The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 120 of 188

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down, March 1st [1854].

My dear Hooker,

I finished yesterday evening the first volume, and I very sincerely congratulate you on having produced a first-class book (‘Himalayan Journal.’)–a book which certainly will last. I cannot doubt that it will take its place as a standard, not so much because it contains real solid matter, but that it gives a picture of the whole country. One can feel that one has seen it (and desperately uncomfortable I felt in going over some of the bridges and steep slopes), and one realises all the great Physical features. You have in truth reason to be proud; consider how few travellers there have been with a profound knowledge of one subject, and who could in addition make a map (which, by-the-way, is one of the most distinct ones I ever looked at, wherefore blessings alight on your head), and study geology and meteorology! I thought I knew you very well, but I had not the least idea that your Travels were your hobby; but I am heartily glad of it, for I feel sure that the time will never come when you and Mrs. Hooker will not be proud to look back at the labour bestowed on these beautiful volumes.

Your letter, received this morning, has interested me extremely, and I thank you sincerely for telling me your old thoughts and aspirations. All that you say makes me even more deeply gratified by the Dedication; but you, bad man, do you remember asking me how I thought Lyell would like the work to be dedicated to him? I remember how strongly I answered, and I presume you wanted to know what I should feel; whoever would have dreamed of your being so crafty? I am glad you have shown a little bit of ambition about your Journal, for you must know that I have often abused you for not caring more about fame, though, at the same time, I must confess, I have envied and honoured you for being so free (too free, as I have always thought) of this “last infirmity of, etc.” Do not say, “there never was a past hitherto to me–the phantom was always in view,” for you will soon find other phantoms in view. How well I know this feeling, and did formerly still more vividly; but I think my stomach has much deadened my former pure enthusiasm for science and knowledge.

I am writing an unconscionably long letter, but I must return to the Journals, about which I have hardly said anything in detail. Imprimis, the illustrations and maps appear to me the best I have ever seen; the style seems to me everywhere perfectly clear (how rare a virtue), and some passages really eloquent. How excellently you have described the upper valleys, and how detestable their climate; I felt quite anxious on the slopes of Kinchin that dreadful snowy night. Nothing has astonished me more than your physical strength; and all those devilish bridges! Well, thank goodness! It is not very likely that I shall ever go to the Himalaya. Much in a scientific point of view has interested me, especially all about those wonderful moraines. I certainly think I quite realise the valleys, more vividly perhaps from having seen the valleys of Tahiti. I cannot doubt that the Himalaya owe almost all their contour to running water, and that they have been subjected to such action longer than any mountains (as yet described) in the world. What a contrast with the Andes!

Perhaps you would like to hear the very little that I can say per contra, and this only applied to the beginning, in which (as it struck me) there was not flow enough till you get to Mirzapore on the Ganges (but the Thugs were most interesting), where the stream seemed to carry you on more equably with longer sentences and longer facts and discussions, etc. In another edition (and I am delighted to hear that Murray has sold all off), I would consider whether this part could not be condensed. Even if the meteorology was put in foot-notes, I think it would be an improvement. All the world is against me, but it makes me very unhappy to see the Latin names all in Italics, and all mingled with English names in Roman type; but I must bear this burden, for all men of Science seem to think it would corrupt the Latin to dress it up in the same type as poor old English. Well, I am very proud of my book; but there is one bore, that I do not much like asking people whether they have seen it, and how they like it, for I feel so much identified with it, that such questions become rather personal. Hence, I cannot tell you the opinion of others. You will have seen a fairly good review in the ‘Athenaeum.’

What capital news from Tasmania: it really is a very remarkable and creditable fact to the Colony. (This refers to an unsolicited grant by the Colonial Government towards the expenses of Sir J. Hooker’s ‘Flora of Tasmania.’) I am always building veritable castles in the air about emigrating, and Tasmania has been my head-quarters of late; so that I feel very proud of my adopted country: is really a very singular and delightful fact, contrasted with the slight appreciation of science in the old country. I thank you heartily for your letter this morning, and for all the gratification your Dedication has given me; I could not help thinking how much — would despise you for not having dedicated it to some great man, who would have done you and it some good in the eyes of the world. Ah, my dear Hooker, you were very soft on this head, and justify what I say about not caring enough for your own fame. I wish I was in every way more worthy of your good opinion. Farewell. How pleasantly Mrs. Hooker and you must rest from one of your many labours…

Again farewell: I have written a wonderfully long letter. Adios, and God bless you.

My dear Hooker, ever yours,
C. Darwin.

P.S.–I have just looked over my rambling letter; I see that I have not at all expressed my strong admiration at the amount of scientific work, in so many branches, which you have effected. It is really grand. You have a right to rest on your oars; or even to say, if it so pleases you, that “your meridian is past;” but well assured do I feel that the day of your reputation and general recognition has only just begun to dawn.

[In September, 1854, his Cirripede work was practically finished, and he wrote to Dr. Hooker:

“I have been frittering away my time for the last several weeks in a wearisome manner, partly idleness, and odds and ends, and sending ten thousand Barnacles out of the house all over the world. But I shall now in a day or two begin to look over my old notes on species. What a deal I shall have to discuss with you; I shall have to look sharp that I do not ‘progress’ into one of the greatest bores in life, to the few like you with lots of knowledge.”]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)