The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 154 of 188

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down, May 6th [1858].

…I send by this post my MS. on the “commonness,” “range,” and “variation” of species in large and small genera. You have undertaken a horrid job in so very kindly offering to read it, and I thank you warmly. I have just corrected the copy, and am disappointed in finding how tough and obscure it is; I cannot make it clearer, and at present I loathe the very sight of it. The style of course requires further correction, and if published I must try, but as yet see not how, to make it clearer.

If you have much to say and can have patience to consider the whole subject, I would meet you in London on the Phil. Club day, so as to save you the trouble of writing. For Heaven’s sake, you stern and awful judge and sceptic, remember that my conclusions may be true, notwithstanding that Botanists may have recorded more varieties in large than in small genera. It seems to me a mere balancing of probabilities. Again I thank you most sincerely, but I fear you will find it a horrid job.

Ever yours,
C. Darwin.

P.S.–As usual, Hydropathy has made a man of me for a short time: I hope the sea will do Mrs. Hooker much good.

Charles Darwin to A.R. Wallace.

Down, December 22nd, 1857.

My dear Sir,

I thank you for your letter of September 27th. I am extremely glad to hear how you are attending to distribution in accordance with theoretical ideas. I am a firm believer that without speculation there is no good and original observation. Few travellers have attended to such points as you are now at work on; and, indeed, the whole subject of distribution of animals is dreadfully behind that of plants. You say that you have been somewhat surprised at no notice having been taken of your paper in the Annals. (‘On the law that has regulated the introduction of New Species.’ Ann. Nat. Hist., 1855.) I cannot say that I am, for so very few naturalists care for anything beyond the mere description of species. But you must not suppose that your paper has not been attended to: two very good men, Sir C. Lyell, and Mr. E. Blyth at Calcutta, specially called my attention to it. Though agreeing with you on your conclusions in that paper, I believe I go much further than you; but it is too long a subject to enter on my speculative notions. I have not yet seen your paper on the distribution of animals in the Aru Islands. I shall read it with the utmost interest; for I think that the most interesting quarter of the whole globe in respect to distribution, and I have long been very imperfectly trying to collect data for the Malay Archipelago. I shall be quite prepared to subscribe to your doctrine of subsidence; indeed, from the quite independent evidence of the Coral Reefs I coloured my original map (in my Coral volume) of the Aru Islands as one of subsidence, but got frightened and left it uncoloured. But I can see that you are inclined to go much further than I am in regard to the former connection of oceanic islands with continents. Ever since poor E. Forbes propounded this doctrine it has been eagerly followed; and Hooker elaborately discusses the former connection of all the Antarctic Islands and New Zealand and South America. About a year ago I discussed this subject much with Lyell and Hooker (for I shall have to treat of it), and wrote out my arguments in opposition; but you will be glad to hear that neither Lyell nor Hooker thought much of my arguments. Nevertheless, for once in my life, I dare withstand the almost preternatural sagacity of Lyell.

You ask about land-shells on islands far distant from continents: Madeira has a few identical with those of Europe, and here the evidence is really good, as some of them are sub-fossil. In the Pacific Islands there are cases of identity, which I cannot at present persuade myself to account for by introduction through man’s agency; although Dr. Aug. Gould has conclusively shown that many land-shells have thus been distributed over the Pacific by man’s agency. These cases of introduction are most plaguing. Have you not found it so in the Malay Archipelago? It has seemed to me in the lists of mammals of Timor and other islands, that several in all probability have been naturalised…

You ask whether I shall discuss “man.” I think I shall avoid the whole subject, as so surrounded with prejudices; though I fully admit that it is the highest and most interesting problem for the naturalist. My work, on which I have now been at work more or less for twenty years, will not fix or settle anything; but I hope it will aid by giving a large collection of facts, with one definite end. I get on very slowly, partly from ill-health, partly from being a very slow worker. I have got about half written; but I do not suppose I shall publish under a couple of years. I have now been three whole months on one chapter on Hybridism!

I am astonished to see that you expect to remain out three or four years more. What a wonderful deal you will have seen, and what interesting areas–the grand Malay Archipelago and the richest parts of South America! I infinitely admire and honour your zeal and courage in the good cause of Natural Science; and you have my very sincere and cordial good wishes for success of all kinds, and may all your theories succeed, except that on Oceanic Islands, on which subject I will do battle to the death.

Pray believe me, my dear sir, yours very sincerely,
C. Darwin.

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