Confucius ranges rabbits among animals worthy to be sacrificed to the gods, and, as he prescribes their multiplication, they were probably at this early period domesticated in China. They are mentioned by several of the classical writers. In 1631 Gervaise Markham writes, "You shall not, as in other cattell, looke to their shape, but to their richnesse, onely elect your buckes, the largest and goodliest conies you can get; and for the richnesse of the skin, that is accounted the richest which hath the equallest mixture of blacke and white haire together, yet the blacke rather shadowing the white; the furre should be thicke, deepe, smooth, and shining;...they are of body much fatter and larger, and, when another skin is worth two or three pence, they are worth two shillings." From this full description we see that silver-grey rabbits existed in England at this period; and what is far more important, we see that the breeding or selection of rabbits was then carefully attended to. Aldrovandi, in 1637, describes, on the authority of several old writers (as Scaliger, in 1557), rabbits of various colours, some "like a hare," and he adds that P. Valerianus (who died a very old man in 1558) saw at Verona rabbits four times bigger than ours. (4/2. U. Aldrovandi 'De Quadrupedibus digitatis' 1637 page 383. For Confucius and G. Markham see a writer who has studied the subject in 'Cottage Gardener' January 22, 1861 page 250.)
From the fact of the rabbit having been domesticated at an ancient period, we must look to the northern hemisphere of the Old World, and to the warmer temperate regions alone, for the aboriginal parent-form; for the rabbit cannot live without protection in countries as cold as Sweden, and, though it has run wild in the tropical island of Jamaica, it has never greatly multiplied there. It now exists, and has long existed, in the warmer temperate parts of Europe, for fossil remains have been found in several countries. (4/3. Owen 'British Fossil Mammals' page 212.) The domestic rabbit readily becomes feral in these same countries, and when variously coloured kinds are turned out they generally revert to the ordinary grey colour. (4/4. Bechstein 'Naturgesch. Deutschlands' 1801 b. 1 page 1133. I have received similar accounts with respect to England and Scotland.) Wild rabbits, if taken young, can be domesticated, though the process is generally very troublesome. (4/5. 'Pigeons and Rabbits' by E.S. Delamer 1854 page 133. Sir J. Sebright 'Observations on Instinct' 1836 page 10) speaks most strongly on the difficulty. But this difficulty is not invariable, as I have received two accounts of perfect success in taming and breeding from the wild rabbit. See also Dr. P. Broca in 'Journal de la Physiologie' tome 2 page 368.) The various domestic races are often crossed, and are believed to be quite fertile together, and a perfect gradation can be shown to exist from the largest domestic kinds, having enormously developed ears, to the common wild kind. The parent-form must have been a burrowing animal, a habit not common, as far as I can discover, to any other species in the large genus Lepus. Only one wild species is known with certainty to exist in Europe; but the rabbit (if it be a true rabbit) from Mount Sinai, and likewise that from Algeria, present slight differences; and these forms have been considered by some authors as specifically distinct. (4/6. Gervais 'Hist. Nat. des Mammiferes' tome 1 page 292.) But such slight differences would aid us little in explaining the more considerable differences characteristic of the several domestic races. If the latter are the descendants of two or more closely allied species, these, with the exception of the common rabbit, have been exterminated in a wild state; and this is very improbable, seeing with what pertinacity this animal holds its ground. From these several reasons we may infer with safety that all the domestic breeds are the descendants of the common wild species. But from what we hear of the marvellous success in France in rearing hybrids between the hare and rabbit (4/7.