The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 133 of 188

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Malvern, June 13 [1849].

…At last I am going to press with a small poor first-fruit of my confounded Cirripedia, viz. the fossil pedunculate cirripedia. You ask what effect studying species has had on my variation theories; I do not think much–I have felt some difficulties more. On the other hand, I have been struck (and probably unfairly from the class) with the variability of every part in some slight degree of every species. When the same organ is rigorously compared in many individuals, I always find some slight variability, and consequently that the diagnosis of species from minute differences is always dangerous. I had thought the same parts of the same species more resemble (than they do anyhow in Cirripedia) objects cast in the same mould. Systematic work would be easy were it not for this confounded variation, which, however, is pleasant to me as a speculatist, though odious to me as a systematist. Your remarks on the distinctness (so unpleasant to me) of the Himalayan Rubi, willows, etc., compared with those of northern [Europe?], etc., are very interesting; if my rude species-sketch had any small share in leading you to these observations, it has already done good and ample service, and may lay its bones in the earth in peace. I never heard anything so strange as Falconer’s neglect of your letters; I am extremely glad you are cordial with him again, though it must have cost you an effort. Falconer is a man one must love…May you prosper in every way, my dear Hooker.

Your affectionate friend,
C. Darwin.

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down, Wednesday [September, n.d.].

…Many thanks for your letter received yesterday, which, as always, set me thinking: I laughed at your attack at my stinginess in changes of level towards Forbes (Edward Forbes, 1815-1854, born in the Isle of Man. His best known work was his Report on the distribution of marine animals at different depths in the Mediterranean. An important memoir of his is referred to in my father’s ‘Autobiography.’ He held successively the posts of Curator to the Geological Society’s Museum, and Professor of Natural History in the Museum of Practical Geology; shortly before he died he was appointed Professor of Natural History in the University of Edinburgh. He seems to have impressed his contemporaries as a man of strikingly versatile and vigorous mind. The above allusion to changes of level refers to Forbes’s tendency to explain the facts of geographical distribution by means of an active geological imagination.), being so liberal towards myself; but I must maintain, that I have never let down or upheaved our mother-earth’s surface, for the sake of explaining any one phenomenon, and I trust I have very seldom done so without some distinct evidence. So I must still think it a bold step (perhaps a very true one) to sink into the depths of ocean, within the period of existing species, so large a tract of surface. But there is no amount or extent of change of level, which I am not fully prepared to admit, but I must say I should like better evidence, than the identity of a few plants, which possibly (I do not say probably) might have been otherwise transported. Particular thanks for your attempt to get me a copy of ‘L’Espece’ (Probably Godron’s essay, published by the Academy of Nancy in 1848-49, and afterwards as a separate book in 1859.), and almost equal thanks for your criticisms on him: I rather misdoubted him, and felt not much inclined to take as gospel his facts. I find this one of my greatest difficulties with foreign authors, viz. judging of their credibility. How painfully (to me) true is your remark, that no one has hardly a right to examine the question of species who has not minutely described many. I was, however, pleased to hear from Owen (who is vehemently opposed to any mutability in species), that he thought it was a very fair subject, and that there was a mass of facts to be brought to bear on the question, not hitherto collected. My only comfort is (as I mean to attempt the subject), that I have dabbled in several branches of Natural History, and seen good specific men work out my species, and know something of geology (an indispensable union); and though I shall get more kicks than half-pennies, I will, life serving, attempt my work. Lamarck is the only exception, that I can think of, of an accurate describer of species at least in the Invertebrate Kingdom, who has disbelieved in permanent species, but he in his absurd though clever work has done the subject harm, as has Mr. Vestiges, and, as (some future loose naturalist attempting the same speculations will perhaps say) has Mr. D…

C. Darwin.

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down, September 25th [1853].

My dear Hooker,

I have read your paper with great interest; it seems all very clear, and will form an admirable introduction to the New Zealand Flora, or to any Flora in the world. How few generalizers there are among systematists; I really suspect there is something absolutely opposed to each other and hostile in the two frames of mind required for systematising and reasoning on large collections of facts. Many of your arguments appear to me very well put, and, as far as my experience goes, the candid way in which you discuss the subject is unique. The whole will be very useful to me whenever I undertake my volume, though parts take the wind very completely out of my sails; it will be all nuts to me…for I have for some time determined to give the arguments on both sides (as far as I could), instead of arguing on the mutability side alone.

In my own Cirripedial work (by the way, thank you for the dose of soft solder; it does one–or at least me–a great deal of good)–in my own work I have not felt conscious that disbelieving in the mere permanence of species has made much difference one way or the other; in some few cases (if publishing avowedly on doctrine of non-permanence), I should not have affixed names, and in some few cases should have affixed names to remarkable varieties. Certainly I have felt it humiliating, discussing and doubting, and examining over and over again, when in my own mind the only doubt has been whether the form varied to-day or yesterday (not to put too fine a point on it, as Snagsby (In ‘Bleak House.’) would say). After describing a set of forms as distinct species, tearing up my MS., and making them one species, tearing that up and making them separate, and then making them one again (which has happened to me), I have gnashed my teeth, cursed species, and asked what sin I had committed to be so punished. But I must confess that perhaps nearly the same thing would have happened to me on any scheme of work.

I am heartily glad to hear your Journal (Sir J.D. Hooker’s ‘Himalayan Journal.’) is so much advanced; how magnificently it seems to be illustrated! An “Oriental Naturalist,” with lots of imagination and not too much regard to facts, is just the man to discuss species! I think your title of ‘A Journal of a Naturalist in the East’ very good; but whether “in the Himalaya” would not be better, I have doubted, for the East sounds rather vague…

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