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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   20 November 1868

7 Princess Terrace, | Regent’s Pk,

Novr. 20/68.

Dear Mr. Darwin,

I only returned on Sunday last from my tour in the Netherlands, where I have been working a good deal, and have seen most of what was most worthy of seeing in the following round of places—Antwerp, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leyden, The Hague (visiting also Schevenling), Delft, and Rotterdam, in all of which places I made more or less considerable stay.1 I was fully occupied for a week at the great museum at Leyden, which I found, however, to be remarkably deficient in many of our common Indian species, sundry of which Schlegel has regarded as identical with his island species, in the supposition that he must have possessed examples of them.2 I have set him right on a great many points, and am now commissioned to purchase for him anything which I know that he has not got. I have not time to write much just now, but may mention that I saw a healthy living vicugna in the Amsterdam Z.G., which has now been there for two years.3 In the Rotterdam Z.G. there is an aged monkey (Macacus cynomolgus), which has lived there for 8 years, and was an old animal when it arrived. The hairs upon its face are now mostly white, and the white is fast extending. This is a new fact to me, much as I have seen of monkeys. His moustaches are remarkably long & human-like, & he has a fair amount of whisker; altogether presenting the most ludicrous caricature imaginable of H.M. the King of Prussia, by which name & title he is popularly known!4

At Amsterdam I saw an Asinus indicus, Sclater, the Indian ‘Ghor-Khur’, with a humeral stripe as well developed as in any donkey! Also a quagga as much striped as E. Burchellii.5 I have noticed a very great amount of variation in all three of the striped species. Schlegel told me that he could distinguish 17 races of Tanysiptera in which only the adult males could be distinguished!6 When at Haarlem, Dr. Winkler7 of that place desired to be kindly remembered to you. No more at present—

Yours ever sincerely | E. Blyth

Dutch sparrows & partridges quite undistinguishable from ours, so far as I can see, notwithstanding Gould and Bartlett!8

CD annotations

1.1 I only … for two years. 1.12] crossed blue crayon
1.12 In the … known! 1.18] crossed ink; ‘Forbes says he has never seen gray Hairs in Quichuas’9 added ink
1.13 Macacus cynomolgus] underl blue crayon
1.15 His … whisker; 1.16] underl blue crayon; double scored blue crayon; ‘After [1 word illeg] of R〈  〉’ added pencil
2.1 At … species. 2.4] crossed and scored blue crayon; ‘Stripes’ blue crayon
2.4 Schlegel] opening square bracket blue crayon
2.4 Schlegel … distinguished! 2.5] ‘Birdsadded blue crayon
2.5 When … present— 2.6] crossed blue crayon
Top of p. 2: ‘Keep Birds’ blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘Keep for Birds’ blue crayon
End of letter: ‘Birds’ blue crayon


‘Leyden’ is the former English spelling of Leiden. Scheveningen, a popular seaside resort, is a municipal district of The Hague.
Blyth refers to the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie, and to the museum’s director, Hermann Schlegel. For more on the ornithological collection of the museum, see Farber 1997, pp. 59–61, and Walters 2003, pp. 132–3, 145–6.
Blyth refers to the vicuña (formerly included in the genus Lama, now Vicugna vicugna) a South American mammal related to the llama.
Macacus cynomolgus is now Macaca fascicularis, the long-tailed macaque. In Descent 2: 319–20, n. 9, CD cited Blyth for the information about the long white moustaches of this monkey. The king of Prussia at the time was Wilhelm I.
Asinus indicus was described by Philip Lutley Sclater in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1862): 163; see Variation 2: 42–3 for CD’s description. It is now Equus hemionus khur, a subspecies of the Asiatic wild ass. Equus burchellii, Burchell’s zebra, is now often classified as E. quagga burchellii. The quagga, which became extinct in the wild in the 1870s, is now classified as E. quagga quagga (Groves and Ryder 2000, p. 20).
Blyth probably refers to varieties of Tanysiptera galatea (the common paradise-kingfisher), of which there are now fifteen recognised subspecies (Clements 2000). From 1859, Schlegel had sent collectors to the East Indies, particularly New Guinea, where many Tanysiptera are found (Walters 2003, p. 145).
Tiberius Cornelius Winkler.
Blyth refers to John Gould and Abraham Dee Bartlett. The references to sparrows and partridges in the Netherlands have not been identified, but Blyth probably refers to the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) and tree sparrow (P. montanus), and to the grey partridge (now Perdix perdix).
See letter from David Forbes, 26 March 1868 and n. 2, and Descent 2: 320 n. 9. The Quichua are a people native to the Andes region of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.


Clements, James F. 2000. Birds of the world: a checklist. Vista, Calif.: Ibis Publishing Company.

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

Farber, Paul Lawrence. 1997. Discovering birds. The emergence of ornithology as a scientific discipline: 1760–1850. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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

Walters, Michael. 2003. A concise history of ornithology. The lives and works of its founding figures. London: Christopher Helm.


Describes his tour of the Netherlands. Reports on some of the specimens he saw on his trip.

Discusses the coloration of hair in aged monkey

and sexual differences in bird species.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Blyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Princess Terrace, 7
Source of text
DAR 83: 149, DAR 84.1: 137
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6469,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16