More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1

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Author: Charles Darwin

Letter 16. To J.D. Hooker. Down [1845].

I ought to have written sooner to say that I am very willing to subscribe 1 pound 1 shilling to the African man (though it be murder on a small scale), and will send you a Post-office-order payable to Kew, if you will be so good as to take charge of it. Thanks for your information about the Antarctic Zoology; I got my numbers when in Town on Thursday: would it be asking your publisher to take too much trouble to send your Botany ["Flora Antarctica," by J.D. Hooker, 1844] to the Athenaeum Club? he might send two or three numbers together. I am really ashamed to think of your having given me such a valuable work; all I can say is that I appreciate your present in two ways—as your gift, and for its great use to my specieswork. I am very glad to hear that you mean to attack this subject some day. I wonder whether we shall ever be public combatants; anyhow, I congratulate myself in a most unfair advantage of you, viz., in having extracted more facts and views from you than from any one other person. I daresay your explanation of polymorphism on volcanic islands may be the right one; the reason I am curious about it is, the fact of the birds on the Galapagos being in several instances very fine-run species—that is, in comparing them, not so much one with another, as with their analogues from the continent. I have somehow felt, like you, that an alpine form of a plant is not a true variety; and yet I cannot admit that the simple fact of the cause being assignable ought to prevent its being called a variety; every variation must have some cause, so that the difference would rest on our knowledge in being able or not to assign the cause. Do you consider that a true variety should be produced by causes acting through the parent? But even taking this definition, are you sure that alpine forms are not inherited from one, two, or three generations? Now, would not this be a curious and valuable experiment (16/1. For an account of work of this character, see papers by G. Bonnier in the "Revue Generale," Volume II., 1890; "Ann. Sc. Nat." Volume XX.; "Revue Generale," Volume VII.), viz., to get seeds of some alpine plant, a little more hairy, etc., etc., than its lowland fellow, and raise seedlings at Kew: if this has not been done, could you not get it done? Have you anybody in Scotland from whom you could get the seeds?

I have been interested by your remarks on Senecia and Gnaphalium: would it not be worth while (I should be very curious to hear the result) to make a short list of the generally considered variable or polymorphous genera, as Rosa, Salix, Rubus, etc., etc., and reflect whether such genera are generally mundane, and more especially whether they have distinct or identical (or closely allied) species in their different and distant habitats.

Don’t forget me, if you ever stumble on cases of the same species being MORE or LESS variable in different countries.

With respect to the word "sterile" as used for male or polleniferous flowers, it has always offended my ears dreadfully; on the same principle that it would to hear a potent stallion, ram or bull called sterile, because they did not bear, as well as beget, young.

With respect to your geological-map suggestion, I wish with all my heart I could follow it; but just reflect on the number of measurements requisite; why, at present it could not be done even in England, even with the assumption of the land having simply risen any exact number of feet. But subsidence in most cases has hopelessly complexed the problem: see what Jordanhill-Smith (16/2. James Smith, of Jordan Hill, author of a paper "On the Geology of Gibraltar" ("Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc." Volume II., page 41, 1846).) says of the dance up and down, many times, which Gibraltar has had all within the recent period. Such maps as Lyell (16/3. "Principles of Geology," 1875, Volume I., Plate I, page 254.) has published of sea and land at the beginning of the Tertiary period must be excessively inaccurate: it assumes that every part on which Tertiary beds have not been deposited, must have then been dry land,—a most doubtful assumption.

I have been amused by Chambers v. Hooker on the K. Cabbage. I see in the "Explanations" (the spirit of which, though not the facts, ought to shame Sedgwick) that "Vestiges" considers all land-animals and plants to have passed from marine forms; so Chambers is quite in accordance. Did you hear Forbes, when here, giving the rather curious evidence (from a similarity in error) that Chambers must be the author of the "Vestiges": your case strikes me as some confirmation. I have written an unreasonably long and dull letter, so farewell. (16/4. "Explanations: A Sequel to the Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation" was published in 1845, after the appearance of the fourth edition of the "Vestiges," by way of reply to the criticisms on the original book. The "K. cabbage" referred to at the beginning of the paragraph is Pringlea antiscorbutica," the "Kerguelen Cabbage" described by Sir J.D. Hooker in his "Flora Antarctica." What Chambers wrote on this subject we have not discovered. The mention of Sedgwick is a reference to his severe review of the "Vestiges" in the "Edinburgh Review," 1845, volume 82, page 1. Darwin described it as savouring "of the dogmatism of the pulpit" ("Life and Letters," I., page 344). Mr. Ireland’s edition of the "Vestiges" (1844), in which Robert Chambers was first authentically announced as the author, contains (page xxix) an extract from a letter written by Chambers in 1860, in which the following passage occurs, "The April number of the ’Edinburgh Review"’ (1860) makes all but a direct amende for the abuse it poured upon my work a number of years ago." This is the well-known review by Owen, to which references occur in the "Life and Letters," II., page 300. The amende to the "Vestiges" is not so full as the author felt it to be; but it was clearly in place in a paper intended to belittle the "Origin"; it also gave the reviewer (page 511) an opportunity for a hit at Sedgwick and his 1845 review.)

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Chicago: Charles Darwin, "Letter 16. To J.D. Hooker. Down [1845].," More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, ed. Darwin, Francis, Sir, 1848-1925 and Seward, A. C. (Albert Charles), 1863-1941 and trans. Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866 in More Letters of Charles Darwin Original Sources, accessed August 14, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4WV7LN6JEZTZR6W.

MLA: Darwin, Charles. "Letter 16. To J.D. Hooker. Down [1845]." More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, edited by Darwin, Francis, Sir, 1848-1925 and Seward, A. C. (Albert Charles), 1863-1941, and translated by Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866, in More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, Original Sources. 14 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4WV7LN6JEZTZR6W.

Harvard: Darwin, C, 'Letter 16. To J.D. Hooker. Down [1845].' in More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, ed. and trans. . cited in , More Letters of Charles Darwin. Original Sources, retrieved 14 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4WV7LN6JEZTZR6W.