Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to SPENCER FULLERTON BAIRD, dated September 25, 1853.
I put Sept 25, which is postday, at the head of this, in order to give you an opportunity of bragging of 'fresh dates from the Levant,' but in fact I write , namely Saturday, so as not to break the Sabbath N.B. This pun is mine. Don't blame me because I am going to use it on the head of a chapter in my 'book.' Yours of July 2' was received in due time, & I hear a box has just arrived, which I conjecture to be from the Smithsonian. The contents will be duly distributed. brings me news of my decease, but the official bowstring, as we say out here in Turkey, has not been yet applied. I kiss the firman, and put it to my forehead. Tis the will of our Lord the Padishah. The Democracy is great. [Arabic script]! Whether I shall return to Greece to finish what I there began, or quit forthwith altogether, is known to Allah and Secretary Marcy, but not to me.
I am glad you have got through your 'tons of packages' for this year; I wish for all
coming ones. Truly I think your cerebral cavity will come to assume the
shape of a packing box, and the contents will be chiefly book-binder's cuttings. Why don't you be diplomat like me travel abroad, and see wild cattle?
I am afraid I have not written you since I left Athens, where I spent two months,
May-June. Greece, known to ancient geographers by the name of Grecia mendax, is a
poor country as the north shore of the Mediterranean mostly inhabited by Graeculi
esurientes, now by vermin and Bulgarians. We came from there in a corretta, whose
captain, Goldsborough, goes to take charge of the
naval school at Annapolis. I have spoken of you to him, & you will like him.
On our passage, we saw & heard things new to me, as namely first, whales, at
the Northern outlet of the Doro passage, a beast, which I thought had not been seen
in the Mediterranean since Jonah's time in spite of Homer's , but which I hear is
not uncommon. Secondly, on the 28'- (I believe of June, being then 90 sea miles from
Beshika bay, Captain Goldsborough heard the morning guns from the fleets stationed
there. At noon, we were 78 sea miles distant, and a salute fired in honour of the
Queen's birthday, by the British Admiral was plainly heard, & the guns could
be easily counted, & at sunset, when not much nearer, we heard the evening
guns. Thirdly, at the Dardanelles, we encountered the clouds of locusts which have
done so much damage this year in Asia Minor. They are exactly like some of our
common grasshhoppers, not above an
inch & a quarter, & at most an inch & a half long, & of a red colour. They flew very high in crossing the Dardanelles, & I took them at first for thistle, or some other winged seeds, but afterwards many fell on deck. Two more facts, & I think I shall have given you as much Natural History c far as good for one dose. A few days since a friend saw a seal in the Bospherous at Kundilli point, five or six miles from Constantinople, & I learn that several have been seen at the same place. Further, the statement in some books that the swordfish is no longer caught in this straight, is a fable. I have eaten many a collop of them, seen them jump out of the water, and certain days since beheld seven-all ugly looking customers-in on caique. There have been divers alarms here of massacres c, but we have slept quietly though some of our neighbours have been sadly frightened, and many dream continually of yataghans and the like. One of my canvasses shot a Christian last Sunday, but this being a mere private affair, it is not thought worth noticing.
I hope sincerely that government will establish a National museum. I don't see how
the Smithsonian can take care of all the collections it is making without government
aid. I think it would be better to give the money & put the whole in charge
of the smithsonian, than to get up a separtely organiz
I am glad you have so much money in your hands and I advise you to run always with it
& travel eastwards you'll do more for science in that way than by packing of
boxes, and writing '1060 letters in six months and fifteen that evening.' Even
, with my surprising abilities, can't write 1060 letters in
six months, and if so what drivelling be! Dr Peters, in whose behalf I write Dr Bache by this mail, tells me about his brother
who travelled Eastern Africa, and is now publishing his travels, describes not less
than new quadrupeds. Think of that and burst with envy. If you would
come out here, perhaps you would find the , whose skins a Scythian tribe deal in, if
we may believe Herodotus. How would sound,
Tetragonoprosopion Bairdibus, or that be hard Quadratocaput Spencerium!
My friend Dr Sandwith has discovered the
existence (and proved it by the horns now hung on a peg in the British Museum), of
an enormous stag, which, judge by his antlers, is the largest of all deer. He
dwelleth in the mountains west of Lake Van. Also he positively avers that there is a
partridge in the Kurdish mountains as large as a turkey. The Turks call it
Our-kaklik,, wherein notice the resemblance to the German Auer (Ur) Hahn; also get
Miss Fox to ask the ghost whether Kaklik be not allied
to cackle, cock a doodle doo, and kikeriki?
[The following appears on top of page beginning "Constantinople September 25- 53"]
Mary is a precious vessel. I rejoice in her. She wield a golden pen. If I could command her she should write 2120 letters in six months. I thank you in behalf of the Museo Civico people at Milan. truly the hearts of them will be lifted up. Thine truly
G P Marsh
References in this letter:
Democratic senator and New York governor, William Learned Marcy (1786-1857) was Secretary of War (1845-1849) under Polk and served as Secretary of State from 1853 to 1857 in Franklin Pierce's administration.
Captain Louis M. Goldsborough was assigned to escort Marsh between Turkey and Greece during Marsh's appointment as U.S. Minister to Turkey. He was an admiral in the Civil War.
Danish-born Christian Henry Frederick Peters (1813-1890) was a member of a privately sponsored survey of Mt. Etna and director of a government sponsored survey of Sicily. In 1854 he joined the U.S. Coast Survey.
The geophysicist Alexander Dallas Bache (1806-1867) served as Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey from 1843 to 1867 and was one of the influential members of the Smithsonian Board of Regents from 1846 through the 1859 term.
The Greek historian, Herodotus (484?-425? BC) wrote a History based, in part, on his extensive travels. It is considered to be the first secular historical narrative in Western culture.
Humphrey Sandwith was the British Embassy physician in Constantinople during Marsh's stay as United States Minister.