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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   4 August 1855


Augst. 4th. 1855—

My dear Sir,

I have now had the pleasure of receiving yours of the 18th. June, & am gratified to learn from it that my long and desultory epistle of the 20th. April has supplied a few useful hints. By the steamer which conveys this letter, you will also receive a fine skeleton of the Bengal Jungle-cock (care of Dr Horsfield, at the India-house);1 with some printed papers, to which latter I hope yet to add a report of mine on a Zooll. collection from the Somáli country (pronounced Somárly), or African border of the Red Sea; but I fear that this will scarcely be out in time.2 The principal (or at least most interesting) novelty therein contained is a rodent genus affined to Ctenodactylus, Gray, which has heretofore stood quite isolated; but which with certain imperfectly described species which I have indicated, and my genus Pectinator, may be considered typical of a peculiarly African family, considerably analogous to the Chinchillidæ of S. America, and upon the confines of which I suspect that Petromys will be found to range naturally.— As for my taking up the subject of the domestic animals of India, I certainly do not consider myself qualified, inasmuch as for now nearly 14 years I have hardly been out of this huge overgrown capital, & lack therefore the great & needful advantages of travel and personal observation elsewhere. Calcutta is not quite India; & the man who has never been out of London or Paris is about as competent to write of the domestic breeds of all Europe, as I am of those of India while cooped up here. A few weeks back, however, I obtained the necessary leave of absence from the Asiatic Society,3 and permission (as I had hoped) from the local Govt., to join Major Phayre’s mission to the capital of Ava;4 but the Gov. General’s5 sanction was necessary, & so the matter was telegraphed to his ldship in the Nilgiris; & he sent back word that he thought the party already too numerous, & could on no account permit of any addition to it. This of course was a bitter disappointment to me; & at the time of making the application, my health was much in need of restoration: for I regularly become much debilitated towards the close of the hot weather, & fit for very little; but the cooler temperature of the rains soon sets me to rights.— Just now, for the last 2 or 3 days, the thermometer has been ranging from 79o to 80o. only, which we consider delightfully cool and pleasant; & much rain has fallen, considerably more than usual during the past July.—

Now for your queries;6 but firstly, need I remark how utterly astounded I felt to learn about Dixon!7 —1. You ask me about the trained Otters of “S India”, where the only species is Lutra nair; as docile no doubt as any of its congeners, but I never heard of its being made use of in that part of the country. Neither is the Bengal species (L. chinensis) trained hereabouts; but chiefly in the eastern part of the Bengal Sundarbáns (for notice of which district see J. D. Hooker’s work).8 I have never seen trained Otters myself; nor have I heard of their breeding in captivity (or semi-domestication, like Ferrets); but it is probable they would do so, though the species is so very common throughout Lower Bengal, and the young are so often procured, that we may, pretty safely infer that the latter furnish the supply of animals for training.—

Rabbits are tolerably numerous here, & breed freely; the stock not being kept up by importation. The natives here know nothing about their first introduction; and they have no special name for a Rabbit, as distinguished from the common Hare of Bengal & all N. India (Lepus ruficaudatus N.B. Waterhouse erroneously assigns L. nigricollis to Bengal.9 The latter is peculiar to the peninsula of India and Ceylon, whence probably introduced into Java and the Mauritius.— I have lately described a new species from Pegu.);10 one & all considering it to be that animal domesticated, and expressing surprise when you tell them otherwise. Hence it is necessary to be particular in discriminating one from the other, when you speak to a Bengáli about tame Rabbits; or he would tell you at once that they are common all over the country, meaning the indigenous Hare! They do not appear to differ from the ordinary tame Rabbit of England, as distinguished from the fancy breeds: and so far as I can learn at present, they seem confined to the vicinity of Calcutta and other ports, and are therefore probably a recent introduction by Europeans. By the way, are not the lop-eared Rabbits a variety of recent origin, unlike fancy Pigeons? How long back can you trace the former? Ditto with all tame & parti-coloured Rabbits—? The Angora breed is additionally interesting on account of its locality, as well as for its analogy with the long-haired Cat of the same country. In Bengal, I have never seen Rabbits of the huge size now commonly bred in England; & are not the largest found among the lop-eared or lob-eared?—

Canaries are not extensively bred here, and the progeny is said to be weakly. The stock would undoubtedly soon die off, were it not for the constant importations. They are daily put up for sale at the auctions here, i.e. newly imported birds chiefly (if not wholly): but at the Himalayan stations I believe that they thrive well enough. Other true Finches (as Goldfinches and Linnets), also do not prosper in this climate, nor do Blackbirds & Thrushes, or Sky Larks, when brought out from England. In the case of the Canary this is the more remarkable, as its genus or subgenus is African! But we have a common indigenous Lark, the Alauda malabarica (vel gulgula, &c), which is nearly affined to A. arvensis; and this is a permanent resident. Sparrows too (Passerinæ) are permanently resident, but the only member of the Fringillinæ (the Carpodacus erythrinus) is a cold weather visitor, as are likewise the few true Thrushes which occur here. The caged Canary does well enough during the cold season, or for some time (I think generally) at any season, when newly imported but the climate tells upon its constitution in the long run, as with ourselves. You are doubtless aware that, for the most part, the Estreldinæ represent in India & the Malay countries, exclusively in Australia, & to a great extent in Africa, the Fringillinæ of northern climes (inclusive of the Himalaya); & we have also 3 species of Ploceinæ, one of which (with a fourth) is likewise found in Java, the rest of this group being African— Mentioning the Estreldinæ reminds me of the common Lál Munia (as it is here termed), respecting which poor Strickland asked me if I could inform him of the origin of its English name Amadavat (whence the specific name amandava, auct., & the generic name Amadina, Sw.). I traced its etymology distinctly in old Fryer’s work (1698), where these little birds are stated to be brought to Sarat from “Amidavad”; meaning Ahmedabád in Guzurat, where they still abound!11 And so the name of that town has become transferred to themselves, as in the more familiar instances of Canary & Bantam! N.B. You will find “avadavats” mentioned in Sheridans ‘School for Scandal’, 1777—act. V, sc. I;12 so that at that time the name must have been familiar. To return to our lutinos! Is it clear that the domestication of the canary-bird is so recent as is popularly supposed? Analogy with the Turkey &c warrants a doubt;13 and I should deem it suspicious if the earliest notices of Canaries referred clearly to the ordinary domesticated variety, as we see it at present. Portuguese literature should assist us here; & vide Aldrovand14 & other old zooll. compilers, to whose works I have not access. Who knows but that the old Guánchis15 bred them abundantly in cages; as the domestic cream-coloured Turtle doves have certainly been reared, & the breed exclusively then kept up, from highly remote antiquity. (You will find some printed remarks of mine upon these Doves in one of my papers now forwarded.)16 The [illeg] top-knot Canaries & perhaps other sub-varieties may be recent; & these bear an interesting analogy to the crested Polish & even Frizzled (not Friesland) fowls, Jacobin & other Pigeons, if not also to the Geese & Ducks—with downy top-knots!—17

Geese. The tame here are manifest hybrids, 12 cygnoides. They have orange bill and legs (I think always, perhaps sometimes a little black-spotted); but in structure, colouring, voice, & the reduced development of the frontal knob, are undeniably of a mixed race which is continuously prolific. In the Upper Provinces of the Bengal Presidency, I have been told that all the tame Geese are pure cygnoides; but I have now instituted further and more particular inquiries. What few of pure cygnoides we see hereabouts, & which were probably brought first from China, or are the immediate descendants of such, have black bill & legs, I think always; unless the pure white breed, with orange bill & legs;—and both of these have a huge frontal knob in old males. An English tame Goose would be a curiosity here (though doubtless often to be found on board the ships); although, as I think I before told you, its original wild type, the A. cinereus, now so rare in Britain, visits us here in large flocks during the cold season.—

By the way, is not the word mule popularly understood to imply a sterile hybrid? Whence the word mula, which in latin is opposed to hinnus, as with modern notions? I cannot just now conveniently hunt up its etymology; but have an impression that it merely means mixed (the same as mestiza (now applied to the 12 bred Red Indian), or its derivative mulatto, which the Spaniards in America bestowed on their 12 bred negro children (to which mixture, in the first degree, that name seems now to be confined). Here, as you know, the human 12 breeds are popularly designated half-castes, a term which themselves abominate, while they like to be called ‘country-borns’, & the result is, that the latter is always now understood to imply an admixture of dark blood, which it necessarily does not, any more than creole— If I want to speak of the people [of] this country, I must call them “natives of India”! Indians is no longer intelligible; being transferred to the real Americans, which latter name is appropriated by the European settlers! In the days of the old navigators, all dark people out of Africa were Indians, & the natives of the Philippines still retain the designation; while even now it is sometimes hard to understand what modern writers mean by the word India. The ‘Netherlands India’ of the Dutch for instance; or Afghánistán according to J. E. Gray of the Br. Museum! Enough of this digression.

Cats. It seems to me t⁠⟨⁠ha⁠⟩⁠t we have two types here. The first much resembles our commonest wild Cat (F. chaus) in colouring; but is a much smaller and less lanky animal, with longer tail, that tapers as in the British Cat. The body markings are totally undiscernible; but the limb-markings are stronger than in F. chaus. In Bengali F. chaus, the body-markings are generally (if not always) traceable, however obscurely, & sometimes not very indistinct, being conspicuous though dully while in the young they are distinct enough; consisting of somewhat tiger-like stripes, more or less broken into spots in different individuals. In Himalayan chaus, the body markings are generally (if not always) quite obsolete; and the fur is longer & fuller (much as in the British wild cat, only more Lepus-like!), that along the middle of the back being often considerably prolonged (about 214 in. long), and forming a distinct & (in some) tolerably defined dorsal mane, though not (as with Civets) coarser than the rest. This mountain chaus is the Lynchis erythrotus, Hodgson, & since F. Jacquemontii, Is. Geoffroy; but it cannot, in my opinion, be separated as a species, being simply the chaus a little modified by a colder climate, as it seems to me. N.B. Ruppell’s figure assigned to chaus is very bad,18 & I believe is even intended for an affined species, the F. caligata. Well, comparing these chaus-like tame Cats with Rüppell’s figure of maniculata 19 (evidently taken from an ill stuffed skin), the tail tapers instead of being tufted at its extremity, & instead of merely a black extreme tip & one subterminal ring only, it has several of the latter, which blend more or less as one. The body markings (shewn in Rüppell’s figure) are wholly obsolete, but those of the limbs are stronger, there are also some distinct black spots on the belly; a white throat, and one dark band crossing the upper-part of the breast, with another less developed above it. The chest stripes are distinct; & the middle of forehead & nape are blackish, resulting from the more or less perfect confluence & blending of several longitudinal dark lines. The median line of the back tends to be blackish more or less. The ears outside are strongly rufescent, slightly tipped with black; & the whole lower-parts have often a fulvous or weak ferruginous tinge. Whiskers mostly white, and decidedly more developed than in the chaus; the ears proportionally smaller, & without the rudimentary Lynx-like tufts of chaus.— I cannot but think this type a direct representative of the aboriginal progenitors of the race; but if ever such a cat were to be met with purely wild, it would be set down as an escaped tame Cat, or descendant of such. Such a wild Cat, however, assuredly does not occur hereabouts; where F. chaus is common (& most destructive), F. viverrinus not rare, & F. bengalensis rare here, but common in the hills. On the Coromandel coast and in Ceylon, there is a small wild Cat affined to the domestic, grey with some narrow black dorsal lines, & large rufous spots on belly, the F. rubiginosa, Is. Geoff. (vide Belanger’s Voyage,20 I think). I have no specimen for reference; but both this & F. chaus interbreed occasionally with the domestic Cat, as I think I before told you; & this is in favor of my theory of the origin of the British tame Cat.

—The second type I have to mention is a grey Cat, beautifully & regularly spotted throughout, or with short transverse body-stripes, more or less broken into spots. It is remarkable, however, that the limbs have larger and fewer stripes than in the preceding race; the tail is ringed throughout, I think somewhat longer than in the other, and is slender and of uniform thickness throughout, or not tapering. Ears largely tipped with black, & with scarcely a tinge of rufous externally. Form I think more slim than in the other. Now we have a stuffed specimen from the Punjab Salt Range, of what I am assured is a genuine wild species, which, if so, would seem to be the origin of this race; & any one would pronounce it to be a very handsomely marked tame cat. The markings are rather large, somewhat as in the British wild cat, but beautifully distinct. Fur as in the tame. It remains to prove that this is a truly wild race, & constant in its colouring. Not but that some amount of variation in the body-markings may be looked for; & the extent of this in our beautiful Leopard Cat (F. bengalensis), would surprise you; but a patch of white occurring now & then would be a fatal sign, or other variation of that kind. Yet such might be produced by a tame male breeding with a wild female; this, however, would be too rare an occurrence to affect the wild race generally; unless perhaps numerous tame cats had run wild, as might happen in that often devastated region! Such are our difficulties in getting at satisfactory conclusions. Has a 12 bred wild cat ever been met with wild in Britain; in Sutherlandshire for instance, where the wild species is still abundant?— Next, we have a skin from Afghanistán (Kandahar), which also, so I am assured, is that of a truly wild race, & it looks so. This has longer fur, much as in the British Wild Cat; but the tail not so thick, distinctly tapering at tip, & marked with six or 7 narrow equidistant black rings & a slight black tip,—not a famous one, as in the British wild species. On one side of the body are 7 or 8 narrow black transverse stripes on a pale fulvescent ground; on the other side the stripes are broken and irregular. Back confusedly and indistinctly marked as in the British Wild Cat.— N.B. Looking to the shoulders more especially of our fine stuffed specimen of the latter, I think I can discern traces of the genuine tabby style of marking! I recommend you to examine further into this, to the extent of your opportunities. Also, the Afghán is probably another wild species which merges with domestication into the common tame Cat.— What ever is the corresponding species like (for such doubtless exists) in the native locality of the Angora Cat? This last interbreeds most freely with the Bengal Cat; & the result is, that we see hybrids of every grade of intermediatiary as regards length & silkiness of fur, & development of brush: many Angora Cats (here termed Persian) being brought by an annual Afghan caravan, which arrives about February, & also brings coarse woollens, dried fruits, fresh grapes (exactly like the ‘Portugal Grapes’ of the London shops), &c.; also Nightingales, here called Balbul bosta, but I now think of a distinct species from the two European nightingales, however closely affined. The typically coloured Angora Cat is grey-brown throughout, with faint streaks on the limbs and across the breast; extremely faint caudal annuli; but the skull-stripes conspicuous; forehead and nape duskyish, contrasting with albescent-greyish on the sides of the neck; ears outside uniformly of the same colour as forehead, & long white hairs on the inside, but no tendency to develope the Lynx tufts at tip! The skull I cannot distinguish from that of the Bengal Cat, but both have the molars (indeed all the teeth) conspicuously smaller than in the British Wild Cat. The Br. tame cat’s skull I have no specimen of.

—The Malayan Cats (so far as I have seen) resemble the Bengal Cat, except that the tail is almost (if not quite) constantly imperfect— And this from the M. peninsula to Timor! So also with the Manx Cat, as you of course know. Qu. Have the progenitors of these been brought from the east? What Malayan Cats I have seen have been black & white, so that I know not the typical coloration. There is a small wild Malayan Cat with very short tail, the F. planiceps, which indeed is the smallest wild Cat known to me; but this has small & rounded ears! Otherwise it might have been thought to contribute. Here we occasionally see Cats with deformed tails, as if broken in the middle; & some with (naturally) truncate tail, or reduced to a mere stump. It is curious that a bull terrier bitch which I have, & which has now had 3 litters of pups, each time gave birth to one with a very stumpy tail, having a twist at the truncated extremity; & last time she had also one with a quasi-broken tail!— What about the blue cats of Spain?21 Have you not seen them in the Spanish colonies? The European Spaniards, I may remark, are much in the habit (I mean the peasantry) of mutilating their Grimalkins, by cropping off the tail & ears! This is rather a long yarn about Puss, which I must bring to some conclusion. Yet observe that I have indicated two primal types here, which doubtless inter-breed to any extent; how these, or either, range over the country, I know not; nor what Chinese Cats are like.— But there is a frequent intermixture with the Angora race (just here) in Calcutta); & an occasional no doubt, with Cats from other countries, especially the European & Malayan races, brought by the shipping. I have seen English tabbies here, but rarely, & pains were taken to keep the females progeny pure. Just black seem rather uncommon here. White, nearly or quite pure, less so (I think), but very generally these have a coloured tail,—black, fulvous, or grey, which contrasts oddly. Of course, white enters in all proportions upon parti-coloured Cats; & not unfrequently they are white, with numerous irregular small black patches. Fulvous, streaked or unstreaked, are common enough, & these I think are generally if not always males, with tortoise-shell to correspond in the other sex. One female skin before me has streaked fulvous for base, blotched & speckled all over with black in a singular manner; but had it a white patch or two, it would pass for a tortoise-shell. The half-bred Angora Cats are of all varieties of colour.— Lastly, about the derivation from maniculata. This may be found to hold good with the tame Cats of Egypt; & if tame Cats really (& solely) originated there, it is likely enough that the intercourse which the ancient western Asiatic nations are known for certain to have held with the Egyptians, would have led to the dispersion of the Egyptian race of tame Cats probably long before they found their way north of the Mediterranean. Domestic Cats are familiarly referred to in various ancient Sanskrit writings, of 2000 years ago & upwards. But we have no certain historical facts to go upon, beyond those which relate to the comparatively late diffusion of tame cats in our own island; & I know nothing of what the ordinary Cats of Western Asia, Turkey, &c, are like, as no one (that I know of) has taken note of any peculiarities they may exhibit. All I can venture to aver is, that I do not now think that the Bengal Cats descend from maniculata, but more probably from two affined species, one of which two I perhaps have from the Alpine Punjab.

Kallij Pheasants (genus Gallophasis, Hodgson, & separable from Euplocomus). Vide Journ. As. Soc. Bengal XVII, 694, & XVIII, 817.22

Musk Duck. I am not aware that this varies except, in colour; many being white, or more or less white. They shew no aversion to water in a hot climate.

Pigeons. For wild races of the livia, see the Prince of Canino in Comptes Rendus, tome 39 (1854), p. 1106.23 Choice fancy Pigeons are here too valuable to talk of purchasing for their skins or skeletons. They are most carefully matched for breeding by the natives, as much so as in England, & with equally successful results, which is the more worthy of notice, as a native of this country has not the least idea of so breeding horses, cattle, &c, which are left to propagate anyhow! I feel convinced (or at least consider it as most highly probable) that fancy Pigeons have been reared in India (and probably Chaldæa, &c) from very highly remote antiquity, and that the various breeds were introduced from Asia into Europe, probably by the Greeks & especially by the Romans. I think the same of falconry, which is an ancient & tolerably universal sport in Asia; but (perhaps, I ask,) not much known in Europe before the Crusades? There are many Sanskrit words now translated Pigeon, which I suspect refer to different breeds. In my article on the Indian Columbidæ (which is copied into the Ann. Mag. N. H. XIX, 103, A.D. 1847),24 the names given from the Ayen Akbarri are Persian; The date of this work is early in the 17th. Century of our era.25 & I now know that the name Kaimri (or Comerei) there quoted refers to the domesticated race of turtle-doves.— I mean to investigate the question of the Sanskrit names, which are sure to be descriptive, analogous to Pouter, Fantail, &c, & so to indicate such breeds if they be really intended. N.B. I have been trying in vain to come to such interpretation; but consult Wilson26 or some other good Sanscrit scholar. Search also for Egyptian, Assyrian, & Etruscan representations. I am not aware that fancy pigeons are depicted in any known Egyptian monument; nor that figures of the sort have chanced to turn up among the Assyrian remains. But considering how well the Egyptian artists hit off the character of various animals (as Vultures, Hawks, Ibises, &c &c), there would be no mistaking their figures of Pouters and Fantails! However, remember that they never figured either the domestic fowl, or the Camel; & it may be remarked that their Geese are the European domestic Goose, the Chinese cygnoides appearing to be unknown to them; though they represent both the humped & humpless domestic cattle! The fowl may have been an abomination unto the Egyptians, as it is to the very analogous priest- & caste-ridden Hindus to this day; but the Pigeon is a prime favourite of the latter, and is here more fancied by Hindus than Musalmáns, though the latter must necessarily be the fanciers in Baghdad, Bussora, & [other Muhámmedan] cities now celebrated for their breeds of Pigeons. In Mesopotamia & its vicinity, it is very probable that the taste has descended from their Chaldæan predecessors; & you might learn from “the Honble. Member for Nineveh”27 whether at least he observed anything of the kind among the Yezidis or other supposed descendants of the old Assyrians.28 How too with the Etruscans? I am not aware that the Indian Parsis patronize the fancy. From enquiries since made, I suspect not. How long has Baily of Mount St29 imported Fantails from Calcutta? Possibly from reading my account of them! The huge Suraya Pigeon is imported here in the Arab ships from Bussora! I must investigate more before I venture to commit myself on the general subject of Indian fancy Pigeons; for I believe there is much to be learned about them, & I am not favorably situated for prosecuting the enquiry.

So much for your queries, for the present at least: You will be interested to learn that I have lately recd. from Sir J. Brooke30 2 nearly perfect skeletons of the Mias Rambi Orang-utan,—adult female & subadult male; and that this species (and not the Mias Pappan) proves to be the giant of the group. Five (!) more of these large skeletons are now en route from the same quarter; and our friend the Raja promises more yet, illustrative of this Mias Kassar, or Morio of Owen.31 So that I may now reckon upon the possession of ample data for satisfactorily determining the several species of true Orang-utan.32 Three of them may be considered certain; the fourth (my P. Owenii) needing the confirmation of additional specimens. Well, three if not four Orangs, & 3 Chimpanzees! A fact not without interest in its analogical bearing on the vexed question of the specific unity or distinctness of certain human races, which the philologists seem determined to resolve in favor of unity, though not (as yet) completely to my satisfaction.33 I have a vague notion that I treated upon this subject in my former letter, but n’importe. The subject is one of the utmost interest, & falls within the sphere of our present enquiries. One most important & fundamental fact is, that Man (zoologically considered) is distinctly of the Old World or catarrhine type, as opposed to the New World or Platyrrhine type (with constantly 3 false molars, &c &c); this holding true with fossil as well as existing species, & quite negating the probability of an aboriginally American race or species of Homo. Having thus circumscribed our genus within the limits of the major continent, can Zooll. probabilities carry us further? I think so! Surely naked & untutored man & woman are externally organized in direct reference to a permanently hot climate; the scalp of hair being clearly designed as a protection of the brain from the sun; & this would limit them to Africa or S.E. Asia, or both,—& possibly one or more species in other continents; supposing that the grand divisions of the dry land have not materially altered since the human creation, or, if anywhere, probably to the greatest extent in the area now occupied by the great Asiatic archipilago, or land of the true Papuans; who, there is every reason to infer, were formerly distributed very widely over S. Asia. Without predating our race back into the later tertiaries, I am still of opinion that it is very much more ancient than is generally supposed. (See especially Logan’s papers and speculations in the ‘Journal of the E. archipelago—’).34 I am much disposed to credit the Papuan or Negrito with particularly high and uncorrupted lineage, above all other known Asiatics. And there are certainly African wild homines of the woods, inhabitants of the little known forest-clad mountains of the interior, in comparison with whom the Gallas are civilized beings; but we know little enough about the former, far too little to base an opinion upon in their case. Still, I think we have run mankind home to the tropical regions of the old world, probably (so I think) to both Asia & Africa (the regions of the Orang & Chimpanzee respectively, which are the two most nearly affined genera); and it seems to me that specifical distinctions are more likely to be [ truly] detected among the quasi-primitive races referred to, than among the infinitely commingled & variously modified races which are more or less civilised (i.e. domesticated); while among these latter, the next grand point of interest is to trace the stages & phases of development, upon emerging from the primitive forest life.— How is it that most of the Papuans, with the Bushmen & Earthmen of S. Africa & others, are so very diminutive? I am far from being satisfied that insufficiency of nutritional food is the cause of this.

I have neither time nor space left now, or I would communicate some ideas respecting Zooll. regions & their subdivisions; though perhaps a regard for your patience should hint me to forbear! From your writings, however, I cannot but know your special tastes & predilictions!— You probably are not aware that I labour under very great disadvantages here; 1stly. from insufficient pay to live with decent comfort in this most expensive country. —2dly., want of books, —3d. want of assistance, having only one illiterate stuffer to help me in anything,—& 4thly. want of space, the museum being so excessively overcrowded now. The first ensures no end of pecuniary difficulties & botheration, which distract my attention very much and unavoidably from my official duties, & thus has prevented me from accomplishing much that I should have done, could I have given my undivided attention to my duties; to say nought of the chronic state of discontent, which it ensures. There is scarcely a man here, with whom I choose to hold companionship, but receives from at least twice to 12 times per mensus what I receive; & after 14 years service, I have neither bettered my condition, nor have prospect of a pension to retire upon, after any amount of service! So do not be surprised if I quit this abruptly for something more lucrative as the only chance I have of revisiting Europe.

Yours truly | E Blyth

CD annotations

8.49 specimen of.] before ‘/’ added pencil
9.1 —The Malayan] after ‘/’ added pencil
10.1 Kallij] after ‘[’ added pencil


Thomas Horsfield was keeper of the East India Company’s museum in Leadenhall Street, London, 1820–59. The jungle fowl skeleton has been identified in the collections of the Natural History Museum Tring, donated by CD in 1867 (NHMUK 1868.2.19.59).
Blyth 1855b, which was not sent by Blyth until 8 October 1855 (letter from Edward Blyth, 8 October 1855). There is an annotated offprint of this paper in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Blyth served as curator of the museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta.
Arthur Purves Phayre was commissioner of Pegu in Lower Burma. Ava was the ancient capital of Burma but the name had become synonymous with Burma to the British. The purpose of the mission led by Phayre was to request the Burmese king to sign a treaty formally recognising the annexation of the province of Pegu by the British in 1852. The mission included diplomats, a geological surveyor, an artist, a photographer, and an interpreter in order to gather a wide range of information about Upper Burma, hitherto almost closed to Europeans (Yule 1968, pp. vii–viii).
James Andrew Broun Ramsay, Marquis of Dalhousie, was governor-general of India.
CD’s questions can be ascertained from the pencil notes he made (and later heavily crossed in pencil) on his abstract of Blyth’s letter of 21 April (DAR 203): Cormorant Otters do they breed those that are [‘used’ del]. trained Canary birds bred. Prolifickness of Rabbits. ————— of Races What a memory you have Will acknowledge everything I presume you think Indian & English essentially the same (Cats essentially same breed in India.)—? (You quoted by Gærtner.) Pigeons [‘Dixon’ del]— Cd. you not [slip up] some Delhi man.— Selection of Breeds. Skeletons. Fan tails. Calcutta— Range of C. livia.— C. intermedia. sometime speckled not barred; does this stagger you about affinities.— Tame geese of *India much of [interl] A cygnoides in their composition. Your opinion on origin of Breeds I am particularly glad to have & quote— (Musk-Duck now varying.) Kallij Pheasant interbreeding in wild state. Peacocks. [added ink] CD’s note ‘(You quoted by Gærtner)’ refers to Gärtner 1849, p. 501, where the German translation (Neue Notizen aus dem Gebiete der Natur- und Heilkunde 2 (1837): 200) of Blyth 1837a, p. 136, is referred to. CD’s copy of the Magazine of Natural History in which Blyth 1837a appeared is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The article is heavily annotated.
Probably a reference to whatever it was that made CD consider Edmund Saul Dixon an ‘excommunicated wretch’ (see letter to W. D. Fox, 27 March [1855]) and which possibly led to Dixon’s use of the pseudonym Eugene Sebastian Delamer, under which he published Pigeons and rabbits, a shilling treatise on the practical aspects of rearing these animals, in 1854 (Delamer 1854). That Blyth would have been ‘utterly astounded’ by this may have been because Dixon had stated in E. S. Dixon 1848, p. ix: ‘It is possible that any one claiming to be considered as an educated gentleman, may be thought to have done a bold thing in publishing a book on Poultry, and giving his real name on the title page. Moubray, who has written perhaps the best modern treatise on the subject, only ventured to meet the public criticism under the shelter of an assumed title.’ CD scored this passage in his copy of E. S. Dixon 1848 (Darwin Library–CUL). Delamer 1854 is also in the Darwin Library–CUL and CD wrote ‘Mr Dixon’ under E. S. Delamer on the paper cover. The book was annotated by CD, and he reproduced the illustration of the half-lop rabbit (Delamer 1854, opposite p. 135) in Variation 1: 108.
J. D. Hooker 1854a, 2: 260–1, 354–6.
Blyth 1855c, p. 471. There is an offprint of this paper in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Fryer 1698, p. 116: ‘From Amidavad small Birds, who, besides that they are spotted with White and Red no bigger than Measles, the principal Chorister beginning, the rest in Consort, Fifty in a Cage, make an admirable Chorus.’
Sheridan 1780, Act V scene 1: ‘I have indeed received some trifling presents from him, such as shawls, avadavats, and Indian crackers’.
See letter from Edward Blyth, 21 April 1855, in which he commented that the turkey is ‘not … a bird recently domesticated by civilized man’.
Ulisse Aldrovandi, professor of natural history at Bologna University, had issued the most famous and extensive natural history compilation of the seventeenth century, of which three volumes comprised the ornithology (Aldrovandi 1599–1603). CD recorded reading this work on 7 March 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 16).
The original inhabitants of the Canary Islands.
Blyth 1855a, p. 262 n.: ‘the cream-colour has a decided look of domesticity, and is unlikely to have been the original hue.’ There is an offprint of this paper in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL, which was annotated by CD.
In his abstract of Blyth’s letter (DAR 203), CD here commented: ‘N.B how curious this tendency to top-knot in fowls, Ducks, even Pigeons’.
Rüppell 1826–8, pt 1, tab. 4.
Rüppell 1826–8, pt 1, tab. 1.
Bélanger 1834, pp. 140–4.
In his abstract (DAR 203), CD noted: ‘Ask, “what about the blue cats of Spain?’ For Blyth’s reply, see notes from Edward Blyth, 7 September [1855].
Hutton 1848 and Blyth 1849b. In his abstract (DAR 203) following these references, CD later added in ink: ‘Probably crossing mentioned’. The pages given in the letter refer to the cross-breeding of the four races of Kallij pheasants.
Blyth 1847a. CD’s copy of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History in which this paper appeared is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The paper was extensively annotated by CD.
In the manuscript, this sentence was written in the margin with a line linking it to ‘Ayen Akbarri’. CD wrote down this sentence in his copy of Blyth 1847a, p. 104 (see n. 24, above) as well as noting: ‘Blyth says the names are Persian.’ (Darwin Library–CUL). The English translation of the Ayeen Akbery (Gladwin trans. 1783–6) is referred to by CD in Variation.
Horace Hayman Wilson, professor of Sanskrit at Oxford and director of the Royal Asiatic Society in London, had published a Sanskrit-English dictionary in 1819.
A reference to Austen Henry Layard, who had begun excavating what he believed to be the ruins of Nineveh in 1845. In 1849 he was appointed attaché to the British embassy in Constantinople and superintended the excavations at Nineveh. He returned to England in 1851 and served as Liberal M.P. for Aylesbury, 1852–7.
Layard had studied the peoples of the area and published Nineveh and its remains: with an account of a visit to the Chaldean Christians of Kurdistan, and the Yezidis, or devil-worshippers (A. H. Layard 1849a).
John Baily of Mount Street, London, was a dealer in fancy pigeons. CD obtained ‘valuable specimens’ from Baily (Variation 1: 132 n. 2).
James Brooke, rajah of Saráwak.
Blyth 1855c and 1855d. There are offprints of both these articles, annotated by CD, in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia was edited by James Richardson Logan, and the first nine volumes (1847–55) contain many ethnological papers by Logan.


Bélanger, Charles. 1834. Voyage aux Indes-Orientales: Zoologie. Paris.

Bonaparte, Charles Lucien. 1854. Coup d’œil sur les pigeons (troisième partie). Comptes Rendus Hebdomaires des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences 39: 1102–12.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Delamer, Eugene Sebastian [Edmund Saul Dixon]. 1854. Pigeons and rabbits, in their wild, domestic, & captive states. London: G. Routledge.

Dixon, Edmund Saul. 1848. Ornamental and domestic poultry: their history and management. London: Office of the “Gardeners’ Chronicle”.

Fryer, John. 1698. A new account of East-India and Persia, in eight letters. Being nine years travels, begun 1672, and finished 1681. London. Reprint edited by W. Crooke. 2 vols. London: Hakluyt Society. 1909–12. [Vols. 5,6]

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1849. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Bastarderzeugung im Pflanzenreich. Mit Hinweisung auf die ähnlichen Erscheinungen im Thierreiche, ganz umgearbeitete und sehr vermehrte Ausgabe der von der Königlich holländischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

Hutton, Thomas. 1848. Notes on the nidification of Indian birds. (Communicated by E. Blyth, Esq.) Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal n.s. 17, pt 2: 3–13, 681–96.

Owen, Richard. 1836. On a new orang (Simia morio). Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London pt 4: 91–6.

Sheridan, Richard Brinsley. 1780. The school for scandal. Dublin. Facsimile reprint. Menston, England: The Scolar Press. 1969.

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

Waterhouse, George Robert. 1846–8. A natural history of the Mammalia. 2 vols. London: H. Baillière.

Yule, Henry. 1968. A narrative of the mission to the court of Ava in 1855 together with The journal of Arthur Phayre envoy to the court of Ava. With an introduction by Hugh Tinker. Oxford in Asia Historical Reprints. Kuala Lumpur, London, New York: Oxford University Press.


Sends a skeleton of a Bengal jungle cock.

Has never heard of trained otters breeding in captivity.

Introduced domestic rabbits are confined to the ports of India.

Canaries and other tame finches and thrushes brought into India do not breed well.

Origin of the domestic canary. Tendency of domesticated birds to produce "top-knot" varieties.

The tame geese of lower Bengal are hybrids; those of upper Bengal are said to be pure Anser cygnoides.

Wild Anser cinereus occur in flocks in the cold season.

Discusses at length different breeds of domestic cats and possible wild progenitors. Wild and domestic cats occasionally interbreed. The Angora variety breeds freely with the common Bengal cat and all stages of intermediates can be found.

Believes pigeons have been bred in India since remote antiquity.

Discusses whether mankind is divided into races or distinct species.

[CD’s notes are an abstract of this letter.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Blyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 98: A69–A78
Physical description
ALS 20pp †, CD note 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1735,” accessed on 21 February 2024,

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