The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 141 of 188

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down, 18th [July, 1855].

…I think I am getting a mild case about Charlock seed (In the “Gardeners’ Chronicle”, 1855, page 758, appeared a notice (half a column in length) by my father on the “Vitality of Seeds.” The facts related refer to the “Sand-walk”; the wood was planted in 1846 on a piece of pasture land laid down as grass in 1840. In 1855, on the soil being dug in several places, Charlock (Brassica sinapistrum) sprang up freely. The subject continued to interest him, and I find a note dated July 2nd, 1874, in which my father recorded that forty-six plants of Charlock sprang up in that year over a space (14 x 7 feet) which had been dug to a considerable depth.); but just as about salting, ill-luck to it, I cannot remember how many years you would allow that Charlock seed might live in the ground. Next time you write, show a bold face, and say in how many years, you think, Charlock seed would probably all be dead. A man told me the other day of, as I thought, a splendid instance,– and splendid it was, for according to his evidence the seed came up alive out of the lower part of the London clay!! I disgusted him by telling him that Palms ought to have come up.

You ask how far I go in attributing organisms to a common descent; I answer I know not; the way in which I intend treating the subject, is to show (as far as I can) the facts and arguments for and against the common descent of the species of the same genus; and then show how far the same arguments tell for or against forms, more and more widely different: and when we come to forms of different orders and classes, there remain only some such arguments as those which can perhaps be deduced from similar rudimentary structures, and very soon not an argument is left.

[The following extract from a letter to Mr. Fox [October, 1855 (In this year he published (‘Phil. Mag.’ x.) a paper ‘On the power of icebergs to make rectilinear uniformly-directed grooves across a submarine undulatory surface.’) gives a brief mention of the last meeting of the British Association which he attended:] “I really have no news: the only thing we have done for a long time, was to go to Glasgow; but the fatigue was to me more than it was worth, and E. caught a bad cold. On our return we stayed a single day at Shrewsbury, and enjoyed seeing the old place. I saw a little of Sir Philip (Sir P. Egerton was a neighbour of Mr. Fox.) (whom I liked much), and he asked me “why on earth I instigated you to rob his poultry-yard?’ The meeting was a good one, and the Duke of Argyll spoke excellently.”]

Chapter 1.XII. The Unfinished Book.

May 1856 to June 1858.

[In the Autobiographical chapter (page 69,) my father wrote:–“Early in 1856 Lyell advised me to write out my views pretty fully, and I began at once to do so on a scale three or four times as extensive as that which was afterwards followed in my ‘Origin of Species;’ yet it was only an abstract of the materials which I had collected.” The letters in the present chapter are chiefly concerned with the preparation of this unfinished book.

The work was begun on May 14th, and steadily continued up to June 1858, when it was interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Wallace’s MS. During the two years which we are now considering he wrote ten chapters (that is about one-half) of the projected book. He remained for the most part at home, but paid several visits to Dr. Lane’s Water-Cure Establishment at Moor Park, during one of which he made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Gilbert White at Selborne.]


Charles Darwin to C. Lyell.

May 3 [1856].

…With respect to your suggestion of a sketch of my views, I hardly know what to think, but will reflect on it, but it goes against my prejudices. To give a fair sketch would be absolutely impossible, for every proposition requires such an array of facts. If I were to do anything, it could only refer to the main agency of change–selection–and perhaps point out a very few of the leading features, which countenance such a view, and some few of the main difficulties. But I do not know what to think; I rather hate the idea of writing for priority, yet I certainly should be vexed if any one were to publish my doctrines before me. Anyhow, I thank you heartily for your sympathy. I shall be in London next week, and I will call on you on Thursday morning for one hour precisely, so as not to lose much of your time and my own; but will you let me this time come as early as 9 o’clock, for I have much which I must do in the morning in my strongest time? Farewell, my dear old patron.

C. Darwin.

By the way, three plants have come up out of the earth, perfectly enclosed in the roots of the trees. And twenty-nine plants in the table-spoonful of mud, out of the little pond; Hooker was surprised at this, and struck with it, when I showed him how much mud I had scraped off one duck’s feet.

If I did publish a short sketch, where on earth should I publish it?

If I do not hear, I shall understand that I may come from 9 to 10 on Thursday.

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