Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blyth, Edward

BLYTH, EDWARD (1810–1873), zoologist, was born in London 28 Dec. 1810. From early youth natural history absorbed him; he was up at three or four in the morning, reading, making notes, sketching bones, stuffing birds, collecting butterflies. He purchased a druggist's business at Tooting on coming of age, but it was not successful. He contributed to the 'Magazine of Natural History' from 1833, and to the 'Field Naturalist,' and undertook the Mammals, Birds, and Reptiles, in an illustrated translation of Cuvier, published in 1840, making considerable additions of his owni. Among his papers contributed to the Zoological Society is an important monograph of the genus Ovis (1840). When a small stipend for a curator of the museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal was voted by the directors of the East India Company, Blyth received the appointment, and arrived at Calcutta in September 1841. From this time forth, in addition to his museum duties, he contributed reports and memoirs on zoology, especially on birds and mammals, to almost every number of the journal of the society for twenty years. In 1849 he published his catalogue of birds in the society's museum. Its value would have been greater had it not included so much matter in the form of appendices, addenda, and further addenda. He made field excursions whenever he could,a favourite resort being Khulna, and thus he added largely to his knowledge. He contributed to the 'Indian Field,' the 'India Sporting Review' (on the 'Osteology of the Elephant,' and on the 'Feline Animals of India'), and the 'Calcutta Review ' (on the 'Birds of India'). In 1854 Blyth married; his wife, however, died in 1857. His stipend never increased; and he had to contend against much ill-health. In 1862 his health compelled his return to England, and a pension of 150l. a year was afterwards granted him. His catalogue of the mammalia in the society's museum was not published till 1803. At home Blyth's abilities and great knowledge were highly appreciated, notably by Charles Darwin, who repeatedly refers to his observations in his 'Animals and Plants under Domestication.' Many papers by him are scattered through the 'Annals of Natural History,' 'Zoological Proceedings,' 'Zoologist,' and 'Ibis.' He contributed to 'Land and Water' and the 'Field' under the nom de plume of Zoophilus: among his more elaborate papers in the 'Field' are 'Wild Animals disipersed by Human Agency' and ' On the Gruidæ or Crane Family.' This was his last effort. He died of heart disease 27 Dec. 1873. His valuable 'Catalogue of the Mammals and Birds of Burma' was edited by Drs. Anderson and Dobson and Lord Walden in 1875 in an extra number of the 'Journ. As. Soc. Bengal.' Gould describes him as 'one of the first zoologists of his time, and the founder of the study of that science in India.' His marvellous memory made him the storehouse to which many other observers had recourse. He retained through life, amid disappointments and ill-health, a warm and fresh love of nature.

Mr. Allan Hume, who knew Blyth's work well, and the difficulties under which it was done, says: ' It is impossible to overrate the extent and importance of Blyth's many-sided labours. Starting in life without one single advantage, by sheer strength of will, ability, and industry, he achieved a reputation rarely surpassed, and did an amount of sterling work such as no other single labourer in this field has ever compassed. … Neither neglect nor harshness could drive, nor wealth nor worldly advantages tempt him, from what he deemed the nobler path. Ill-paid, and subjected as he was to ceaseless humiliations, he felt that the position he held gave him opportunities for that work which was his mission, such as no other then could, and he clung to it with a single-hearted constancy nothmg short of heroic'

[Memoir by A. Grote, prefixed to Catalogue of Mammals and Birci.s of Burma, by E. Blyth, in Journ. As. Soc. Bengal, extra number, 1875; Hume's Stray Feathers, vol. ii. Calcutta, 1874, In Memoriam Ed. Blyth.]

G. T. B.