The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 153 of 188

Charles Darwin to John Lubbock.

Down, [July] 14th [1857].

My dear Lubbock,

You have done me the greatest possible service in helping me to clarify my brains. If I am as muzzy on all subjects as I am on proportion and chance,–what a book I shall produce!

I have divided the New Zealand Flora as you suggested, there are 329 species in genera of 4 and upwards, and 323 in genera of 3 and less.

The 339 species have 51 species presenting one or more varieties. The 323 species have only 37. Proportionately (339 : 323 :: 51 : 48.5) they ought to have had 48 1/2 species presenting vars. So that the case goes as I want it, but not strong enough, without it be general, for me to have much confidence in. I am quite convinced yours is the right way; I had thought of it, but should never have done it had it not been for my most fortunate conversation with you.

I am quite shocked to find how easily I am muddled, for I had before thought over the subject much, and concluded my way was fair. It is dreadfully erroneous.

What a disgraceful blunder you have saved me from. I heartily thank you.

Ever yours, C. Darwin.

P.S.–It is enough to make me tear up all my MS. and give up in despair.

It will take me several weeks to go over all my materials. But oh, if you knew how thankful I am to you!

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down, August [1857].

My dear Hooker,

It is a horrid bore you cannot come soon, and I reproach myself that I did not write sooner. How busy you must be! with such a heap of botanists at Kew. Only think, I have just had a letter from Henslow, saying he will come here between 11th and 15th! Is not that grand? Many thanks about Furnrohr. I must humbly supplicate Kippist to search for it: he most kindly got Boreau for me.

I am got extremely interested in tabulating, according to mere size of genera, the species having any varieties marked by Greek letters or otherwise: the result (as far as I have yet gone) seems to me one of the most important arguments I have yet met with, that varieties are only small species–or species only strongly marked varieties. The subject is in many ways so very important for me; I wish much you would think of any well-worked Floras with from 1000-2000 species, with the varieties marked. It is good to have hair-splitters and lumpers. (Those who make many species are the “splitters,” and those who make few are the “lumpers.”) I have done, or am doing:–

Henslow.........................  British Flora.
London Catalogue. H.C. Watson...
Boreau..........................  France.
Miquel..........................  Holland.
Asa Gray........................  N.U. States.
Hooker..........................  New Zealand.
                                  Fragment of Indian Flora.
Wollaston.......................  Madeira insects.

Has not Koch published a good German Flora? Does he mark varieties? Could you send it me? Is there not some grand Russian Flora, which perhaps has varieties marked? The Floras ought to be well known.

I am in no hurry for a few weeks. Will you turn this in your head when, if ever, you have leisure? The subject is very important for my work, though I clearly see many causes of error…

Charles Darwin to Asa Gray.

Down, February 21st [1859].

My dear Gray,

My last letter begged no favour, this one does: but it will really cost you very little trouble to answer to me, and it will be of very great service to me, owing to a remark made to me by Hooker, which I cannot credit, and which was suggested to him by one of my letters. He suggested my asking you, and I told him I would not give the least hint what he thought. I generally believe Hooker implicitly, but he is sometimes, I think, and he confesses it, rather over critical, and his ingenuity in discovering flaws seems to me admirable. Here is my question:–“Do you think that good botanists in drawing up a local Flora, whether small or large, or in making a Prodromus like De Candolle’s, would almost universally, but unintentionally and unconsciously, tend to record (i.e., marking with Greek letters and giving short characters) varieties in the large or in the small genera? Or would the tendency be to record the varieties about equally in genera of all sizes? Are you yourself conscious on reflection that you have attended to, and recorded more carefully the varieties in large or small, or very small genera?”

I know what fleeting and trifling things varieties very often are; but my query applies to such as have been thought worth marking and recording. If you could screw time to send me ever so brief an answer to this, pretty soon, it would be a great service to me.

Yours most truly obliged,
Ch. Darwin.

P.S.–Do you know whether any one has ever published any remarks on the geographical range of varieties of plants in comparison with the species to which they are supposed to belong? I have in vain tried to get some vague idea, and with the exception of a little information on this head given me by Mr. Watson in a paper on Land Shells in United States, I have quite failed; but perhaps it would be difficult for you to give me even a brief answer on this head, and if so I am not so unreasonable, I assure you, as to expect it.

If you are writing to England soon, you could enclose other letters [for] me to forward.

Please observe the question is not whether there are more or fewer varieties in larger or smaller genera, but whether there is a stronger or weaker tendency in the minds of botanists to record such in large or small genera.

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