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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Fulvio Martinelli   21 May 1872


21st, May 1872

A. Curious Accident

I had not yet reached manhood, that I strongly felt inclined to breed in pigeons; to these innocent animals I dedicated my liesure time, and the limited resources of my age. What was in childhood an amusement advancing in years, it took the shape of a particular bent of my mind, so much so that I undertook throughly to study the habits, and all what concerned these members of the feathered family. I don’t think I have decieved, or flattered myself, if I say that through assiduous studies, I have succeeded in obtaining useful, and rather important results, about these animals.

When pubblic feasts were given in Florence, in occasion of the marriage of the Royal Prince of Puidemont,1 I exhibited 90 pigeons; the product of my method. They have been judged and found rare; and fine for the gay variety of their plumage, and not less praised have been those that I gave in order that the savour of their flesh might be judged. This exebition procured me the most flattering encouragements from learned persons and the Ministry of Pubblic Instruction. Agriculture Industry and Commerce, the documents that prove this my assertion are published in my Memoria ec.2   Yielding to the invitation of Car De Birenger’s rapport commissioned by the Agriculture and Commerce Ministry3 I resolved to render pubblic the method of my own invention and give to the print my Memoria sulla non piu mia Collezione di Colombi Nostrali (Memoirs of my ex collection of National Pigeons) to this my little work I owe the laughable Curioso Accidente (Curious Accident) that I now give to my readers.

No lucrative purpose induced me to give to the pubblic my little work, so that I did not put it to sale, and except a few copies that have been most kindly accepted by several learned persons, and Academies (see Allto A)4 the whole work, I sent as a present to the Ministry of Pubblic Instruction, Agriculture, and Commerce, dividing it thus. Sixty copies to the former and 500 to the latter, asking my work should be distributed to the Veterinary Schools, and Agriculture Assemblies (Comizi Agrari) as it is in the attributions of the saed Ministry to do it; to this my request I joined the letters that I here pubblish (see Allto B.)

However trifling my Memoria ec may be yet it has excited the attention of some celebrated and learned men of our days (see Allto C.) and was with distincteon accepted by the Minister Correnti, and the imployés of Pubblic Instruction (see Allto D.) and the Ministry complies to my demand of encouragement with the sum of 250 franc. But if things went on smothly with these Communaties Mr. Castagnola’s5 unaccountable behaviour in this business desorves to be called to the bar of pubblic opinion. Having given up to whatever pretention (see Allto E) I cannot be charged that this my remonstrance is the result of disappointment for the refusal I have had; no I am urged to do it, to shou hou the advantage of the Comizi Agrari (Agriculture Assembliles) is managed; consideration that induced me to write to the Minister himself (see Allto F.)

On the 11th. March the case containing the 500 copies was envoyed by rail way with the express; previous its sending I warned Mr. Castagnola with a letter prepaye’d.

I have long, and patiently waited M Castagnola’s answer; (great undertakings must be long meditated) at last on the 29th. March the longed for answer came, and its meaning is so odd and droll that I cannot forbear giving it here with the impressions it brought me.

The afore said letter runs thus “The examplars of your book on Pigeons ec of which you give me warning with the foglio marked in margin did not reach this Ministry, But please your Lordship this is on untruth: beg your pardon, this is not exat Fy! It is not impossible for persons of your merit to make blunders, but should not, ought not to utter an untruth. No Sir your assertion is not precise, and I can prove it you, not with a mere declaration of reception, but with a regular receipt of the case dated 14the March (see Allto G) that is three days after the deliverance, and fifteen before the letter you deny. Indeed your lordship is capable of gorgeous blunders.—

The letter continues “I pray you to look for the case at the Office where you consigned it, and withdraw it if possible. But Sir you quize me! It is a common opinion to judge of others according our own actions; and who does not know the punctuality, and order that distinguishes your Lordship in the despatch of affaires. What idea would give of your admistration this piece of advice recall a marchandize sent with the express, eighteen days after having consigned it to the Office! This is a Ministerial joke that would not go neither with a Depudate of the Right sworn to approbation. But this is not a blunder it is ....” The letter follows “while this Ministry finds it of no use”   Sir, how can you say so. Do you know my book, to refuse it and stigmatize it as useless! Where grounds this your conviction! Which are your just reasons, that induce you to refuse a present; a present made not to you but to the Comizi Agrari (Agriculture Assemblies), without asking them! Where have you acquired this right, here is an instance of such a conduct! An italian adage says that to a horse given in present the mouth is not examined   If proverb shou the wisdom of Nations, they certainly do not show the wisdom of a Minister at your capt M. Castagnola. Blessed the Nation that can boast endowed with prophetic spirit its leader. Thou o Italy, thou alone hast such a prototype.

What a treasure of time spared! How much trouble avoided and above all how many useful discoveries are left unwakened in order not to mar what our grand-fathers did, That this is a blunder, you yourself must be persuaded, as you answered, to my first letter (see Allto E) with, one (see Allto F) with which you try an attempt to apologies rather endirectly, and I answered it (see Allto F) declaring to act as I presently do.

It was my mind to give to the pubblic this my writing through a journal of the most difused in Italy, but I must own M. Castagnola that I felt rather reluctant to take for myself the third page of it, destined to politics; but I did not choose to see Martinelli–Castagnola’s controversy, shine out amongst the addertisement of cosmetics, for hair, and complection and Sewing-Machines.

In concluding most Honoured Minister I pray you to be so condesending as to return me the case containing the 500 exemplars; condesention that I have already asked you with my letter 25th May (see Allto I) that I may dispose of the book just as you advise me. I even pray your Lordship to prepay this letter, and not charge me to pay them taxed as was the case with your last. Surely your autographs are precious, but after all eight sous, are eight sous.

I pass now to express the feeling of my admiration, and while I pay the tribute of my gratitude I earnestly wish, to see always at the head of my country a person that distinguishes himself for wisdom, and penetrating views, indefatigable work, posseing the spirit of prophcy, so that with his patronage will succeed in performing wonders to the benefit and progress of Science). This is what I can judge from the short intercourse we have had and has given birth to the Curioso Accidente. I think my readers that I may conclude quothing the solemn words of my early studies— Quod erat demonstrandum!!!

The Surgeon | Fulvio Martinelli | of Modena


The wedding of the prince of Piedmont, later Umberto I of Italy, and Princess Margherita di Savoia took place in 1868 (The Times, 25 May 1868, p. 10).
ec: i.e. etc. Martinelli refers to Martinelli 1872.
The report and its author have not been identified.
Allto: allegato, attached. No attachments have been found.
Stefano Castagnola.


Martinelli, Fulvio. 1872. Memoria sulla collezione di colombi nostrati. Modena: Tip. C. Vicenzi.


[MS of a short paper on pigeon breeding by an Italian doctor.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Fulvio Martinelli
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 59
Physical description
AmemS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8343,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20