The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 103 of 188

Charles Darwin to W.D. Fox.

[Down, September 5, 1843.]
Monday morning.

My dear Fox,

When I sent off the glacier paper, I was just going out and so had no time to write. I hope your friend will enjoy (and I wish you were going there with him) his tour as much as I did. It was a kind of geological novel. But your friend must have patience, for he will not get a good glacial eye for a few days. Murchison and Count Keyserling rushed through North Wales the same autumn and could see nothing except the effects of rain trickling over the rocks! I cross-examined Murchison a little, and evidently saw he had looked carefully at nothing. I feel certain about the glacier-effects in North Wales. Get up your steam, if this weather lasts, and have a ramble in Wales; its glorious scenery must do every one’s heart and body good. I wish I had energy to come to Delamere and go with you; but as you observe, you might as well ask St. Paul’s. Whenever I give myself a trip, it shall be, I think, to Scotland, to hunt for more parallel roads. My marine theory for these roads was for a time knocked on the head by Agassiz ice-work, but it is now reviving again…

Farewell,–we are getting nearly finished–almost all the workmen gone, and the gravel laying down on the walks. Ave Maria! how the money does go. There are twice as many temptations to extravagance in the country compared with London. Adios.

C. Darwin.

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down [1844?].

…I have also read the ‘Vestiges,’ (‘The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation’ was published anonymously in 1844, and is confidently believed to have been written by the late Robert Chambers. My father’s copy gives signs of having been carefully read, a long list of marked passages being pinned in at the end. One useful lesson he seems to have learned from it. He writes: “The idea of a fish passing into a reptile, monstrous. I will not specify any genealogies–much too little known at present.” He refers again to the book in a letter to Fox, February, 1845: “Have you read that strange, unphilosophical but capitally-written book, the ‘Vestiges’: it has made more talk than any work of late, and has been by some attributed to me–at which I ought to be much flattered and unflattered.”), but have been somewhat less amused at it than you appear to have been: the writing and arrangement are certainly admirable, but his geology strikes me as bad, and his zoology far worse. I should be very much obliged, if at any future or leisure time you could tell me on what you ground your doubtful belief in imagination of a mother affecting her offspring. (This refers to the case of a relative of Sir J. Hooker’s, who insisted that a mole, which appeared on one of her children, was the effect of fright upon herself on having, before the birth of the child, blotted with sepia a copy of Turner’s ‘Liber Studiorum’ that had been lent to her with special injunctions to be careful.) I have attended to the several statements scattered about, but do not believe in more than accidental coincidences. W. Hunter told my father, then in a lying-in hospital, that in many thousand cases, he had asked the mother, before her confinement, whether anything had affected her imagination, and recorded the answers; and absolutely not one case came right, though, when the child was anything remarkable, they afterwards made the cap to fit. Reproduction seems governed by such similar laws in the whole animal kingdom, that I am most loth [to believe]…

Charles Darwin to J.M. Herbert.

Down [1844 or 1845].

My dear Herbert,

I was very glad to see your handwriting and hear a bit of news about you. Though you cannot come here this autumn, I do hope you and Mrs. Herbert will come in the winter, and we will have lots of talk of old times, and lots of Beethoven.

I have little or rather nothing to say about myself; we live like clock-work, and in what most people would consider the dullest possible manner. I have of late been slaving extra hard, to the great discomfiture of wretched digestive organs, at South America, and thank all the fates, I have done three-fourths of it. Writing plain English grows with me more and more difficult, and never attainable. As for your pretending that you will read anything so dull as my pure geological descriptions, lay not such a flattering unction on my soul (On the same subject he wrote to Fitz-Roy: “I have sent my ‘South American Geology’ to Dover Street, and you will get it, no doubt, in the course of time. You do not know what you threaten when you propose to read it–it is purely geological. I said to my brother, ‘You will of course read it,’ and his answer was, ‘Upon my life, I would sooner even buy it.'”) for it is incredible. I have long discovered that geologists never read each other’s works, and that the only object in writing a book is a proof of earnestness, and that you do not form your opinions without undergoing labour of some kind. Geology is at present very oral, and what I here say is to a great extent quite true. But I am giving you a discussion as long as a chapter in the odious book itself.

I have lately been to Shrewsbury, and found my father surprisingly well and cheerful.

Believe me, my dear old friend, ever yours,
C. Darwin.

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