The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 142 of 188

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

May 9th, [1856].

…I very much want advice and truthful consolation if you can give it. I had a good talk with Lyell about my species work, and he urges me strongly to publish something. I am fixed against any periodical or Journal, as I positively will not expose myself to an Editor or a Council, allowing a publication for which they might be abused. If I publish anything it must be a very thin and little volume, giving a sketch of my views and difficulties; but it is really dreadfully unphilosophical to give a resume, without exact references, of an unpublished work. But Lyell seemed to think I might do this, at the suggestion of friends, and on the ground, which I might state, that I had been at work for eighteen (The interval of eighteen years, from 1837 when he began to collect facts, would bring the date of this letter to 1855, not 1856, nevertheless the latter seems the more probable date.) years, and yet could not publish for several years, and especially as I could point out difficulties which seemed to me to require especial investigation. Now what think you? I should be really grateful for advice. I thought of giving up a couple of months and writing such a sketch, and trying to keep my judgment open whether or no to publish it when completed. It will be simply impossible for me to give exact references; anything important I should state on the authority of the author generally; and instead of giving all the facts on which I ground my opinion, I could give by memory only one or two. In the Preface I would state that the work could not be considered strictly scientific, but a mere sketch or outline of a future work in which full references, etc. should be given. Eheu, eheu, I believe I should sneer at any one else doing this, and my only comfort is, that I truly never dreamed of it, till Lyell suggested it, and seems deliberately to think it advisable.

I am in a peck of troubles and do pray forgive me for troubling you.

Yours affectionately,
C. Darwin.

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

May 11th [1856].

…Now for a more important! subject, viz., my own self: I am extremely glad you think well of a separate “Preliminary Essay” (i.e., if anything whatever is published; for Lyell seemed rather to doubt on this head) (The meaning of the sentence in parentheses is obscure.); but I cannot bear the idea of begging some Editor and Council to publish, and then perhaps to have to apologise humbly for having led them into a scrape. In this one respect I am in the state which, according to a very wise saying of my father’s, is the only fit state for asking advice, viz., with my mind firmly made up, and then, as my father used to say, good advice was very comfortable, and it was easy to reject bad advice. But Heaven knows I am not in this state with respect to publishing at all any preliminary essay. It yet strikes me as quite unphilosophical to publish results without the full details which have lead to such results.

It is a melancholy, and I hope not quite true view of yours that facts will prove anything, and are therefore superfluous! But I have rather exaggerated, I see, your doctrine. I do not fear being tied down to error, i.e., I feel pretty sure I should give up anything false published in the preliminary essay, in my larger work; but I may thus, it is very true, do mischief by spreading error, which as I have often heard you say is much easier spread than corrected. I confess I lean more and more to at least making the attempt and drawing up a sketch and trying to keep my judgment, whether to publish, open. But I always return to my fixed idea that it is dreadfully unphilosophical to publish without full details. I certainly think my future work in full would profit by hearing what my friends or critics (if reviewed) thought of the outline.

To any one but you I should apologise for such long discussion on so personal an affair; but I believe, and indeed you have proved it by the trouble you have taken, that this would be superfluous.

Yours truly obliged,
Ch. Darwin.

P.S. What you say (for I have just re-read your letter) that the Essay might supersede and take away all novelty and value from any future larger Book, is very true; and that would grieve me beyond everything. On the other hand (again from Lyell’s urgent advice), I published a preliminary sketch of the Coral Theory, and this did neither good nor harm. I begin most heartily to wish that Lyell had never put this idea of an Essay into my head.

From a Letter to Sir C. Lyell.

[July, 1856]

“I am delighted that I may say (with absolute truth) that my essay is published at your suggestion, but I hope it will not need so much apology as I at first thought; for I have resolved to make it nearly as complete as my present materials allow. I cannot put in all which you suggest, for it would appear too conceited.”

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