The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 143 of 188

From a Letter to W.D. Fox.

Down, June 14th [1856].

“…What you say about my Essay, I dare say is very true; and it gave me another fit of the wibber-gibbers: I hope that I shall succeed in making it modest. One great motive is to get information on the many points on which I want it. But I tremble about it, which I should not do, if I allowed some three or four more years to elapse before publishing anything…”

[The following extracts from letters to Mr. Fox are worth giving, as showing how great was the accumulation of material which now had to be dealt with.

June 14th [1856].

“Very many thanks for the capital information on cats; I see I had blundered greatly, but I know I had somewhere your original notes; but my notes are so numerous during nineteen years’ collection, that it would take me at least a year to go over and classify them.”

November 1856.

“Sometimes I fear I shall break down, for my subject gets bigger and bigger with each month’s work.”]

Charles Darwin to C. Lyell.

Down, 16th [June, 1856].

My dear Lyell,

I am going to do the most impudent thing in the world. But my blood gets hot with passion and turns cold alternately at the geological strides, which many of your disciples are taking.

Here, poor Forbes made a continent to [i.e., extending to] North America and another (or the same) to the Gulf weed; Hooker makes one from New Zealand to South America and round the World to Kerguelen Land. Here is Wollaston speaking of Madeira and P. Santo “as the sure and certain witnesses of a former continent.” Here is Woodward writes to me, if you grant a continent over 200 or 300 miles of ocean depths (as if that was nothing), why not extend a continent to every island in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans? And all this within the existence of recent species! If you do not stop this, if there be a lower region for the punishment of geologists, I believe, my great master, you will go there. Why, your disciples in a slow and creeping manner beat all the old Catastrophists who ever lived. You will live to be the great chief of the Catastrophists.

There, I have done myself a great deal of good, and have exploded my passion.

So my master, forgive me, and believe me, ever yours,
C. Darwin.

P.S. Don’t answer this, I did it to ease myself.

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down [June] 17th, 1856.

…I have been very deeply interested by Wollaston’s book (‘The Variation of Species,’ 1856.), though I differ greatly from many of his doctrines. Did you ever read anything so rich, considering how very far he goes, as his denunciations against those who go further: “Most mischievous,” “absurd,” “unsound.” Theology is at the bottom of some of this. I told him he was like Calvin burning a heretic. It is a very valuable and clever book in my opinion. He has evidently read very little out of his own line. I urged him to read the New Zealand essay. His Geology also is rather eocene, as I told him. In fact I wrote most frankly; he says he is sure that ultra-honesty is my characteristic: I do not know whether he meant it as a sneer; I hope not. Talking of eocene geology, I got so wrath about the Atlantic continent, more especially from a note from Woodward (who has published a capital book on shells), who does not seem to doubt that every island in the Pacific and Atlantic are the remains of continents, submerged within period of existing species, that I fairly exploded, and wrote to Lyell to protest, and summed up all the continents created of late years by Forbes (the head sinner!) yourself, Wollaston, and Woodward, and a pretty nice little extension of land they make altogether! I am fairly rabid on the question and therefore, if not wrong already, am pretty sure to become so…

I have enjoyed your note much. Adios,
C. Darwin.

P.S. [June] 18th. Lyell has written me a capital letter on your side, which ought to upset me entirely, but I cannot say it does quite.

Though I must try and cease being rabid and try to feel humble, and allow you all to make continents, as easily as a cook does pancakes.

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