The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 129 of 188

Chapter 1.XI. The Growth of the ‘Origin of Species.’

Letters, 1843-1856.

[The history of my father’s life is told more completely in his correspondence with Sir J.D. Hooker than in any other series of letters; and this is especially true of the history of the growth of the ‘Origin of Species.’ This, therefore, seems an appropriate place for the following notes, which Sir Joseph Hooker has kindly given me. They give, moreover, an interesting picture of his early friendship with my father:–

“My first meeting with Mr. Darwin was in 1839, in Trafalgar Square. I was walking with an officer who had been his shipmate for a short time in the Beagle seven years before, but who had not, I believe, since met him. I was introduced; the interview was of course brief, and the memory of him that I carried away and still retain was that of a rather tall and rather broad-shouldered man, with a slight stoop, an agreeable and animated expression when talking, beetle brows, and a hollow but mellow voice; and that his greeting of his old acquaintance was sailor-like–that is, delightfully frank and cordial. I observed him well, for I was already aware of his attainments and labours, derived from having read various proof-sheets of his then unpublished ‘Journal.’ These had been submitted to Mr. (afterwards Sir Charles) Lyell by Mr. Darwin, and by him sent to his father, Ch. Lyell, Esq., of Kinnordy, who (being a very old friend of my father and taking a kind interest in my projected career as a naturalist) had allowed me to peruse them. At this time I was hurrying on my studies, so as to take my degree before volunteering to accompany Sir James Ross in the Antarctic Expedition, which had just been determined on by the Admiralty; and so pressed for time was I, that I used to sleep with the sheets of the ‘Journal’ under my pillow, that I might read them between waking and rising. They impressed me profoundly, I might say despairingly, with the variety of acquirements, mental and physical, required in a naturalist who should follow in Darwin’s footsteps, whilst they stimulated me to enthusiasm in the desire to travel and observe.

“It has been a permanent source of happiness to me that I knew so much of Mr. Darwin’s scientific work so many years before that intimacy began which ripened into feelings as near to those of reverence for his life, works, and character as is reasonable and proper. It only remains to add to this little episode that I received a copy of the ‘Journal’ complete,–a gift from Mr. Lyell,–a few days before leaving England.

“Very soon after the return of the Antarctic Expedition my correspondence with Mr. Darwin began (December, 1843) by his sending me a long letter, warmly congratulating me on my return to my family and friends, and expressing a wish to hear more of the results of the expedition, of which he had derived some knowledge from private letters of my own (written to or communicated through Mr. Lyell). Then, plunging at once into scientific matters, he directed my attention to the importance of correlating the Fuegian Flora with that of the Cordillera and of Europe, and invited me to study the botanical collections which he had made in the Galapagos Islands, as well as his Patagonian and Fuegian plants.

“This led to me sending him an outline of the conclusions I had formed regarding the distribution of plants in the southern regions, and the necessity of assuming the destruction of considerable areas of land to account for the relations of the flora of the so-called Antarctic Islands. I do not suppose that any of these ideas were new to him, but they led to an animated and lengthy correspondence full of instruction.”

Here follows the letter (1843) to Sir J.D. Hooker above referred to.]

My dear Sir,

I had hoped before this time to have had the pleasure of seeing you and congratulating you on your safe return from your long and glorious voyage. But as I seldom go to London, we may not yet meet for some time–without you are led to attend the Geological Meetings.

I am anxious to know what you intend doing with all your materials–I had so much pleasure in reading parts of some of your letters, that I shall be very sorry if I, as one of the public, have no opportunity of reading a good deal more. I suppose you are very busy now and full of enjoyment: how well I remember the happiness of my first few months of England–it was worth all the discomforts of many a gale! But I have run from the subject, which made me write, of expressing my pleasure that Henslow (as he informed me a few days since by letter) has sent to you my small collection of plants. You cannot think how much pleased I am, as I feared they would have been all lost, and few as they are, they cost me a good deal of trouble. There are a very few notes, which I believe Henslow has got, describing the habitats, etc., of some few of the more remarkable plants. I paid particular attention to the Alpine flowers of Tierra del Fuego, and I am sure I got every plant which was in flower in Patagonia at the seasons when we were there. I have long thought that some general sketch of the Flora of the point of land, stretching so far into the southern seas, would be very curious. Do make comparative remarks on the species allied to the European species, for the advantage of botanical ignoramuses like myself. It has often struck me as a curious point to find out, whether there are many European genera in Tierra del Fuego which are not found along the ridge of the Cordillera; the separation in such case would be so enormous. Do point out in any sketch you draw up, what genera are American and what European, and how great the differences of the species are, when the genera are European, for the sake of the ignoramuses.

I hope Henslow will send you my Galapagos plants (about which Humboldt even expressed to me considerable curiosity)–I took much pains in collecting all I could. A Flora of this archipelago would, I suspect, offer a nearly parallel case to that of St. Helena, which has so long excited interest. Pray excuse this long rambling note, and believe me, my dear sir, yours very sincerely,

C. Darwin.

Will you be so good as to present my respectful compliments to Sir W. Hooker.

[Referring to Sir J.D. Hooker’s work on the Galapagos Flora, my father wrote in 1846:

“I cannot tell you how delighted and astonished I am at the results of your examination; how wonderfully they support my assertion on the differences in the animals of the different islands, about which I have always been fearful.”

Again he wrote (1849):–

“I received a few weeks ago your Galapagos papers (These papers include the results of Sir J.D. Hooker’s examination of my father’s Galapagos plants, and were published by the Linnean Society in 1849.), and I have read them since being here. I really cannot express too strongly my admiration of the geographical discussion: to my judgment it is a perfect model of what such a paper should be; it took me four days to read and think over. How interesting the Flora of the Sandwich Islands appears to be, how I wish there were materials for you to treat its flora as you have done the Galapagos. In the Systematic paper I was rather disappointed in not finding general remarks on affinities, structures, etc., such as you often give in conversation, and such as De Candolle and St. Hilaire introduced in almost all their papers, and which make them interesting even to a non-Botanist.”

“Very soon afterwards [continues Sir J.D. Hooker] in a letter dated January 1844, the subject of the ‘Origin of Species’ was brought forward by him, and I believe that I was the first to whom he communicated his then new ideas on the subject, and which being of interest as a contribution to the history of Evolution, I here copy from his letter”:–]

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