The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 147 of 188

A Letter to Sir J.D. Hooker.

[September, 1856].

“In the course of some weeks, you unfortunate wretch, you will have my MS. on one point of Geographical Distribution. I will however, never ask such a favour again; but in regard to this one piece of MS., it is of infinite importance to me for you to see it; for never in my life have I felt such difficulty what to do, and I heartily wish I could slur the whole subject over.”

In a letter to Sir J.D. Hooker (June, 1856), the following characteristic passage occurs, suggested, no doubt, by the kind of work which his chapter on Geographical Distribution entailed:

“There is wonderful ill logic in his [E. Forbes’] famous and admirable memoir on distribution, as it appears to me, now that I have got it up so as to give the heads in a page. Depend on it, my saying is a true one, viz., that a compiler is a great man, and an original man a commonplace man. Any fool can generalise and speculate; but, oh, my heavens! To get up at second hand a New Zealand Flora, that is work.”

Charles Darwin to W.D. Fox.

October 3 [1856].

…I remember you protested against Lyell’s advice of writing a sketch of my species doctrines. Well, when I began I found it such unsatisfactory work that I have desisted, and am now drawing up my work as perfect as my materials of nineteen years’ collecting suffice, but do not intend to stop to perfect any line of investigation beyond current work. Thus far and no farther I shall follow Lyell’s urgent advice. Your remarks weighed with me considerably. I find to my sorrow it will run to quite a big book. I have found my careful work at pigeons really invaluable, as enlightening me on many points on variation under domestication. The copious old literature, by which I can trace the gradual changes in the breeds of pigeons has been extraordinarily useful to me. I have just had pigeons and fowls alive from the Gambia! Rabbits and ducks I am attending to pretty carefully, but less so than pigeons. I find most remarkable differences in the skeletons of rabbits. Have you ever kept any odd breeds of rabbits, and can you give me any details? One other question: You used to keep hawks; do you at all know, after eating a bird, how soon after they throw up the pellet?

No subject gives me so much trouble and doubt and difficulty as the means of dispersal of the same species of terrestrial productions on the oceanic islands. Land mollusca drive me mad, and I cannot anyhow get their eggs to experimentise their power of floating and resistance to the injurious action of salt water. I will not apologise for writing so much about my own doings, as I believe you will like to hear. Do sometime, I beg you, let me hear how you get on in health; and if so inclined, let me have some words on call-ducks.

My dear Fox, yours affectionately,
Ch. Darwin.

[With regard to his book he wrote (November 10th) to Sir Charles Lyell:

“I am working very steadily at my big book; I have found it quite impossible to publish any preliminary essay or sketch; but am doing my work as completely as my present materials allow without waiting to perfect them. And this much acceleration I owe to you.”]

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down, Sunday [October 1856].

My dear Hooker,

The seeds are come all safe, many thanks for them. I was very sorry to run away so soon and miss any part of my most pleasant evening; and I ran away like a Goth and Vandal without wishing Mrs. Hooker good-bye; but I was only just in time, as I got on the platform the train had arrived.

I was particularly glad of our discussion after dinner, fighting a battle with you always clears my mind wonderfully. I groan to hear that A. Gray agrees with you about the condition of Botanical Geography. All I know is that if you had had to search for light in Zoological Geography you would by contrast, respect your own subject a vast deal more than you now do. The hawks have behaved like gentlemen, and have cast up pellets with lots of seeds in them; and I have just had a parcel of partridge’s feet well caked with mud!!! (The mud in such cases often contains seeds, so that plants are thus transported.) Adios.

Your insane and perverse friend,
C. Darwin.

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