The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 169 of 188

Charles Darwin to A.R. Wallace.

Down, January 25th [1859].

My dear Sir,

I was extremely much pleased at receiving three days ago your letter to me and that to Dr. Hooker. Permit me to say how heartily I admire the spirit in which they are written. Though I had absolutely nothing whatever to do in leading Lyell and Hooker to what they thought a fair course of action, yet I naturally could not but feel anxious to hear what your impression would be. I owe indirectly much to you and them; for I almost think that Lyell would have proved right, and I should never have completed my larger work, for I have found my Abstract hard enough with my poor health, but now, thank God, I am in my last chapter but one. My Abstract will make a small volume of 400 or 500 pages. Whenever published, I will, of course, send you a copy, and then you will see what I mean about the part which I believe selection has played with domestic productions. It is a very different part, as you suppose, from that played by “Natural Selection.” I sent off, by the same address as this note, a copy of the ‘Journal of the Linnean Society,’ and subsequently I have sent some half-dozen copies of the paper. I have many other copies at your disposal…

I am glad to hear that you have been attending to birds’ nests. I have done so, though almost exclusively under one point of view, viz., to show that instincts vary, so that selection could work on and improve them. Few other instincts, so to speak, can be preserved in a Museum.

Many thanks for your offer to look after horses’ stripes; If there are any donkeys, pray add them. I am delighted to hear that you have collected bees’ combs…This is an especial hobby of mine, and I think I can throw a light on the subject. If you can collect duplicates, at no very great expense, I should be glad of some specimens for myself with some bees of each kind. Young, growing, and irregular combs, and those which have not had pupae, are most valuable for measurements and examination. Their edges should be well protected against abrasion.

Every one whom I have seen has thought your paper very well written and interesting. It puts my extracts (written in 1839, now just twenty years ago!), which I must say in apology were never for an instant intended for publication, into the shade.

You ask about Lyell’s frame of mind. I think he is somewhat staggered, but does not give in, and speaks with horror, often to me, of what a thing it would be, and what a job it would be for the next edition of ‘The Principles,’ if he were “perverted.” But he is most candid and honest, and I think will end by being perverted. Dr. Hooker has become almost as heterodox as you or I, and I look at Hooker as by far the most capable judge in Europe.

Most cordially do I wish you health and entire success in all your pursuits, and, God knows, if admirable zeal and energy deserve success, most amply do you deserve it. I look at my own career as nearly run out. If I can publish my Abstract and perhaps my greater work on the same subject, I shall look at my course as done.

Believe me, my dear sir, yours very sincerely,
C. Darwin.

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down, March 2nd [1859].

My dear Hooker,

Here is an odd, though very little, fact. I think it would be hardly possible to name a bird which apparently could have less to do with distribution than a Petrel. Sir W. Milner, at St. Kilda, cut open some young nestling Petrels, and he found large, curious nuts in their crops; I suspect picked up by parent birds from the Gulf stream. He seems to value these nuts excessively. I have asked him (but I doubt whether he will) to send a nut to Sir William Hooker (I gave this address for grandeur sake) to see if any of you can name it and its native country. Will you please mention this to Sir William Hooker, and if the nut does arrive, will you oblige me by returning it to “Sir W. Milner, Bart., Nunappleton, Tadcaster,” in a registered letter, and I will repay you postage. Enclose slip of paper with the name and country if you can, and let me hereafter know. Forgive me asking you to take this much trouble; for it is a funny little fact after my own heart.

Now for another subject. I have finished my Abstract of the chapter on Geographical Distribution, as bearing on my subject. I should like you much to read it; but I say this, believing that you will not do so, if, as I believe to be the case, you are extra busy. On my honour, I shall not be mortified, and I earnestly beg you not to do it, if it will bother you. I want it, because I here feel especially unsafe, and errors may have crept in. Also, I should much like to know what parts you will most vehemently object to. I know we do, and must, differ widely on several heads. Lastly, I should like particularly to know whether I have taken anything from you, which you would like to retain for first publication; but I think I have chiefly taken from your published works, and, though I have several times, in this chapter and elsewhere, acknowledged your assistance, I am aware that it is not possible for me in the Abstract to do it sufficiently. (“I never did pick any one’s pocket, but whilst writing my present chapter I keep on feeling (even when differing most from you) just as if I were stealing from you, so much do I owe to your writings and conversation, so much more than mere acknowledgments show.”–Letter to Sir J.D. Hooker, 1859.) But again let me say that you must not offer to read it if very irksome. It is long–about ninety pages, I expect, when fully copied out.

I hope you are all well. Moor Park has done me some good.

Yours affectionately,
C. Darwin.

P.S.–Heaven forgive me, here is another question: How far am I right in supposing that with plants, the most important characters for main divisions are Embryological? The seed itself cannot be considered as such, I suppose, nor the albumens, etc. But I suppose the Cotyledons and their position, and the position of the plumule and the radicle, and the position and form of the whole embryo in the seed are embryological, and how far are these very important? I wish to instance plants as a case of high importance of embryological characters in classification. In the Animal Kingdom there is, of course, no doubt of this.

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