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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Ludwig Rütimeyer   3 January 1865

Dear & much respected Sir

Adding to the answer of your letter from Dec. 131 my best thanks for the highly interesting memoir, in the meantime arrived, on Lythrum,2 I must begin with lamenting that I have not been able till today to promote very much the proposed monograph about wild oxen,3 to which you have so largely contributed by sending me one of the most interesting types.4 Yes the Plates destined to that memoir are all finished since long and also a great deal of Wood-engravings and the text for the european Species. But having perhaps inconsiderately extended my purpose over the Linnean Genus Bos in general, I have much been arrested by the necessity of seeking the materials for foreign species in the different museums of the continent, and also by the unevitable consequence to compare the fossil species. Nevertheless I am as much at the work as the many incumbent other obligations permit,5 so that I hope, that before the end of the year we just began, the labour will be done.

As to the skull from Lord Tankerville, I received from you, it is indubitable, that it is the purest descendant known of the fossil Bos primigenius, be it a remnant of the extinct wild race, as I presume, or a flock grown wild (Verwildert) of a formerly tamed breed;6 certainly the flock of Lord Tankerville, the very allied Pembroke-breed and the predominant type in our lake-habitations of the stone age do not differ otherwise from the extinct primigenius than by Minor Size; yet the eminent size of the archetype has not seldom been reached by single Individuals in Seedorf, Robenhausen and other Swiss lake localities.7

I do not know the white cattle of the King of Sardinia otherwise than by the drawings given by different illustrated papers f. e. in the Field (the Country Gentlemans News Paper) Jan. 10. 1863 and elsewhere. It is a tamed type not rarely kept in Umbria, but, as Prof. D. Filippi at Turin writes me, especially bred in Val di Chiana near Arezzo (the home of the extinct Bos trochoceros.)8 Having seen no skull of that type it is difficult to judge about its affinities, but I am very much inclined to consider the so said Bos trochoceros as a mere race of Bos primigenius, to which belongs also the long horned cattle of Italy and Hungary; it seems very probable therefore, that the breed of Val di Chiana has the same origin.9

I should be very glad to know, what you think about the conclusions drawn from the facts observed in the milk-dentition of Horses and other animals, and exposed or rather hidden in my paper on fossil horses.10 I admit willingly, that the tableau or pedigree (page 86) founded on the peculiarities and affinities of the dental system is a premature essay, but I feel convinced, that the considerations exposed in 78–90 can grow fertile, and that the identity of the milk-dentition of certain species with the dentition of the full age of other species historically precursors of the former, contains hints not to be overseen. I think that it is more than an accident, that the dentition of Anoplotherium and Dichobune is preserved to-day in the milk teeth of Moschus and Tragulus, that Merychippus has in the youth the dentition of the miocene Anchitherium, in the full age that of Equus., that the diluvial Equus fossilis inherits in its young age the dentition of the miocene Hippotherium, and the recent Equus Caballus that of the Equus fossilis etc. etc. (pg. 38. 57. 74. etc. 101 etc)11

Whishing Sincerely, that you may soon fully recover from your illness12 and being, with much pleasure at your disposition as often as I can hope to serve you, | I remain, with much respect, | Dear Sir yours sincerely | L Rütimeyer

Basel 3 January 1865.

CD annotations

1.1 Adding … same origin. 3.9] crossed blue crayon
4.1 I should] after opening square bracket blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘Milk Teeth of Recent & Extinct Forms—’ blue crayon


CD’s letter to Rütimeyer has not been found.
The reference is to ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria; Rütimeyer’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for this paper (see Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix III).
Rütimeyer refers to his projected monograph on the natural history of cattle, Versuch einer natürlichen Geschichte des Rindes, eventually published in two parts (Rütimeyer 1867a and 1867b). Copies of these papers are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Rütimeyer published a preliminary summary of his research in Rütimeyer 1865, and announced the forthcoming publication of his 1867 monograph and its relationship to his previous work in Rütimeyer 1866, p. 11 n. CD’s annotated copies of Rütimeyer 1865 and 1866 are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. In January 1865, CD was revising the chapters on domestic animals for Variation (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 13, Appendix II)); cattle are discussed in Variation 1: 79–93. Rütimeyer 1861, 1865, and 1866 are cited in Variation, 1: 79–81 (see nn. 6 and 9, below). CD received Rütimeyer 1867a and 1867b too late for inclusion in Variation (letter to Ludwig Rütimeyer, 4 May [1867] (Calendar no. 5527)).
CD had arranged for a skull of one of the Chillingham cattle, an ancient breed, to be sent to Rütimeyer after reading his treatise on the animal remains found during the excavation of the Swiss lake-dwellings (Rütimeyer 1861; see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Ludwig Rütimeyer, 5 December [1861], Correspondence vol. 10, letters to Ludwig Rütimeyer, 15 [and 16] January [1862] and 11 February [1862], and Rütimeyer 1867b, p. 132). CD had long been interested in the origin and habits of the Chillingham cattle (see Notebooks, Notebook D, p. 48, and Correspondence vol. 9). See also Variation 1: 81 and 83–4.
Rütimeyer was professor of zoology and comparative anatomy at the University of Basel, Switzerland.
The Chillingham cattle were kept on the Chillingham Park estate of Charles Augustus Bennet, sixth earl of Tankerville (see Ritvo 1992). They closely resembled the fossil form, Bos primigenius, a species domesticated in Switzerland during the Neolithic period. In Variation 1: 81, CD cited Rütimeyer for the information that the Chillingham cattle were less altered from the ‘true primigenius type’ than any other known breed and described the Chillingham cattle as ‘semi-wild’ descendants of B. primigenius, though ‘much degenerated in size’; see also Variation 2: 119. Rütimeyer discussed B. primigenius and the descent of Chillingham cattle in Rütimeyer 1865, p. 54, and Rütimeyer 1867b, pp. 130–3, 146–9. A lithograph of the skull of a Chillingham bull, obtained from Lord Tankerville, appears in Rütimeyer 1867b, plate III.
For a discussion of the relationship between living and fossil races of cattle in England and Switzerland see Rütimeyer 1867b, pp. 155–7.
Rütimeyer refers to the illustration accompanying an article by Francis Trevelyan Buckland, ‘Italian cattle at the Zoological Gardens’, in the Field, 10 January 1863, pp. 28–9. The article described a white bull presented to the Zoological Society of London by Victor Emmanuel II, the king of Sardinia. Rütimeyer acknowledged the information of Filippo De Filippi, professor of zoology and director of the Museum of Zoology in Turin (DBI), and also a photograph of one of the cattle that he had received from CD in Rütimeyer 1867b, p. 143 n. In Variation 1: 83–6, CD discussed white cattle breeds in Britain, the Americas, and Africa.
Rütimeyer eventually reached a different conclusion about the relationship between the fossil forms, ‘Bos trochoceros’ and Bos primigenius; in his 1866 essay on European cattle, he claimed that ‘Bos trochoceros’ was not a distinct race, but rather the female of an early domesticated form of Bos primigenius (see Rütimeyer 1866, p. 26). CD cited Rütimeyer 1866 in his description of the fossil forms of cattle in Variation 1: 81.
The reference is to Rütimeyer’s 1863 monograph on the comparative odontography of the horse. Rütimeyer argued that similarities between the milk-teeth and adult teeth of both existing and fossil forms of horse were indicative of lines of descent. In Variation 1: 51, CD cited Rütimeyer 1863 as suggesting that horses may have descended from more than a single species. CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 718).
The first three pages indicated by Rütimeyer are marked in CD’s copy of Rütimeyer 1863 (see Marginalia 1: 718). Rütimeyer included a summary of his findings on the milk-teeth of horses in Rütimeyer 1865, pp. 17–18; the section is scored in CD’s copy of the paper (Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL). See also CD’s annotation at the top of the letter. The discussion of comparative odontography is greatly expanded in Rütimeyer 1867a.
See letter from T. H. Huxley, 1 January 1865, n. 9.


Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

DBI: Dizionario biografico degli Italiani. Edited by Alberto M. Ghisalberti et al. 92 vols. (A–Sisto IV) to date. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana. 1960–.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Notebooks: Charles Darwin’s notebooks, 1836–1844. Geology, transmutation of species, metaphysical enquiries. Transcribed and edited by Paul H. Barrett et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the British Museum (Natural History). 1987.

Ritvo, Harriet. 1992. Race, breed, and myths of origin: Chillingham cattle as ancient Britons. Representations 39: 1–22.

Rütimeyer, Ludwig. 1861. Die Fauna der Pfahlbauten in der Schweiz. Untersuchungen über die Geschichte der wilden und der Haus-Säugethiere von Mittel-Europa. Basel, Switzerland: Bahnmaier’s Buchhandlung (C. Detloff).

Rütimeyer, Ludwig. 1863. Beiträge zur Kenntniss der fossilen Pferde und zu einer vergleichenden Odontographie der Hufthiere im Allgemeinen. Basel, Switzerland: Schweighauserische Buchdruckerei.

Rütimeyer, Ludwig. 1866. Über Art und Raçe des zahmen europäischen Rindes. Archiv für Anthropologie 1: 217–50.

‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’: On the sexual relations of the three forms of Lythrum salicaria. By Charles Darwin. [Read 16 June 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 169–96. [Collected papers 2: 106–31.]

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Regrets he has not yet finished his monograph on Bos. Has examined and discusses the Bos skull from Lord Tankerville.

Would like CD’s opinion on the conclusions in LR’s paper on fossil horses.

Letter details

Letter no.
Karl Ludwig (Ludwig) Rütimeyer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 227
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4736,” accessed on 26 January 2021,

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