The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 111 of 188

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker. (Parts of two letters.)

Down [October, 1847].

I congratulate you heartily on your arrangements being completed, with some prospect for the future. It will be a noble voyage and journey, but I wish it was over, I shall miss you selfishly and all ways to a dreadful extent …I am in great perplexity how we are to meet…I can well understand how dreadfully busy you must be. If you cannot come here, you must let me come to you for a night; for I must have one more chat and one more quarrel with you over the coal.

By the way, I endeavoured to stir up Lyell (who has been staying here some days with me) to theorise on the coal: his oolitic upright Equisetums are dreadful for my submarine flora. I should die much easier if some one would solve me the coal question. I sometimes think it could not have been formed at all. Old Sir Anthony Carlisle once said to me gravely, that he supposed Megatherium and such cattle were just sent down from heaven to see whether the earth would support them; and I suppose the coal was rained down to puzzle mortals. You must work the coal well in India.

Ever yours,
C. Darwin.

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

[November 6th, 1847.]

My dear Hooker,

I have just received your note with sincere grief: there is no help for it. I shall always look at your intention of coming here, under such circumstances, as the greatest proof of friendship I ever received from mortal man. My conscience would have upbraided me in not having come to you on Thursday, but, as it turned out, I could not, for I was quite unable to leave Shrewsbury before that day, and I reached home only last night, much knocked up. Without I hear to-morrow (which is hardly possible), and if I am feeling pretty well, I will drive over to Kew on Monday morning, just to say farewell. I will stay only an hour…

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

[November, 1847.]

My dear Hooker,

I am very unwell, and incapable of doing anything. I do hope I have not inconvenienced you. I was so unwell all yesterday, that I was rejoicing you were not here; for it would have been a bitter mortification to me to have had you here and not enjoyed your last day. I shall not now see you. Farewell, and God bless you.

Your affectionate friend,
C. Darwin.

I will write to you in India.

[In 1847 appeared a paper by Mr. D. Milne (Now Mr. Milne Home. The essay was published in Transactions of the Edinburgh Royal Society, vol. xvi.), in which my father’s Glen Roy work is criticised, and which is referred to in the following characteristic extract from a letter to Sir J. Hooker:] “I have been bad enough for these few last days, having had to think and write too much about Glen Roy…Mr. Milne having attacked my theory, which made me horribly sick.” I have not been able to find any published reply to Mr. Milne, so that I imagine the “writing” mentioned was confined to letters. Mr. Milne’s paper was not destructive to the Glen Roy paper, and this my father recognises in the following extract from a letter to Lyell (March, 1847). The reference to Chambers is explained by the fact that he accompanied Mr. Milne in his visit to Glen Roy. “I got R. Chambers to give me a sketch of Milne’s Glen Roy views, and I have re-read my paper, and am, now that I have heard what is to be said, not even staggered. It is provoking and humiliating to find that Chambers not only had not read with any care my paper on this subject, or even looked at the coloured map, so that the new shelf described by me had not been searched for, and my arguments and facts of detail not in the least attended to. I entirely gave up the ghost, and was quite chicken-hearted at the Geological Society, till you reassured and reminded me of the main facts in the whole case.”

The two following letters to Lyell, though of later date (June, 1848), bear on the same subject:–

“I was at the evening meeting [of the Geological Society], but did not get within hail of you. What a fool (though I must say a very amusing one) — did make of himself. Your speech was refreshing after it, and was well characterized by Fox (my cousin) in three words–‘What a contrast!’ That struck me as a capital speculation about the Wealden Continent going down. I did not hear what you settled at the Council; I was quite wearied out and bewildered. I find Smith, of Jordan Hill, has a much worse opinion of R. Chambers’s book than even I have. Chambers has piqued me a little (‘Ancient Sea Margins, 1848.’ The words quoted by my father should be “the mobility of the land was an ascendant idea.”); he says I ‘propound’ and ‘profess my belief’ that Glen Roy is marine, and that the idea was accepted because the ‘mobility of the land was the ascendant idea of the day.’ He adds some very faint upper lines in Glen Spean (seen, by the way, by Agassiz), and has shown that Milne and Kemp are right in there being horizontal aqueous markings (not at coincident levels with those of Glen Roy) in other parts of Scotland at great heights, and he adds several other cases. This is the whole of his addition to the data. He not only takes my line of argument from the buttresses and terraces below the lower shelf and some other arguments (without acknowledgment), but he sneers at all his predecessors not having perceived the importance of the short portions of lines intermediate between the chief ones in Glen Roy; whereas I commence the description of them with saying, that ‘perceiving their importance, I examined them with scrupulous care,’ and expatiate at considerable length on them. I have indirectly told him I do not think he has quite claims to consider that he alone (which he pretty directly asserts) has solved the problem of Glen Roy. With respect to the terraces at lower levels coincident in height all round Scotland and England, I am inclined to believe he shows some little probability of there being some leading ones coincident, but much more exact evidence is required. Would you believe it credible? he advances as a probable solution to account for the rise of Great Britain that in some great ocean one-twentieth of the bottom of the whole aqueous surface of the globe has sunk in (he does not say where he puts it) for a thickness of half a mile, and this he has calculated would make an apparent rise of 130 feet.”

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