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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   8 December 1855


Decr. 8/55—

My dear Sir,

This afternoon I have had the pleasure of receiving yours of 18th. Octr., and as the mail closes this evening, I hasten to reply at once. I have not written to you lately, from sheer want of time; but have noted down a few matters to comment upon, when I found an opportunity. What think you of Wallace’s paper in the Ann. M. N. H. ?1 Good! Upon the whole! But how about such forms as the Giraffe, which has typical representatives in the Siwálik tertiary deposits? Or the true Elk (=Moose)? Can we suppose a lost series of gradations connecting these genera with the Deer type, & ramifying off to them paulatim ? Wallace has, I think, put the matter well; and according to his theory, the various domestic races of animals have been fairly developed into species. I think that I before said that the Peacock had not varied for so many centuries of domestication in Europe, further than as regards albinism, complete or partial; but I overlooked the interesting “sport” of colour, exhibited by the Japanned (not ‘Japan’) variety, which seems to have originated more than once,—vide especially Sir R. Heron, in the Proc Zool. Soc.2 A trump of a fact for friend Wallace to have hit upon! The Pavo muticus, I may remark, is much more brilliantly coloured in the Malay countries than it is in the Burmese; & the late Ld Derby suspected a distinctness of species. Some day I may have an opportunity of seeing further to this matter. In like manner the Malayan & Burmese Jungle-fowl is deeper-coloured than that of India, and moreover it seems to have always a coarser leg, tending to become yellow, the cheek-lappets being also red like the comb, & the bird being so much more easily domesticable, that I cannot help suspecting that we owe its domestication to the regions inhabited by this trans-Indian wild variety. You know I have little faith in the aboriginal wildness of the white Chillingham cattle, arguing even from colour alone!3 Well, you remember the innate wildness of the calves, so often insisted upon; wherefore I call your particular attention to a passage by Buchanan Hamilton, published in Montgomery Martin’s compilation of his writings, Vol. 1, 504, only for “Bos taurus”, read B. indicus.4 See the same author’s Journey through Mysore, &c, Vol. 2, for some notices of the races of humped cattle, with figures.5 I have not travelled about enough to be any authority on this subject: but have been told that those in Ceylon are small, compact, & dark-coloured animals; ditto in Burma; whereas the prevalent colour here is white. Bombay people might tell you more about the Indian races of cattle, of which the finest come from Cutch, Guzerat, & the neighbouring provinces. Try also to learn what humped cattle there are in S. China (if any); also about those in Madagascar (which supply the Mauritius & Bourbon with beef); and about the African races, of which the Galla cattle & those of Borneo are the most remarkable. I have seen oxen in Madras, with enormous horns, & altogether very similar to the Galla race. The group of Indian Monkeys affined to the Bengal Entellus, & the group of Indian & Malayan gigantic Squirrels, so diversified in colour, & yet each race so remarkably true to its colouring, afford capital data for Mr. Wallace to descant upon, in reference to his views. Again, among land mollusks, the Bulimus perversus. A lot of this species just brought from Burma are remarkable for having a blackish-red mantle, unlike any I have seen before. The many varieties of this beautiful shell seem each to be local, certainly to a great extent, & have perhaps as good claim to be regarded as species as the gigantic Squirrels have,—unlike our familiar English Helix nemoralis. Mr. Wallace could also well support his views by reference to the Helices & Bulimi collected in the Philippines by Cuming,6 —& also to the varieties of the Indian Melaniæ. What do you think of the paper in question? Has it at all unsettled your ideas regarding the persistence of species,—not perhaps so much from novelty of argument, as by the lucid collation of facts & phenomena. On the other hand, consider over the nice distinctions among the very numerous European Helices, & how true each remains to its structural characters; & this over vast geographical areas! How is it that we do not oftener meet with such a fact as that recorded of the Japanned Peafowl?— On the ancient history of the cultivated rose, see a paper published by the Botanic Society of Edinbro Jany. 11th. 1838, & noticed in the 1st. Vol. of the Ann. Nat Hist., p. 228.7 The oldest mention here cited is one or more by Anacreon, 600 B.C.

For the Ayin Akbari, consult the well known translation by Gladwin, 2 Vols. 8 vo.,8 which you might see at the India-house or British Museum libraries, &c &c. Our hybrid race of tame Geese. So far as I have seen, these are very uniform in character; and they are fully as prolific as the European tame Goose. Their colouring is that of cygnoides, but I think the longitudinal nape-streak is scarcely so deep—but they are generally white or partially white: the form intermediate to cygnoides & ordinary Anser; the frontal knob much reduced; & colour of this & of the bill & feet light orange, with often black spots and small patches on the feet. True cygnoides has black bill & feet, excepting the white race or variety, which has them of a bright orange. Remember that I am describing from memory, as the mail is about to close. You ask me to publish my ideas about the domestic Cat. I may do so in a series of papers which I have promised to write for the ‘Calcutta Sporting Review’, where I have undertaken “the Feline animals of India”,—have already got a long article on Asiatic Lions printed off, and have partly written one on the Tiger— Moreover I have written a long article upon “wild Asses”, of which I think I have proved that only one species is known, which is the Ghor-Khur (or ‘Horse-Ass’), hemionus (or ‘half-Ass’) hemippus (or ‘12 horse’), &c &c, including onager (or ‘wild Ass’) & the Tibetan Kyang. True, the contrast is enormous between Guzerat, Rajputana, & Cutch,—the lowland sandy desert,—& the intensely cold elevated regions of Tibet; but though he does not pass through the Punjab & up the wooded regions of the Himalaya, he is nevertheless find in Sindh, Afghanistan, Mesopotamia, & through northern Persia right up to the Aral, in gradually increasing numbers, & then all through Gt. Tartary to the frontiers of Tibet, according to Pallas, & in Tibet as the Khyang. Gmelins supposed wild Ass is merely a Dziggetai with a short shoulder stripe,9 such as has likewise been seen in Indian specimens, but very rarely. I will send you all these papers as soon as I can, & if you ask me why I publish them in a sporting Journal, it is because I get about £5 a piece for them, & besides I address through such a medium a great number of observers, from whom I hope to elicit more facts. My description of the skeleton of the new Orang-utan (P. curtus) is also in type,10 & the skeleton has been mounted, & the other great Orang skeletons will soon be.

—Time begins to press: so I cannot go much into the subject of domestic Pigeons. I will see what I can do for you; but not with dealers—with wealthy baboos rather,11 who keep lots of Pigeons: but the everlasting Hindu prejudices are always in the way. They cannot be made to comprehend what interest I can feel in a dead bird, & the carcass is sure to be pitched away, as soon as ever any animal is dead.— You will have recd. my printed letter.12 Do nothing with it till you hear further from me; & there is no longer time to write now. So kindly excuse the scrawl, as usual, & believe me | Ever truly Yours, | E Blyth—

CD annotations

1.4 Wallace’s … whole!] double scored pencil, scored brown crayon
1.12 but I … variety, 1.13] scored brown crayon
1.15 The Pavo … suspected a 1.17] scored brown crayon
1.20 yellow … variety. 1.23] scored brown crayon
1.28 same author’s … notices 1.29] double scored brown crayon
1.32 might tell … B.C. 1.58] scored brown crayon
1.56 published … B.C. 1.58] double scored brown crayon
2.1 For … patches 2.8] scored brown crayon
2.1 For … India-house 2.2] double scored brown crayon
2.12 promised … India”, 2.13] scored brown crayon
Top of first page: ‘Ayin [’i‘over ’e‘] Akbari. Gladwin’ pencil; ‘8’ brown crayon
Verso of last page: ‘8’brown crayon


Wallace 1855, ‘On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species’, appeared in the September 1855 issue of Annals and Magazine of Natural History. Alfred Russel Wallace had been studying the geographical distribution of animals and plants for many years. In his paper, he concluded that every species had come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre- existing closely allied species. CD scored Blyth’s reference to the paper in the margin of the letter, but there is no indication when he first read it. CD’s copy of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History, in which Wallace 1855 appeared, is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The paper was annotated and several passages were scored by CD. CD’s separate notes on volumes fifteen (January–June 1855) and sixteen (July–December 1855) of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History contain the following comments on Wallace 1855: 185 Wallace’s paper: Laws of Geograph. Distrib. nothing very new— 186 His general summary “Every species has come into existence coincident in time & space with preexisting species.”— Uses my simile of tree— It seems all creation with him— Alludes to Galapagos 189 on even adjoining species being closest— (It is all creation, but why does [interl above ‘is’] his law hold good; he puts the facts in striking point of view— 194 Argues against our supposed geological perfect knowledge— Explains Rudimentary organs on same idea (I shd. state that put generation for creation & I quite agree)
Heron 1835, p. 54. CD scored this passage in his copy of the paper (Darwin Library–CUL).
Buchanan 1807, 2: 8–12 and Plates XV–XIII.
Bulimus is referred to in Wallace 1855, pp. 189. For descriptions of Helix and Bulimus specimens collected by Hugh Cuming in the Philippines, see Broderip 1840–1 and G. B. Sowerby 1840–1.
The Annals of Natural History 1 (1838): 228–9 reports on a meeting of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh held on 11 January 1838, at which Randle Wilbraham Falconer read a paper entitled ‘On the ancient history of the rose’.
Gladwin trans. 1783–6. See letter to Edward Blyth, 4 August 1855, for Blyth’s first mention of the Ayeen Akbery.
See letter from Edward Blyth, 21 April 1855, for his earlier comments on Johann Georg Gmelin’s wild ass.
For Blyth’s description of Pithecus curtus (a synonym of Pongo pygmaeus subsp. morio, the north-east Bornean orangutan), see Blyth 1855d, pp. 525–6.
This may be a reference to a request Blyth made to the directors of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for an increase in salary and a pension (Grote 1875, p. ix, reprinted in Eisely 1959, Appendix B).


Blyth, Edward. 1855c. Further remarks on the different species of orang-utan. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal n.s. 24 (1856): 518–28.

Broderip, William John. 1840–1. Descriptions of shells collected in the Philippine Islands by H. Cuming, Esq. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London pt 8: 83–7, 94–6, 119–24, 155–9, 180–2; pt 9: 14–17, 22–3, 34–5, 36-9, 44–6.

Buchanan, afterwards Hamilton, Francis. 1807. A journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar. 3 vols. London.

Buchanan, afterwards Hamilton, Francis. 1838. The history, antiquities, topography, and statistics of Eastern India. Collated from the original documents by Montgomery Martin. 3 vols. London.

Eisely, Loren. 1959. Charles Darwin, Edward Blyth, and the theory of natural selection. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 103: 94–158.

Grote, Arthur. 1875. Introduction, being a memoir of the late Mr Ed. Blyth, C.M.Z.S., and Hon. Member Asiatic Soc. of Bengal. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 43, pt 2 (extra number, August 1875): iii–xxiv.

Heron, Robert. 1835. Notes on the habits of the pea-fowl. [Read 14 April 1835.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1833–5) pt 3: 54.

Sowerby, George Brettingham. 1840–1. Descriptions of shells collected by H. Cuming, Esq., in the Philippine Islands. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London pt 8: 87–91, 96–104, 116–18, 135–7, 167–9; pt 9: 1–3, 17- -18, 19–20, 24–6, 39–40.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1855. On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 2d ser. 16: 184–96.


What does CD think of A. R. Wallace’s paper in the Annals & Magazine of Natural History ["On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species", n.s. 16 (1855): 184–96]? EB considers it good on the whole.

Japanned variety of peacock.

Regional variations in bird species.

EB has little faith in the aboriginal wildness of the Chillingham cattle.

Races of humped cattle of India, China, and Africa.

Indian and Malayan gigantic squirrels, with various races remaining true to their colour, would afford capital data for Wallace, as would the local varieties of certain molluscs. Has Wallace’s lucid collation of facts unsettled CD’s ideas regarding the persistence of species?

Bengal hybrid race of geese is very uniform in colour and as prolific as the European tame goose [see Natural selection, p. 439].

Will see what he can do for CD with regard to domestic pigeons.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Blyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 98: A104–A107
Physical description
ALS 7pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1792,” accessed on 22 February 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5