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Darwin Correspondence Project

From B. J. Placzek1    19 November 1880

Hochverehrter Herr!

Die hohe Bedeutung, die Sie in Ihrem epochalen Werke “Das Variiren u.s.w.” besonders I. cap. 6 der genauen Notirung der kleinsten Abweichungen in Structur und Gewohnheiten der Tauben beilegen,2 veranlaßt mich, Ihren genialen Scharfblick auf eine ungewöhnliche Beobachtung hinzulenken. Dieselbe betrifft eine Flugart der Tauben, wie sie meines Wissens jetzt nicht mehr vorkommt und auch in den besten Monographien über Tauben nicht erwähnt erscheint, die aber für das Gesetz der Variabilität, bei dem Umstande, als jede eigenartige Bewegungsform auch eine besondere Entwicklung der entsprechenden Muskel- und Knochenpartieen zur Folge haben muß, vom nicht geringem Belang sein mag.

In dem Buche “Bereschith-rabba” (einer Art Glossarium zur Genesis, aus dem 3ten Jahrhundert v. Chr. stammend) ist Cap. 39 eine Bemerkung zu lesen, die in englischer Übersetzung lautet: “All birds rest of flying on a tree or on a rock, while the dove, when tired of flying alternatively holds one wing at rest, swinging herself upwards with the other wing”.—3

Die Tauben haben demnach ihre Flugart seither geändert und dadurch eine für den Kampf ums Dasein ungemein vortheilhafte distincte Eigenschaft eingebüßt.—

Durch eine freundliche kurze Notiz über die erwähnte Beobachtung würden Sie sehr verbinden Ihren in aufrichtiger Verehrung | Ihnen ergebenen | Dr. B. Plačzek | (Austria) Brünn, Thalgasse, 7.

Brünn 19.11.80

[Contemporary translation]4

The high importance which you in your {   } work “The variation” &c, especially I ch VI. attack the accurate notice of the smallest variation in the structure and habits of pigeons induces me to direct your wonderful penetration to something hitherto unnoticed. It has to do with the manner of flight in pigeons, which, as far as I know, no longer occurs, & does not seem to me to be mentioned even in the best monographs on pigeons, but wh. may be of considerable importance as regards the law of variation, since every special form of Movement must be followed by a special development of the set of muscles and bones concerned in it. In the book “Bereschith raba” (a sort of glossarium on Genesis of the 3rd Century A.D) there is, in Ch. 39, a remark to the following effect: “All birds rest of {from} flying on a tree or on a rock, while the dove when tired of flying alternately holds one wing at rest, swinging herself upwards with the other wing.” Pigeons have therefore changed their mode of flight, & have thereby lost a distinct property—specially advantageous in the struggle for existence.

By a kind short notice of the above observation you would much oblige your sincere admirer | Dr. B. Plačzek | (Austria) Brünn | Thalgasse 7.

Brünn 19.11.80

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Appendix I.
CD discussed pigeons in Variation 1: 131–224 (chapters 5 and 6); most of the details of physiology and habit are in chapter 5.
Bereshit Rabbah is a commentary on the book of Genesis (Jewish encyclopedia). The passage, a gloss on Psalms 55: 6 (‘And I said: Oh, that I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away, and be at rest’), may be translated as: ‘all the other birds, when tired, rest on a rock or a tree, but when a dove is tired, she draws in one of her wings and flies on with the other’ (see Placzek 1883 and Freedman and Simon eds. 1939, p. 317.
Curly brackets in the contemporary translation represent square brackets in the ms.

Bibliography

Freedman, H. and Simon, Maurice, eds. 1939. Midrash Rabbah. 10 volumes. London: Soncino Press.

Jewish encyclopedia: The Jewish encyclopedia: a descriptive record of the history, religion, literature, and customs of the Jewish people from the earliest times to the present day. Directed by Cyrus Adler et al.; managing editor Isidore Singer. New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 1901–6.

Placzek, Baruch Jakob. 1883. On ancient observations on the flight of pigeons. [Read 1 May 1883.] Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archæology 5 (1882–3): 111–13.

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

Translation

From B. J. Placzek1    19 November 1880

Most esteemed Sir!

The great significance you attach, in your epochal work “Das Variiren u.s.w.”, in particular I chap. 6, to noting precisely the most minute deviations in the structure and habits of pigeons,2 prompts me to direct your keen perception to an unusual observation. This concerns a way in which pigeons fly which to my knowledge does not occur any more and which does not appear to be noted in any of the monographs on pigeons, but which may be of not inconsiderable importance for the law of variation in view of the fact that every particular form of movement must result in a particular development of the corresponding part of muscle and bone.

In the book “Bereshit Rabba” (a kind of glossary of Genesis of the 3d century BC) a remark can be found in Chap. 39 that in English reads as follows: “All birds rest of flying on a tree or on a rock, while the dove, when tired of flying, alternatively holds one wing at rest, swinging herself upwards with the other wing”.—3

Pigeons have since then thus changed the way they fly and thereby lost a distinct characteristic that was tremendously advantageous in the struggle for survival.—

By kindly inserting a brief note on this observation you would very much oblige your sincere admirer | Yours devoted | Dr. B. Plačzek | (Austria) Brünn, Thalgasse, 7.

Brünn 19.11.80

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original German, and a contemporary translation, see pp. 402–3.
CD discussed pigeons in Variation 1: 131–224 (chapters 5 and 6); most of the details of physiology and habit are in chapter 5.
Bereshit Rabbah is a commentary on the book of Genesis (Jewish encyclopedia). The passage, a gloss on Psalms 55: 6 (‘And I said: Oh, that I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away, and be at rest’), may be translated as: ‘all the other birds, when tired, rest on a rock or a tree, but when a dove is tired, she draws in one of her wings and flies on with the other’ (see Placzek 1883 and Freedman and Simon eds. 1939, p. 317.

Bibliography

Freedman, H. and Simon, Maurice, eds. 1939. Midrash Rabbah. 10 volumes. London: Soncino Press.

Jewish encyclopedia: The Jewish encyclopedia: a descriptive record of the history, religion, literature, and customs of the Jewish people from the earliest times to the present day. Directed by Cyrus Adler et al.; managing editor Isidore Singer. New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 1901–6.

Placzek, Baruch Jakob. 1883. On ancient observations on the flight of pigeons. [Read 1 May 1883.] Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archæology 5 (1882–3): 111–13.

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

Summary

Behaviour of pigeons is now different from that described in Beresbith Raba, a 3d century gloss on Genesis.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-12829
From
Baruch Jakob Placzek
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Brno
Source of text
DAR 174: 47
Physical description
ALS 2pp (German), trans 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12829,” accessed on 16 September 2023, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-12829.xml

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