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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   [2–30 March 1867]1

⁠⟨⁠ 12 page⁠⟩⁠ which ⁠⟨⁠ 23 line⁠⟩⁠ do so ⁠⟨⁠ 23 line⁠⟩⁠ chanced to meet ⁠⟨⁠two words⁠⟩⁠, and his impression is that neither Chim nor Orang shew anything of the kind, the movements of their very protrusile lips being quite different from those of the human being—2 I have been writing about the yak, & bring to notice some very interesting facts. 1stly, this animal does not lie down or3 ⁠⟨⁠ 12 page⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ably to whence the probability of the lláma & alpáca having derived from the guanáco & vicuña respectively.4 You will have seen what I have said of the sheep, but I now incline more than I have there expressed myself to the opinion that the Corsican moufflon answers to the conditions required for it to be considered the true wild origin of the small short-tailed domestic sheep with crescent horns, as the old Highland and Shetland sheep, but certainly not of the various larger races with long tail & double flexure of horn, as the Dorset, &c—5

I had indeed totally forgotten the paper to which you referred me in the old Magazine of Natural History.6

You will see in my remarks on the yak some curious facts on the seasonal shedding or non-shedding of the coat in wild as compared with domestic animals of the same genus, if not species,7

Yours Sincerely, | E. Blyth

CD annotations

1.7 I now … conditions 1.9] double scored brown crayon
1.10 crescent horns,] underl brown crayon
1.11 long tail] underl brown crayon
1.11 double … Dorset, 1.12] underl brown crayon
End of letter: ‘Blyth’ blue crayon


The date range is established by the publication dates of Blyth’s first article on sheep and his article on the yak, in the 2 March 1867 and 30 March 1867 issues of Land and Water (see nn. 5 and 7, below).
CD and Blyth had discussed facial resemblances between humans and other primates, as well as their possible genealogical relationships (see letter from Edward Blyth, 19 February 1867 and nn. 11 and 12, and letter to Edward Blyth, 23 February [1867] and n. 3).
Blyth’s article on the yak in Land and Water, 30 March 1867, pp. 237–8, appeared under the heading ‘Wild types and sources of domestic animals’. Blyth wrote that the yak lies down and rises not like other ruminants but like the horse. CD mentioned the yak several times in Variation but did not refer to Blyth.
In his 30 March 1867 article in Land and Water (pp. 237–8), Blyth wrote that if the domestic yak was derived from the wild yak, then it was likely that the llama and alpaca derived, respectively, from the guanaco and vicuña. CD wrote a similar comment regarding llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicuñas in Variation 2: 208. See Nowak 1999, pp. 1072–8, for modern classification in the family Camelidae.
Blyth probably refers to his first article on sheep in Land and Water, 2 March 1867, p. 134; he published a second article on sheep in the 9 March 1867 issue, pp. 146–7, in which he emphasised the idea that the Corsican moufflon was the ancestor of small, short-tailed domestic sheep. See the letter from Edward Blyth, 24 February 1867 and n. 18, for Blyth’s similar comment on the origin of domestic sheep and for CD’s use of the information.
No letter from CD to Blyth containing such a reference has been found. Blyth himself published a number of articles in the 1830s and 1840s in the Magazine of Natural History; CD cited Blyth 1837, an article on seasonal changes in fur and feathers, a number of times in Descent 2: 183–238.
Blyth wrote that most wild ruminants shed their coats at least once a year, but that the domestic yak did not; instead, the under-growth of wool rose in ‘felted masses’ to the surface of the coat in the spring (Land and Water, 30 March 1867, pp. 237–8).


Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Nowak, Ronald M. 1999. Walker’s mammals of the world. 6th edition. 2 vols. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

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


Discussion of origin of domestic sheep races. Some comments on the yak and the wild ancestors of the llama and alpaca.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Blyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 208
Physical description
4pp inc & damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5337,” accessed on 27 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15