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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Arthur Russell   19 May 1873

Athenæum Club | Pall Mall

19 May | 1873

Dear Mr. Darwin,

I venture to send you the following note for a future edition of your “animals under domestication” Vol. II p. 236 you say that “distinct races of carp have not been formed &c”1

In Germany where carp ponds exist on most large estates & many books have been written on the management of fish ponds, they cultivate a very distinct & constant variety of carp which has been made into a species (Cyprinus Rex cyprinorum C. macrolepidotus &c) & which fetches a higher price in the market & is more valued for the table than the Common carp— the Germans call it Spiegelkarpfe   You may see a figure of it in Bloch.2 In this variety the scales have nearly disappeared, the fish is covered with a leathery skin & the few scales that persist along the dorsal line and on the sides of the fish attain a large development like half crown pieces. Occasionally the scales are wanting entirely & then the fish is called: leather-carp (C. nudus, C. coriaceus) Cyprinus Alepidotus) Lederkarpfen in German.3 Great care is taken to prevent them mixing with the common scaly carp. I brought 32 small Spiegelcarp living from Berlin— they are now in a pond by themselves at Woburn Abbey, Beds4

believe me truly yours | Arthur Russell.

CD annotations

2.3 Cyprinus Rex cyprinorum] underl pencil


In Variation 2: 236, CD had used the carp as an example of a highly variable species from which distinct races had not been produced owing to the difficulty of selecting slight variations when the fish were in their natural habitat.
Cyprinus rexcyprinorum was illustrated in Marcus Elieser Bloch’s monograph of the fishes of Germany (Bloch 1783–5, 1: plate 17). Cyprinus macrolepidotus and C. rexcyprinorum are synonyms of Cyprinus carpio carpio. In Variation 2d ed., 2: 222, CD cited Russell for the information that one well-marked race of carp, the Spiegel-carpe, had been produced by selection in Germany.
Cyprinus coriaceus, C. alepidotus, and C. nudus are synonyms of C. carpio carpio.
Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, is the home of the dukes of Bedford; Russell’s brother Hastings was the ninth duke.


Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.

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


In Variation CD claims there are no distinct races of carp, but AR says that in Germany a peculiar and constant variety of carp has been bred.

Letter details

Letter no.
Arthur John Edward (Arthur) Russell, Lord Arthur Russell
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Athenaeum Club
Source of text
DAR 176: 226
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8915,” accessed on 18 September 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21