Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to SPENCER FULLERTON BAIRD, dated November 18, 1851.
My dear Baird
My keg of spirits came to hand some weeks since, and thy five empty kegs three days
ago, and there lie in pickle sundry fish and other things, awaiting shipment.
Yesterday brought thy brief (why write such short epistles?) note of Oct 3rd I
feared for the Egyptian fish & creeping things, in regard, that they, some
of them that is, had undergone but a short pre-pickling (vor Pökelung). I made these
words myself, both English & German) before final stowage in that old beer
cask. Also because I found by cross questioning my servant, to whom I was enforced
to commit the packing, that he had grievously misunderstood my most plain
directions, and sinfully erred in consequence. In Zum Beyspiel, there were certain
bottles of plants, as namely the fruit, flower & leaf of the Ösher, apple of
Sodom, Asclepius procera, which in Nubia groweth to a great tree and
shooteth out long branches and the fowls of the air lodge under the shadow of it; also there was a curious plant, peradventure an Euphorbia, which grows by the salt ponds, and the gazelles eat thereof, and others, cunningly preserved in spirits. These did that wicked servant utterly destroy as he confessed (under torture) by striving to extract them out of the bottles. Moreover were many bottles of scarabei, scorpions & two heads of cerastes, which I commanded him to put into the cask as they were Some he broke, and scattered the contents & I fear they are all gone to Tartarus. All the contents of the casks were from the River Nilus, or as Homer calls it Aegyptus, saving the snakes, and two of the three large lizards. The long black lizard is the and was taken on the rocks in the first cataract. The other two, large also, but which are land lizards from the mountain below Cairo. The great snake's head--a cobra--is from the same place. It is the asp a uraeus. He was brought to me alive
by certain [Psylli], but I knew I could not keep him whole, as I sent the head of him only when I left Cairo for the wilderness. I was minded to hire an extra camel and man therewith to carry such stones & the like as I should gather, but I did not know whether the S.I. would think my collections worth the $50. they would cost, & so I forbore. In the desert I saw almost no birds and of quadrupeds the gazelle & the (mountain goat) hedgehogs and hares only. But the track of the Hyaena, yea and the voice of him, were frequent. Twice the leopards were about our camp, and uttered the fearfullest roar I ever heard. Their tracks showed them to be of very great size not much, if any thing, smaller than the Bengal tiger. I forgot the Jackel, which is common. One got into our hen coop in the night and killed 45 hens with the blood of which he was so puffed up, that he couldn't get out, & we found him in the morning. I ordered him killed & prepared for you, but he escaped, treacherously let off no doubt by the Arabs, who are very reluctant to kill any animals, except for food. Many people told me the Bedouins had the greyhound figured in the Egyptian sculptures with very long legs and fox tail, but I saw
no such. The common Bedouin dog is apparently the fox-wolf-dog known as the wild dog of Cairo & Constantinople. This animal is very well characterized & if I can, I'll get you one dozen. I could have got you a hundred skeletons of camels in the Desert between Cairo & [...], if I could have transported them, but we seldom see the camel here. Nevertheless, I will try. I have a very few shell fish from the Red Sea, & the Jordan & some other trifles, which will go by the first ship & perhaps some seeds for Mr Breckenridge.
I enjoyed Egypt immensely, Arabia still more. I would have given half my kingdom to
have had you with me at the head of the Gulf of Akaba.. Such corallines, sea-
plants, and above all such gorgeous fish. Truly the world is not worthy of them.
They belong properly to Dreamland; but are they not written, yea figured, by Ehrenberg & Hemprich. The box of books is
come & contents distributed. Send the Smith. Trans. also to
[the following was written vertically on the left margin of the page beginning "Constantinople Nov 18' 1851"]
the Society of Jerusalem [text lost ] Green send me two travelling barometers. I beg you have them sent, with two portable meters also,
References in this letter:
The lowest region of the underworld in Greek mythology where only the most wicked were sent.
Christian Gottfried Ehrengberg and William Friedrich Hemprich wrote two important studies of the natural history of the Middle East: Reisen in Aegypten, Libyen, Nubien und Dongoa (Berlin: 1828) and Symbolae physiciae, 5 vols. (Berlin: 1829).