From Edward Blyth 23 January 1856
My dear Sir,
Last night I was roused about midnight by the arrival of my home letters,—a sufficiently formidable array of correspondence, which it is utterly impossible that I can do justice to by the present out-going mail. I am pleased to find that Owen does not oppose my views regarding the “great Orang-utan question”.1 I have a long letter from you undated, but mentioning in a P.S. that you had just recd mine of Octr 8th & 22 nd 2 Since my last, I have had no time for penning notes; but must call your attention to an article in the ‘Echo du monde savant,’ No 98, Jany 24/36, which I only know of by the reference to it in Rev. Zool. de la Soc. Cuv. 1841, p. 33.3 The said article describes “une belle et rare variété du Cyprinus carpio, L., dont la couleur était d’un beau rouge aurore”. This at once led me to suspect that C. auratus is just such a variety of an affined species, which John Chinaman had carefully bred from in the first instance, though now become so common!4 If so, there should be a grey wild Chinese Carp, of which the ‘Gold & Silver Fish’ our cultivated varieties,—the curious triple-tailed C. macropthalmos, however, being probably an abnormal variety of another species indigenous to China. As these are the only very marked cultivated varieties in the class of Pisces, the subject merits investigation. Since I last wrote, I have been following up my enquiries respecting gallinaceous birds in general, and have embodied a great deal of curious matter in an article for the ‘Calcutta Sporting Review’, which you will see in due course;5 & you will learn from it that you at present much underrate our actual knowledge of the wild gallinaceous birds all the world over; and at once comprehend the grounds for my very decided opinion, that we may seek in vain for wild types of G. giganteus, &c. I don’t wish to seem dictatorial; but feel that my knowledge is now about as complete as it well can be, regarding the wild types of Gallus. Should however one still remain unknown to me, which I think most unlikely, undoubtedly Cochin China, Cambogia, & Siam, are the countries of S Asia least known to zoologists; but then for ages past they have been more or less connected with China, & the wealthy Chinese are fond of keeping pheasants, &c &c, & pay such high prices for rarities that our first knowledge of various Malayan species was derived from the inmates of Chinese aviaries. I have some skins of Jungle-fowl for you, illustrative of the variation observable among them; & the tarsus I find varies remarkably in length, as you will see. 6
By the way, do you know the positively wild Numida meleagris from Guinea, as distinguished from Ogilby’s N. Rendallii,7 said to be the ordinary species of the Gambia? Another species which I should like to know about, is the N. coronata (in addition to N. mitrata, if not also N. cristata) in S. Africa. Have you seen Albin’s figure of the lost breed of crested Turkeys?8 There seems no doubt about them; but Dixon’s supposed “wild Crested Turkeys” of Central America are clearly Cracidæ, from the notice cited of the nest & (two) eggs of one of them.9 A true Turkey would lay more eggs than could be accommodated in a tree-nest; & all the Pavonidæ without exception nestle on the ground. By Pavonidæ I mean the united Phasianidæ & Tetraonidæ, Auct., which are empyrical & artificial divisions, the very types of which (Ph. colchicus & T. tetrix) are so nearly affined as not unfrequently to interbreed in the wild state!
Upon sound anatomical distinctions, I divide the gallinaceous birds into 5 essentially distinct families, which do not intergrade,—viz. Cracidæ, Megapodiidæ, Syrrhaptidæ, Pavonidæ, and Tinamidæ (including Turnix). Thus arranged, we can generalize a good deal to some purpose. It is not unlikely that any treatise on the Gallinaceæ in the ‘Calcutta Sp. Rev.’ may grow in time as Prichard’s original Essay on the Human races expanded into a big work,10 but in the meantime, I trust that its present form will elicit the information necessary for completion.11 You mention the Turkey’s tuft as a curious ‘abnormity’ (as it were); especially, I may add, as the Ocellated Turkey does not possess it. Bear in mind, however, that this tuft consists not of bristles, but bristle-like plumes, which are annually moulted & developed like other true feathers; as are also the eyelashes of various birds, &c &c.— See Leadbeater’s fine specimen of this rare bird,12 & notice (what has never been described) the curious structure of the appendage over the bill, & all the little warts & caruncles. I was not aware of what you mention concerning the muscular foundation of the tuft in the Polish (Polled?) fowls. I have been trying to hunt up a notice I remember reading some time ago, in some French work, respecting the wild range of the Golden Pheasant extending I think to Orenbourg; a very remarkable fact, which may account for the ancients having some knowledge of it, however vague, which Cuvier connects with the old descriptions of the Phœnix!!13
Yesterday I had the great pleasure of seeing a particularly fine living specimen of the exceedingly interesting (to me) animal, Canis primævus of Hodgson;14 which I suppose you will make acquaintance with by & bye, in the London Zooll Gns. It was much more Fox-like than I expected, but hunts in packs as you know; a most particularly agile, graceful & game animal, & the original Canis aureus no doubt. This animal has an immense range, from the Altai, Tibet, &c, over all altitudes of the Himalaya, to central India, the Nilgiris, &c, also in Burma, Malacca, Sumatra & Java; for I strongly lean to the opinion that the C. javanensis, sumatrensis, dukhanensis, primævus, &c of authors refer all to the same animal, the best name for which is rutilus of Temminck, since aureus has been transferred to the Jackal. For many years past I wished much to see this species alive, & now that I have done so, I begin to feel that I understand it.— As you receive specimens from Madeira, kindly procure me some skins of the wild Canary; also ascertain which is the ‘Red-legged Partridge’ of Madeira & also of the Canary isles,—P. petrosa I suppose. According to Widdrington, this is not found in Spain,15 but is the only species in Sardinia, as in Barbary. I have no specimen of it. I should like also to see the peculiar Chaffinch of Madeira.
About the Seychelles, I know of no conspectus of the terrene fauna of those islands, but am aware that peculiar species exist, especially of land-shells, & also a peculiar Chamæleon. The Helix monodon is a fine and remarkable species, found always on the Cocos de Mer which is indigenous only to two or three of the islets, & does not thrive on the others! Consult the well known conchologist, M. Liénard of the Mauritius, respecting the zoology of the Seychelles;16 & if you can get at the publications of the Nat. Hist. Society of the Mauritius, which was an active body during the secretaryship of Julien Desjardins, you are likely to find what you want.17 Did I tell you, that since writing my article on wild Asses,18 I have come to the conclusion that if the real asinus still exists anywhere in the wild state, it will be in the southern districts of Arabia!19 I find that the Hindu prejudice against domestic fowls is not very ancient, & that fowls were reared in great numbers by the ancient Hindus.20 Consult Horace Hayman Wilson at the India-house.—21 See a notice of a curious breed of Indian cattle at Dacca, in Capt. R. Tytler’s paper on the zoology of Dacca, published a year or two back in the Ann. Mag. N.H.—22 I now refer to your letter, seriatim, having thus far cited it from memory. ‘Rock Pigeons’. Remember that the Pterocles genus is here so called by sportsmen & others; whence the term may be misunderstood by correspondents in this country. You must have misunderstood me about numerous races of fowls in Negroland, at least I think I must have said that fowls were reared numerously by the Negros of Africa. They certainly now are so, vide Niger Expedition, &c &c;23 but old Barbot tells us that neither the common poultry nor ducks are natural to Guinea, any more than the Turkey; and that very few Turkeys are to be met with there, & those only in the hands of the chiefs of the European forts; the Negros declining to breed any on account of their tenderness. I quote from the Encyclopædia Britta , & cannot get at the date of Barbot’s work; but it is curious, from the notice of the Turkey so early in Africa.24 Let me know the date, if you can do so without overmuch trouble. “Domestic fowls with double spur”.25 According to my observation, when birds that typically bear a single spur have also a second, the latter grows from the base of the other underneath. In all the genera of typically double-spurred Pavonidæ, the spurs are curiously irregular; but whenever a third occurs, it is situate, in like manner, at the base underneath of one of the normal spurs [DIAGRAM HERE] We have a common Jungle-hen, well spurred.—
I dont remember what I said about the origin of Bantams, but probably referred merely to that of the name.26 The appellation “Himalayan Rabbit” must necessarily be a misnomer.27 What could I have said about varieties of Fallow Deer, beyond new colouring?28 For my articles on the Elk & Reindeer, you must hunt up Vols. 8 & 10 of the ‘Calcutta Sp. Rev.’.29 I must congratulate you in getting a good Indian ‘Pigeon fancier’ correspondent in Capt Vine; he will be able to assist you more than I can with Indian domestic Pigeons.30 Valuable birds rarely die in fine condition; & no native could be made to understand the scientific value attached to a dead bird, which is sure to be pitched away; and what few Indo-portuguese bird-stuffers we have are no better. I will do what I can, which after all is not promising much.
I am obliged to finish somewhat abruptly, even thus, | & remain | Ever truly Yrs, | E Blyth C. Darwin Esq
Believes the goldfish originates from a wild, gold variety of Chinese carp.
EB divides the gallinaceous birds into five families on anatomical distinctions.
Wild dog species of India and Asia; ranges of some species, specific identity of others.
The fauna of the Seychelles.
Breeding of fowls in India and Africa.
Occurrence of turkeys in Africa.
Refers to some of his own papers giving fuller details of points raised previously.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1825,” accessed on 6 May 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-1825