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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. E. Gray   15 February 1868


15 Feb 1868

My Dear Darwin

I think one can discern the “Noble Roman hand” of the great friend of John Murray, in the slashing article on the Variation of Species in the Athenæum of this date—1

Thanks for the sight of Nathusius2 it does not come up to my expectation

I want to know why the short thin legged heavy bodied pig is called chinese or Indian as Nathusius regards it   I have not been able to discover3   Buffon described a long legged bristly Pig as a Siam Pig4 and Schreber confuses it with the Berkshire breed & calls it S Scrofa domesticus Sinensis.—5

Swinhoe thought the Chinese Pig was the tame Sus leucomystax 6    Natusius thinks S. leucomystax a variety of the Common Domestic Pig7

If Nathusius had examined the series of skull of Wild Pig we have in the BM he would not have formed such theories   the Wild Boar of India & asiatic Island have not wider Palates than the European ones.—8

But certain tame breed have an inclination to get wide palate “that is their deformity or malady”—as the Reviewer would say9   I observed that in the PZS when I described Sus Pliciceps which is no doubt a Tame Pig, with the skull in many respects like Potamochœrus10   Margrave says Potamochœrus was introduced from Africa to Brazil   I am assured it is not there now.11 Nathusius refers to it   he anticipated my observation that it is Sus Porcus of Linn S N. Ed 12 yet Du Chaillu persisted it was a new species he discovered12

Ever yours sincerely | J E Gray

I sent Nathusius by the Post


The review of Variation in the Athenaeum was by John Robertson ([Robertson] 1868a; see Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix VI, n. 2). Gray refers to CD’s publisher, John Murray. ‘Noble Roman hand’ may be an allusion to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar 1: 2, in which Antony reassures Caesar that Cassius could not betray him: ‘Fear him not, Caesar.... He is a noble Roman and well given.’
Gray had asked to borrow CD’s copy of Nathusius 1864. See letter from J. E. Gray, 6 February 1868.
Nathusius divided pigs into two classes: Sus scrofa, those resembling and descended from the wild boar, including most domestic pigs in Europe, and Sus indicus, which included domestic breeds from China and Siam. Nathusius had based his distinction on osteological and cranial differences. CD supported Nathusius’s classification (see Variation 1: 65–7). Gray had published a taxonomic list of pig specimens in the British Museum (J. E. Gray ed. 1862), and had remarked that he was unable to distinguish the Chinese from the common domestic pig (J. E. Gray 1862, p. 17). Nathusius was critical of Gray’s taxonomy of Sus indicus (Nathusius 1864, pp. 159, 164). In his copy of Nathusius 1864, CD wrote in the margin of p. 162, ‘Gray not to be trusted in the least’ (see Marginalia 1: 635). On modern pig taxonomy, see Giuffra et al. 2000, and W. L. R. Oliver ed. 1993.
Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, classed pigs into three ‘races’: the wild boar, the Siamese pig, and the European pig. He regarded the last two as domestic descendents of the wild boar (Buffon et al. 1749–1804, 5: 125–34, plates XIV–XVI).
Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber described the Berkshire pig and the Siamese pig as different races of Sus scrofa domesticus. He classed the Berkshire pig as one of the ‘northern races of the old world’, and the Siamese pig as one of the ‘southern races of the old world and Australia’ (Schreber 1778–1846, 6: 429–58, 442–3, 448–9, plates 321 and 324). Schreber did not refer to ‘S. scrofa sinensis’, but rather to ‘S. scrofa siamensis’ (see ibid., plate 324).
Gray may refer to remarks by Robert Swinhoe in a letter to Gray that was published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1864): 383. Swinhoe had written: ‘the Japanese wild pig (Sus leucomystax) … is probably also the wild pig of South China, if it be true that the Domestic Chinese Hog is descended from that wild stock’. On the relationship between S. leucomystax and Chinese domestic pigs, see also the letter from Edward Blyth, 11 February 1868 and n. 13.
Nathusius considered Sus leucomystax to be the ancestor of S. indicus and of the common European domestic pig (Nathusius 1864, p. 167).
Nathusius had based the distinction between Sus scrofa and S. indicus partly on the greater width of the fore part of the palate bones in the former group (Nathusius 1864, p. 86; see also Variation 1: 67). For Gray’s classification of the British Museum’s pig specimens, see J. E. Gray ed. 1862 and J. E. Gray 1868.
Gray apparently alludes to the anonymous reviewer of Variation (see n. 1, above); however, the expression does not appear in [Robertson] 1868a.
See Gray’s article in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society (J. E. Gray 1862).
Gray refers to Georg Marggraf’s description of Porcus guineenis in Piso and Marggraf 1648, p. 230. See letter from J. E. Gray, 4 February 1868 and n. 6.
See Nathusius 1864, pp. 172–3. Gray classified Sus porcus and Potomochoerus albifrons as synonyms of Potomochoerus porcus (J. E. Gray 1868, p. 36). Gray refers to the descriptions of Sus porcus in Systema naturae (Linnaeus 1766–8), and of Potomochoerus albifrons in Du Chaillu 1860, pp. 301–2.


Slashing article on Variation in Athenæum.

Discussion of relationships of various pigs.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Edward Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 165: 216
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5880,” accessed on 17 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16