding of different races of silkworms to Blyth for CD (Correspondence vol. 5, letter from F. Bashford and Edward Blyth, [after 3 July 1855]). Bashford had been in England since 3 July 1855.
Blyth had written a paper on the counterfeiting of death by animals wishing to escape danger (Blyth 1837). See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [22 September 1855] and n. 19.
Blyth mentioned this anecdote in a previous letter (Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [22 September 1855]). The article has not been located in the London Illustrated News.
‘Niata’ oxen, a South American breed of cattle with a curious skull formation. CD later described this ‘monstrous breed’ in Variation 1: 89–91.
E. Griffith et al. 1827–35, 8: 222: M. d’Azara, in his essays on the natural history of the quadrupeds of Paraguay [Azara 1801], says … at Buenos Ayres, and in the range of the Andes, there are also hens, whose feathers, feet, crest, barbs, and skin, are black … It is singular that no mention is made of these birds in M. d’Azara’s book on the ornithology of those countries. In Variation 2: 209, CD referred to Azara 1801, 2: 324, on the black-skinned fowl of Paraguay. This book is in the Darwin Library–CUL and was annotated by CD.
E. Griffith et al. 1827–35, 8: 177.
The reference to Serinus melanocephalus has not been found in any work by Wilhelm Peter Eduard Simon Rüppell.
Bonaparte 1850–7, 1: 514–15, describes Chrysomitris spinoides of Asia and C. stanleyi of America as closely related species.
See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [22 September 1855], n. 37. The reference is to Hutton 1846 (p. 162 n. 60) for which Blyth provided the footnotes.
Hutton 1846, pp. 162–8.
In Chesney 1850, 1: 582–4, Francis Rawdon Chesney described various kinds of camels and dromedaries, including ‘a mule breed between [the Bactrian camel] and the Arabian animal, with a hump which can neither be called single nor double … This is a large, useful, and highly prized animal … but the creature is short-lived, and the Arabs do not breed from him; giving as a reason, that the progeny are intractable, and bad-tempered.’ (p. 584). On p. 82, Chesney mentioned a ‘mule breed [of camel], between the Arabian and Bactrian, with a single hump, but much larger than that on the back of the former’.
The two-humped camel, Camelus bactrianus, is figured as the frontispiece of Hutton 1850. This work is in the Darwin Library–CUL and was annotated by CD.
In his reference to John Lewis Burckhardt’s ‘Travels in Nubia’ in Hutton 1846, p. 162 n. 60, Blyth gives page 232. The passage concerning camels, however, has not been located on page 232 or page 222 in either Burckhardt 1819 or Burckhardt 1822. However, Burckhardt 1830, 1: 195, states: ‘The Anatolian breed is produced between an Arab she-camel, and the double-humped male dromedary imported from the Crimea.’
In the Calcutta Sporting Review. See n. 6, above.
See the enclosure following this letter.
In his abstract of this letter (DAR 203), CD noted: ‘Last Page, important on varieties crossing when ranges meet.— Coracias, Treron.—’ CD used this information when writing his species book: ‘in India reputed species of Coracias, as I am informed by Mr. Blyth, intermix & blend on the confines of their range.’ (Natural selection, p. 259).
Bonaparte 1855a, p. 17.
Hutton 1848.
Horsfield 1824: The Mydaus meliceps … is confined exclusively to those mountains which have an elevation of more than 7000 feet above the level of the ocean; on these it occurs with the same regularity as many plants. The long-extended surface of Java, abounding with conical points which exceed this elevation, affords many places favourable for its resort.
The only paper published by John Corse in the Asiatic Researches is devoted to describing the methods by which wild elephants are caught (Corse 1799a). It would appear that Blyth intended to refer to Corse 1799b in the Philosophical Transactions, to which he had earlier directed CD (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [22 September 1855] and n. 53).
Blyth is presumably referring to the Kohlrabi or choux-raves. In Variation 1: 323, CD referred to the ‘recently formed new race of choux-raves … in which the enlarged part lies beneath the ground like a turnip.’
Crawfurd 1828, p. 434. Blyth’s date, 1821, is an error for 1828. CD had read Crawfurd 1828 in March 1844 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 15b).
P. H. Gosse 1847, p. 329. Philip Henry Gosse stated that ‘the turkey is, as far as European knowledge is concerned, indigenous to the greater Antilles, having been found by the Spanish discoverers, already domesticated by the Indians’. He went on to maintain that ‘the European domestic breed is descended from West Indian, and not from North American parentage. This would perhaps tend to confirm, what has been suspected, that the domestic Turkey is specifically distinct from the wild Turkey of North America.’
P. H. Gosse 1847, pp. 325–7. Gosse began his discussion of the guinea-fowl by stating: ‘In a country whose genial climate so closely resembled its own … the well-known wandering propensities of the Guinea-fowl would no doubt cause it to become wild very soon after its introduction. It was abundant in Jamaica as a wild bird, 150 years ago’ (p. 325). In his reading notebook, CD noted: ‘Gosse Birds of Jamaica— account of wild Guinea Fowls— Cd he get specimen. read’, and he also recorded having read the work on 11 May 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, *128: 161; 128: 18). He later used the information on wild guinea-fowls in Variation 1: 190 and 294, having obtained further information about Jamaican guinea-fowls from Richard Hill, Gosse’s collaborator (Variation 1: 294 nn. 43 and 44; see also letter from Richard Hill, 10 January [1857]).
Edwards 1758–64, 3: 269.
Columella, De re rustica 8. 2. 2–3. Columella distinguished an African fowl, called ‘Numidian’ with a red helmet and crest, from ‘Meleagris’ with a blue helmet and crest. Blyth has mistakenly used palea (wattles) instead of galea (helmet) in quoting Columella.
During the reign of John I of Portugal (1357–1433), his son, Prince Henry ‘the navigator’, with other Portuguese navigators began exploring the area designated Guinea (EB).
Latham 1821–8, 8: 147. CD recorded having read volume eight ‘on Pigeons & Fowls’ in March 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 16).
Gosse had lived in Jamaica and studied its fauna. See n. 31, above.
Buffon 1793, 2: 144–68.
Blyth has confused his sources. In The London encyclopaedia (London, 1829), 16: 16, it is stated that: ‘Mr. Pennant contends, and seems to prove, that the pintadoes had been early introduced into Britain, at least prior to 1277’. No such statement by Thomas Pennant has, however, been found.
Niebuhr 1779, 1: 234.
P. H. Gosse 1847, pp. 326–7: ‘Flight cannot be protracted by them, nor is it trusted to as a means of escape, save to the extent of gaining the elevation of a tree: the body is too heavy, the wings too short and hollow, and the sternal apparatus too weak, for flight to be any other than a painful and laborious performance.’
In his abstract of this letter (DAR 203), CD here noted: ‘Quote Blyth on relation of range to question of Red Grouse being species.’ CD later stated in Origin, p. 49: Several most experienced ornithologists consider our British red grouse as only a strongly-marked race of a Norwegian species, whereas the greater number rank it as an undoubted species peculiar to Great Britain. A wide distance between the homes of two doubtful forms leads many naturalists to rank both as distinct species …
Hodgson 1856.
Rüppell 1845, p. 106, in which Rüppell recorded that the Chacura graeca‘varietas, Gray Indian Zoology Vol. I Taf. 54’ was found ‘paarweise am Sinai’. The reference is to J. E. Gray [1830–5], which was illustrated from the collection of Thomas Hardwicke.
Attached to the letter are two feathers, labelled ‘China’ and ‘English’, differing in their black, marginal markings. Next to the feather labelled ‘China’ Blyth has added, ‘The figure of this bird in Griffiths’ ’Animal Kingdom‘ is atrocious!’. See E. Griffith et al. 1827–35, 8, facing p. 232.
J. Gould 1850–83, 7: pl. 28, which figures ‘Pucrasia castanea, Kafiristan Pucras Pheasant’. This plate was first published in July 1854 in part 6 of The birds of Asia.
Conolly 1834, 1: 289, describes the country between Meshed and Heraut.
Little 1840, pp. 111–14.
Cautley 1840, p. 623: ‘the natives of Hindostan … have in their affection for the cow and ox, given rise to a race of wild cattle perfectly distinct from those of the forest… . in the province of Oude, large herds of black oxen are … found in the wild and uncultivated tracts’.
Butter 1839.
See letter from C. W. Crump to Edward Blyth, [before 8 January 1856].
James Brooke was raja of Saráwak, Borneo.
Littleton 1678.
Edwards 1758–64, 3: pl. 337.
Blyth had indeed previously given this information to CD. See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, 4 August 1855. His references are to Sheridan 1781, act 5 scene 1, and Fryer 1698, p. 116.
Illustrated London News, 10 November 1855, p. 564, figures ‘Paintings on a Greek tomb lately found near Pæstum.’
Dixon 1848, pp. 173–4. ‘It is true that there is no mention of Fowls by name in the Old Testament, except a doubtful allusion in the Vulgate translation of the Book of Proverbs (xxx. 31), which is lost in the authorised version’ (p. 173).
Chesney 1850, 1: 82.
Aldrovandi 1599–1603. CD recorded having read this work in March 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 16).
Bochart 1675. Volume two of this work included Samuel Bochart’s Hierzoicon, which treated of the animals of Scripture and was first published in 1663. See also letter from Edward Blyth, [c. 22 March 1856] and n. 2.
Chesney 1850, 1: 731–2: ‘Description of the bird called … “The Magnanimous Bird.” ’
See n. 18, above.
Blyth has inadvertently repeated the page number of his previous reference. The correct reference is Niebuhr 1779, 1: 229–30.
All these references are to the first volume of Chesney 1850. The last reference to Cervus elaphus is in Chesney 1850, 1, appendix 3, p. 728.
The seven volumes of John Gould’s The birds of Australia had been issued in 1848 (J. Gould 1848). From this date, parts of a supplement to the work were published. The supplement was completed in 1869.
J. Gould 1850–83. By January 1856, seven parts of this work had been published.
William Henry Sykes was the chairman of the court of directors of the East India Company. The museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal was under the jurisdiction of the company.
The brown crayon numbers that CD wrote on Blyth’s letters indicate their chronological sequence and relate to CD’s abstracts of the letters (DAR 203), which he also numbered.
Sloane 1707–25.


Encloses "notes for Mr. D" [see 1818] and a memorandum on the wild cattle of southern India [see 1819].

Breeds of silky fowl of China and Malaya. Black-skinned fowl.

Doubts any breed of canary has siskin blood; all remain true to their type.

Wild canary and finch hybrids.

Hybrids between one- and two-humped camels.

Does not regard zebra markings on asses as an indication of interbreeding but as one of the many instances of markings in the young which more or less disappear in the adult.

Crossing of Coracias species at the edges of their ranges.

Regional variations and intergrading between species of pigeons.

Regards the differences in Treron as specific [see Natural selection, p. 115 n. 1].

Gives other instances of representative species or races differing only in certain details of colouring.

Letter details

Letter no.
Blyth, Edward
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 98: A110–13, A117–21
Physical description
6pp † encl Amem 12pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1817,” accessed on 21 February 2017,