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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Perceval Wright   24 March 1865

10 Clare Street. | Dublin.

24th March 1865.

Dear Mr. Darwin

Many thanks for your subscription (10/6) to the Cybele Hibernica, which I received this morning— I do not think it will be published until September next—as so many new Collections are turning up   however we have already more than 130 Subscribers—so that there will be no lack of funds.1

In looking over some Nat Hist notes of a friend of mine who spent many years in India—I found the following, which I thought would interest you— The Common Buffalo about Furreedpore—(Buf. Arnee)2 is in the habit—during the inundation of the Ganges—of wading into the waters for the purpose of cropping the grass. This it does often in two & three feet of water, but Mr Dunlop3 was surprised one day to find them swimming in from ten to 12 feet of water & every now & then diving down & coming up again with a mouthful of herbage— he then watched them over & over again & found dozens of them engaged in a similar pursuit—& on timing them he found they were always from 30 to 35 seconds under the water. I am not aware that this fact has ever been recorded—but I know the accuracy of my friends observations too well to have any doubt as to its truth— He is the same person who gave me the fresh-water Teredo that I described in the last part of the Linnean Transactions—4

I have come across an interesting work on the genera of Alcyonarian Actinozoa—in a form (from the W of Ireland) of Alcyonium which like Haimeia is solitary—& might be easily mistaken for an Anemone— In all its habits it is an Zoantharian polyp   in its structure it is alcyonaria save the anomaly of its being not gregarious—5

Again thanking you for taking an interest in our Cy-Hibernica

Believe me to remain | very truly yours | E. Perceval Wright

Chas Darwin Esq

CD annotations

1.1 Many … funds. 1.4] crossed pencil
2.13 Linnean Transactions—] before closing square bracket pencil
3.1 I have … Cy-Hybernica 4.1] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘My Bear case6 | Pigeons floating & drinking7pencil; ‘Gradation & Abnormal Habits.8red crayon


The reference is to D. Moore and More 1866; there is an annotated copy of this work in the Darwin Library–Down (see Marginalia 1: 598). David Moore, director of the Botanic Garden, Glasnevin, Dublin, and Alexander Goodman More gave a special acknowledgment to Wright, the director of the Natural History Museum, Dublin, for his advice and assistance in planning and carrying out their flora of Ireland. At the time of publication, the number of subscribers to the volume was 157; additionally, the British Association for the Advancement of Science granted the authors £25 towards the cost of publication (D. Moore and More, p. vi and list of subscribers at end of volume). CD’s Account book–cash account (Down House MS) records a payment of £10 6s. for ‘Cybele Hibernica’ on 22 March 1865.
Faridpur, situated on the floodplain of the Ganges, was in the former British province of Bengal, and is now a district and a town in Bangladesh. For the identification of the buffalo referred to, see the letter from E. P. Wright, 31 March 1865.
A. A. Dunlop (see E. P. Wright 1864, p. 451); this individual has not been further identified.
Wright had recently published a description of a new freshwater species of ship-worm (Teredo), ‘Nausitora Dunlopei’ (E. P. Wright 1864).
Wright refers to a specimen that he thought was a soft coral (an Alcyonaria or Octocorallia); however, he believed the specimen could be easily mistaken for an anenome (a Zooantharia or Hexacorallia). Wright later identified it as a new species of soft coral (Alcyonaria), ‘Hartea elegans’ (E. P. Wright 1865).
This and the following annotation refer to cases of diversified habits analogous to the buffalo’s diversified feeding habits. The ‘Bear case’ refers to the description in Origin, p. 184, of the North American black bear swimming with its mouth wide open, ‘like a whale’, to catch insects. This observation, and CD’s speculation that natural selection could eventually produce bears with more aquatic habits, was misunderstood, and drew so much ridicule that CD modified it in later English editions; in Origin 2d ed., he inserted ‘almost’ before ‘like a whale’ and omitted a following sentence on natural selection (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 7, letters to Charles Lyell, 25 [November 1859] and [10 December 1859], Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Andrew Murray, 28 April [1860], and Peckham ed. 1959, p. 333). CD continued to defend his ‘Bear case’, and later regretted making the modification to later editions of Origin (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to W. H. Harvey, [20–4 September 1860], and letter to R. G. Whiteman, 5 May 1881 (Calendar no. 13146)). See also enclosure to letter from Samuel Butler, 1 October 1865 and n. 11.
A reference to flocks of pigeons having been observed drinking from the Nile while they floated downstream, when they were unable to alight on the shore (see letter to Charles Lyell, 25 March [1865], and Variation 1: 181).
‘Gradation & Abnormal Habits’ may be a reference to a portfolio of notes into which CD placed Wright’s letter; no such portfolio has been found. CD may have intended to use information from Wright’s letter in later editions of Origin; some additions to his section on gradation and abnormal habits in Origin, pp. 179–86 (‘On the origin and transitions of organic beings with peculiar habits and structure’), were made in the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions (see Peckham ed. 1959, pp. 328–37). CD included information on gradation and changes in habit in the new chapter 7 in Origin 6th ed., pp. 168–204 (see also letter to George Busk, 2 September [1871], and letter to J. D. Hooker, 16 September [1871] (Calendar nos. 7921 and 7949)). CD did not use the information provided here by Wright in any of his subsequent publications.


Thanks CD for subscribing to the Cybele Hibernica.

Reports some observations made on the common buffaloes of India seen swimming and diving in 12ft of floodwater in order to crop the herbage beneath.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Perceval Wright
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 181: 174
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4793,” accessed on 18 September 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13