The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 150 of 188

Charles Darwin to C. Lyell.

Down, February 11th [1857].

My dear Lyell,

I was glad to see in the newspapers about the Austrian Expedition. I have nothing to add geologically to my notes in the Manual. (The article “Geology” in the Admiralty Manual of Scientific Enquiry.) I do not know whether the Expedition is tied down to call at only fixed spots. But if there be any choice or power in the scientific men to influence the places –this would be most desirable. It is my most deliberate conviction that nothing would aid more, Natural History, than careful collecting and investigating all the productions of the most isolated islands, especially of the southern hemisphere. Except Tristan d’Acunha and Kerguelen Land, they are very imperfectly known; and even at Kerguelen Land, how much there is to make out about the lignite beds, and whether there are signs of old Glacial action. Every sea shell and insect and plant is of value from such spots. Some one in the Expedition especially ought to have Hooker’s New Zealand Essay. What grand work to explore Rodriguez, with its fossil birds, and little known productions of every kind. Again the Seychelles, which, with the Cocos so near, must be a remnant of some older land. The outer island of Juan Fernandez is little known. The investigation of these little spots by a band of naturalists would be grand; St. Paul’s and Amsterdam would be glorious, botanically, and geologically. Can you not recommend them to get my ‘Journal’ and ‘Volcanic Islands’ on account of the Galapagos. If they come from the north it will be a shame and a sin if they do not call at Cocos Islet, one of the Galapagos. I always regretted that I was not able to examine the great craters on Albemarle Island, one of the Galapagos. In New Zealand urge on them to look out for erratic boulders and marks of old glaciers.

Urge the use of the dredge in the Tropics; how little or nothing we know of the limit of life downward in the hot seas?

My present work leads me to perceive how much the domestic animals have been neglected in out of the way countries.

The Revillagigedo Island off Mexico, I believe, has never been trodden by foot of naturalist.

If the expedition sticks to such places as Rio, Cape of Good Hope, Ceylon and Australia, etc., it will not do much.

Ever yours most truly,
C. Darwin.

[The following passage occurs in a letter to Mr. Fox, February 22, 1857, and has reference to the book on Evolution on which he was still at work. The remainder of the letter is made up in details of no interest:

“I am got most deeply interested in my subject; though I wish I could set less value on the bauble fame, either present or posthumous, than I do, but not I think, to any extreme degree: yet, if I know myself, I would work just as hard, though with less gusto, if I knew that my book would be published for ever anonymously.”]

Charles Darwin to A.R. Wallace.

Moor Park, May 1st, 1857.

My dear Sir,

I am much obliged for your letter of October 10th, from Celebes, received a few days ago; in a laborious undertaking, sympathy is a valuable and real encouragement. By your letter and even still more by your paper (‘On the law that has regulated the introduction of new species.’–Ann. Nat. Hist., 1855.) in the Annals, a year or more ago, I can plainly see that we have thought much alike and to a certain extent have come to similar conclusions. In regard to the Paper in the Annals, I agree to the truth of almost every word of your paper; and I dare say that you will agree with me that it is very rare to find oneself agreeing pretty closely with any theoretical paper; for it is lamentable how each man draws his own different conclusions from the very same facts. This summer will make the 20th year (!) since I opened my first note-book, on the question how and in what way do species and varieties differ from each other. I am now preparing my work for publication, but I find the subject so very large, that though I have written many chapters, I do not suppose I shall go to press for two years. I have never heard how long you intend staying in the Malay Archipelago; I wish I might profit by the publication of your Travels there before my work appears, for no doubt you will reap a large harvest of facts. I have acted already in accordance with your advice of keeping domestic varieties, and those appearing in a state of nature, distinct; but I have sometimes doubted of the wisdom of this, and therefore I am glad to be backed by your opinion. I must confess, however, I rather doubt the truth of the now very prevalent doctrine of all our domestic animals having descended from several wild stocks; though I do not doubt that it is so in some cases. I think there is rather better evidence on the sterility of hybrid animals than you seem to admit: and in regard to plants the collection of carefully recorded facts by Kolreuter and Gaertner (and Herbert,) is enormous. I most entirely agree with you on the little effects of “climatal conditions,” which one sees referred to ad nauseam in all books: I suppose some very little effect must be attributed to such influences, but I fully believe that they are very slight. It is really impossible to explain my views (in the compass of a letter), on the causes and means of variation in a state of nature; but I have slowly adopted a distinct and tangible idea,–whether true or false others must judge; for the firmest conviction of the truth of a doctrine by its author, seems, alas, not to be the slightest guarantee of truth!…

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Moor Park, Saturday [May 2nd, 1857].

My dear Hooker,

You have shaved the hair off the Alpine plants pretty effectually. The case of the Anthyllis will make a “tie” with the believed case of Pyrenees plants becoming glabrous at low levels. If I do find that I have marked such facts, I will lay the evidence before you. I wonder how the belief could have originated! Was it through final causes to keep the plants warm? Falconer in talk coupled the two facts of woolly Alpine plants and mammals. How candidly and meekly you took my Jeremiad on your severity to second-class men. After I had sent it off, an ugly little voice asked me, once or twice, how much of my noble defence of the poor in spirit and in fact, was owing to your having not seldom smashed favourite notions of my own. I silenced the ugly little voice with contempt, but it would whisper again and again. I sometimes despise myself as a poor compiler as heartily as you could do, though I do not despise my whole work, as I think there is enough known to lay a foundation for the discussion on the origin of species. I have been led to despise and laugh at myself as a compiler, for having put down that “Alpine plants have large flowers,” and now perhaps I may write over these very words, “Alpine plants have small or apetalous flowers!”…

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down, [May] 16th [1857].

My dear Hooker,

You said–I hope honestly–that you did not dislike my asking questions on general points, you of course answering or not as time or inclination might serve. I find in the animal kingdom that the proposition that any part or organ developed normally (i.e., not a monstrosity) in a species in any high or unusual degree, compared with the same part or organ in allied species, tends to be highly variable. I cannot doubt this from my mass of collected facts. To give an instance, the Cross-bill is very abnormal in the structure of its bill compared with other allied Fringillidae, and the beak is eminently variable. The Himantopus, remarkable from the wonderful length of its legs, is very variable in the length of its legs. I could give many most striking and curious illustrations in all classes; so many that I think it cannot be chance. But I have none in the vegetable kingdom, owing, as I believe, to my ignorance. If Nepenthes consisted of one or two species in a group with a pitcher developed, then I should have expected it to have been very variable; but I do not consider Nepenthes a case in point, for when a whole genus or group has an organ, however anomalous, I do not expect it to be variable,–it is only when one or few species differ greatly in some one part or organ from the forms closely allied to it in all other respects, that I believe such part or organ to be highly variable. Will you turn this in your mind? It is an important apparent law (!) for me.

Ever yours,
C. Darwin.

P.S.–I do not know how far you will care to hear, but I find Moquin-Tandon treats in his ‘Teratologie’ on villosity of plants, and seems to attribute more to dryness than altitude; but seems to think that it must be admitted that mountain plants are villose, and that this villosity is only in part explained by De Candolle’s remark that the dwarfed condition of mountain plants would condense the hairs, and so give them the appearance of being more hairy. He quotes Senebier, ‘Physiologie Vegetale,’ as authority–I suppose the first authority, for mountain plants being hairy.

If I could show positively that the endemic species were more hairy in dry districts, then the case of the varieties becoming more hairy in dry ground would be a fact for me.

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