The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume II
Part 7 out of 11
greater number of your facts were quite unknown to me. I now see that from
the want of knowledge I did not make nearly sufficient use of the views
which you advocate; and I almost wish I could believe in its importance to
the same extent with you; for you well show, in a manner which never
occurred to me, that it removes many difficulties and objections. But I
must still believe that in many large areas all the individuals of the same
species have been slowly modified, in the same manner, for instance, as the
English race-horse has been improved, that is by the continued selection of
the fleetest individuals, without any separation. But I admit that by this
process two or more new species could hardly be found within the same
limited area; some degree of separation, if not indispensable, would be
highly advantageous; and here your facts and views will be of great
[The following letter bears on the same subject. It refers to Professor M.
Wagner's Essay, published in "Das Ausland", May 31, 1875:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO MORITZ WAGNER.
Down, October 13, 1876.
I have now finished reading your essays, which have interested me in a very
high degree, notwithstanding that I differ much from you on various points.
For instance, several considerations make me doubt whether species are much
more variable at one period than at another, except through the agency of
changed conditions. I wish, however, that I could believe in this
doctrine, as it removes many difficulties. But my strongest objection to
your theory is that it does not explain the manifold adaptations in
structure in every organic being--for instance in a Picus for climbing
trees and catching insects--or in a Strix for catching animals at night,
and so on ad infinitum. No theory is in the least satisfactory to me
unless it clearly explains such adaptations. I think that you
misunderstand my views on isolation. I believe that all the individuals of
a species can be slowly modified within the same district, in nearly the
same manner as man effects by what I have called the process of unconscious
selection...I do not believe that one species will give birth to two or
more new species as long as they are mingled together within the same
district. Nevertheless I cannot doubt that many new species have been
simultaneously developed within the same large continental area; and in my
'Origin of Species' I endeavoured to explain how two new species might be
developed, although they met and intermingled on the BORDERS of their
range. It would have been a strange fact if I had overlooked the
importance of isolation, seeing that it was such cases as that of the
Galapagos Archipelago, which chiefly led me to study the origin of species.
In my opinion the greatest error which I have committed, has been not
allowing sufficient weight to the direct action of the environment, i.e.
food, climate, etc., independently of natural selection. Modifications
thus caused, which are neither of advantage nor disadvantage to the
modified organism, would be especially favoured, as I can now see chiefly
through your observations, by isolation in a small area, where only a few
individuals lived under nearly uniform conditions.
When I wrote the 'Origin,' and for some years afterwards, I could find
little good evidence of the direct action of the environment; now there is
a large body of evidence, and your case of the Saturnia is one of the most
remarkable of which I have heard. Although we differ so greatly, I hope
that you will permit me to express my respect for your long-continued and
successful labours in the good cause of natural science.
I remain, dear Sir, yours very faithfully,
[The two following letters are also of interest as bearing on my father's
views on the action of isolation as regards the origin of new species:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO K. SEMPER.
Down, November 26, 1878.
My dear Professor Semper,
When I published the sixth edition of the 'Origin,' I thought a good deal
on the subject to which you refer, and the opinion therein expressed was my
deliberate conviction. I went as far as I could, perhaps too far in
agreement with Wagner; since that time I have seen no reason to change my
mind, but then I must add that my attention has been absorbed on other
subjects. There are two different classes of cases, as it appears to me,
viz. those in which a species becomes slowly modified in the same country
(of which I cannot doubt there are innumerable instances) and those cases
in which a species splits into two or three or more new species, and in the
latter case, I should think nearly perfect separation would greatly aid in
their "specification," to coin a new word.
I am very glad that you are taking up this subject, for you will be sure to
throw much light on it. I remember well, long ago, oscillating much; when
I thought of the Fauna and Flora of the Galapagos Islands I was all for
isolation, when I thought of S. America I doubted much. Pray believe me,
Yours very sincerely,
P.S.--I hope that this letter will not be quite illegible, but I have no
amanuensis at present.
CHARLES DARWIN TO K. SEMPER.
Down, November 30, 1878.
Dear Professor Semper,
Since writing I have recalled some of the thoughts and conclusions which
have passed through my mind of late years. In North America, in going from
north to south or from east to west, it is clear that the changed
conditions of life have modified the organisms in the different regions, so
that they now form distinct races or even species. It is further clear
that in isolated districts, however small, the inhabitants almost always
get slightly modified, and how far this is due to the nature of the
slightly different conditions to which they are exposed, and how far to
mere interbreeding, in the manner explained by Weismann, I can form no
opinion. The same difficulty occurred to me (as shown in my 'Variation of
Animals and Plants under Domestication') with respect to the aboriginal
breeds of cattle, sheep, etc., in the separated districts of Great Britain,
and indeed throughout Europe. As our knowledge advances, very slight
differences, considered by systematists as of no importance in structure,
are continually found to be functionally important; and I have been
especially struck with this fact in the case of plants to which my
observations have of late years been confined. Therefore it seems to me
rather rash to consider the slight differences between representative
species, for instance those inhabiting the different islands of the same
archipelago, as of no functional importance, and as not in any way due to
natural selection. With respect to all adapted structures, and these are
innumerable, I cannot see how M. Wagner's view throws any light, nor indeed
do I see at all more clearly than I did before, from the numerous cases
which he has brought forward, how and why it is that a long isolated form
should almost always become slightly modified. I do not know whether you
will care about hearing my further opinion on the point in question, for as
before remarked I have not attended much of late years to such questions,
thinking it prudent, now that I am growing old, to work at easier subjects.
Believe me, yours very sincerely,
I hope and trust that you will throw light on these points.
P.S.--I will add another remark which I remember occurred to me when I
first read M. Wagner. When a species first arrives on a small island, it
will probably increase rapidly, and unless all the individuals change
instantaneously (which is improbable in the highest degree), the slowly,
more or less, modifying offspring must intercross one with another, and
with their unmodified parents, and any offspring not as yet modified. The
case will then be like that of domesticated animals which have slowly
become modified, either by the action of the external conditions or by the
process which I have called the UNCONSCIOUS SELECTION by man--i.e., in
contrast with methodical selection.
[The letters continue the history of the year 1872, which has been
interrupted by a digression on Isolation.]
CHARLES DARWIN TO THE MARQUIS DE SAPORTA.
Down, April 8, 1872.
I thank you very sincerely and feel much honoured by the trouble which you
have taken in giving me your reflections on the origin of Man. It
gratifies me extremely that some parts of my work have interested you, and
that we agree on the main conclusion of the derivation of man from some
I will reflect on what you have said, but I cannot at present give up my
belief in the close relationship of Man to the higher Simiae. I do not put
much trust in any single character, even that of dentition; but I put the
greatest faith in resemblances in many parts of the whole organisation, for
I cannot believe that such resemblances can be due to any cause except
close blood relationship. That man is closely allied to the higher Simiae
is shown by the classification of Linnaeus, who was so good a judge of
affinity. The man who in England knows most about the structure of the
Simiae, namely, Mr. Mivart, and who is bitterly opposed to my doctrines
about the derivation of the mental powers, yet has publicly admitted that I
have not put man too close to the higher Simiae, as far as bodily structure
is concerned. I do not think the absence of reversions of structure in man
is of much weight; C. Vogt, indeed, argues that [the existence of] Micro-
cephalous idiots is a case of reversion. No one who believes in Evolution
will doubt that the Phocae are descended from some terrestrial Carnivore.
Yet no one would expect to meet with any such reversion in them. The
lesser divergence of character in the races of man in comparison with the
species of Simiadae may perhaps be accounted for by man having spread over
the world at a much later period than did the Simiadae. I am fully
prepared to admit the high antiquity of man; but then we have evidence, in
the Dryopithecus, of the high antiquity of the Anthropomorphous Simiae.
I am glad to hear that you are at work on your fossil plants, which of late
years have afforded so rich a field for discovery. With my best thanks for
your great kindness, and with much respect, I remain,
Dear Sir, yours very faithfully,
[In April, 1872, he was elected to the Royal Society of Holland, and wrote
to Professor Donders:--
"Very many thanks for your letter. The honour of being elected a foreign
member of your Royal Society has pleased me much. The sympathy of his
fellow workers has always appeared to me by far the highest reward to which
any scientific man can look. My gratification has been not a little
increased by first hearing of the honour from you."]
CHARLES DARWIN TO CHAUNCEY WRIGHT.
Down, June 3, 1872.
My dear Sir,
Many thanks for your article (The proof-sheets of an article which appeared
in the July number of the 'North American Review.' It was a rejoinder to
Mr. Mivart's reply ('North American Review,' April 1872) to Mr. Chauncey
Wright's pamphlet. Chauncey Wright says of it ('Letters,' page 238):--"It
is not properly a rejoinder but a new article, repeating and expounding
some of the points of my pamphlet, and answering some of Mr. Mivart's
replies incidentally.") in the 'North American Review,' which I have read
with great interest. Nothing can be clearer than the way in which you
discuss the permanence or fixity of species. It never occurred to me to
suppose that any one looked at the case as it seems Mr. Mivart does. Had I
read his answer to you, perhaps I should have perceived this; but I have
resolved to waste no more time in reading reviews of my works or on
Evolution, excepting when I hear that they are good and contain new
matter...It is pretty clear that Mr. Mivart has come to the end of his
tether on this subject.
As your mind is so clear, and as you consider so carefully the meaning of
words, I wish you would take some incidental occasion to consider when a
thing may properly be said to be effected by the will of man. I have been
led to the wish by reading an article by your Professor Whitney versus
Schleicher. He argues, because each step of change in language is made by
the will of man, the whole language so changes; but I do not think that
this is so, as man has no intention or wish to change the language. It is
a parallel case with what I have called "unconscious selection," which
depends on men consciously preserving the best individuals, and thus
unconsciously altering the breed.
My dear Sir, yours sincerely,
[Not long afterwards (September) Mr. Chauncey Wright paid a visit to Down
(Mr. and Mrs. C.L. Brace, who had given much of their lives to
philanthropic work in New York, also paid a visit at Down in this summer.
Some of their work is recorded in Mr. Brace's 'The Dangerous Classes of New
York,' and of this book my father wrote to the author:--
"Since you were here my wife has read aloud to me more than half of your
work, and it has interested us both in the highest degree, and we shall
read every word of the remainder. The facts seem to me very well told, and
the inferences very striking. But after all this is but a weak part of the
impression left on our minds by what we have read; for we are both filled
with earnest admiration at the heroic labours of yourself and others."),
which he described in a letter ('Letters, page 246-248.) to Miss S.
Sedgwick (now Mrs. William Darwin): "If you can imagine me enthusiastic--
absolutely and unqualifiedly so, without a BUT or criticism, then think of
my last evening's and this morning's talks with Mr. Darwin...I was never so
worked up in my life, and did not sleep many hours under the hospitable
roof...It would be quite impossible to give by way of report any idea of
these talks before and at and after dinner, at breakfast, and at leave-
taking; and yet I dislike the egotism of 'testifying' like other religious
enthusiasts, without any verification, or hint of similar experience."]
CHARLES DARWIN TO HERBERT SPENCER.
Bassett, Southampton, June 10, .
I dare say you will think me a foolish fellow, but I cannot resist the wish
to express my unbounded admiration of your article ('Mr. Martineau on
Evolution,' by Herbert Spencer, 'Contemporary Review,' July 1872.) in
answer to Mr. Martineau. It is, indeed, admirable, and hardly less so your
second article on Sociology (which, however, I have not yet finished): I
never believed in the reigning influence of great men on the world's
progress; but if asked why I did not believe, I should have been sorely
perplexed to have given a good answer. Every one with eyes to see and ears
to hear (the number, I fear, are not many) ought to bow their knee to you,
and I for one do.
Believe me, yours most sincerely,
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.D. HOOKER.
Down, July 12 .
My dear Hooker,
I must exhale and express my joy at the way in which the newspapers have
taken up your case. I have seen the "Times", the "Daily News", and the
"Pall Mall", and hear that others have taken up the case.
The Memorial has done great good this way, whatever may be the result in
the action of our wretched Government. On my soul, it is enough to make
one turn into an old honest Tory...
If you answer this, I shall be sorry that I have relieved my feelings by
[The memorial here referred to was addressed to Mr. Gladstone, and was
signed by a number of distinguished men, including Sir Charles Lyell, Mr.
Bentham, Mr. Huxley, and Sir James Paget. It gives a complete account of
the arbitrary and unjust treatment received by Sir J.D. Hooker at the hands
of his official chief, the First Commissioner of Works. The document is
published in full in 'Nature' (July 11, 1872), and is well worth studying
as an example of the treatment which it is possible for science to receive
from officialism. As 'Nature' observes, it is a paper which must be read
with the greatest indignation by scientific men in every part of the world,
and with shame by all Englishmen. The signatories of the memorial conclude
by protesting against the expected consequences of Sir Joseph Hooker's
persecution--namely his resignation, and the loss of "a man honoured for
his integrity, beloved for his courtesy and kindliness of heart; and who
has spent in the public service not only a stainless but an illustrious
Happily this misfortune was averted, and Sir Joseph was freed from further
CHARLES DARWIN TO A.R. WALLACE.
Down, August 3 .
My dear Wallace,
I hate controversy, chiefly perhaps because I do it badly; but as Dr. Bree
accuses you (Mr. Wallace had reviewed Dr. Bree's book, 'An Exposition of
Fallacies in the Hypothesis of Mr. Darwin,' in 'Nature,' July 25, 1872.) of
"blundering," I have thought myself bound to send the enclosed letter (The
letter is as follows:--"Bree on Darwinism." 'Nature,' August 8, 1872.
Permit me to state--though the statement is almost superfluous--that Mr.
Wallace, in his review of Dr. Bree's work, gives with perfect correctness
what I intended to express, and what I believe was expressed clearly, with
respect to the probable position of man in the early part of his pedigree.
As I have not seen Dr. Bree's recent work, and as his letter is
unintelligible to me, I cannot even conjecture how he has so completely
mistaken my meaning: but, perhaps, no one who has read Mr. Wallace's
article, or who has read a work formerly published by Dr. Bree on the same
subject as his recent one, will be surprised at any amount of
misunderstanding on his part.--Charles Darwin. August 3.) to 'Nature,'
that is if you in the least desire it. In this case please post it. If
you do not AT ALL wish it, I should rather prefer not sending it, and in
this case please to tear it up. And I beg you to do the same, if you
intend answering Dr. Bree yourself, as you will do it incomparably better
than I should. Also please tear it up if you don't like the letter.
My dear Wallace, yours very sincerely,
CHARLES DARWIN TO A.R. WALLACE.
Down, August 28, 1872.
My dear Wallace,
I have at last finished the gigantic job of reading Dr. Bastian's book
('The Beginnings of Life.' H.C. Bastian, 1872.) and have been deeply
interested by it. You wished to hear my impression, but it is not worth
He seems to me an extremely able man, as, indeed, I thought when I read his
first essay. His general argument in favour of Archebiosis (That is to
say, Spontaneous Generation. For the distinction between Archebiosis and
Heterogenesis, see Bastian, chapter vi.) is wonderfully strong, though I
cannot think much of some few of his arguments. The result is that I am
bewildered and astonished by his statements, but am not convinced, though,
on the whole, it seems to me probable that Archebiosis is true. I am not
convinced, partly I think owing to the deductive cast of much of his
reasoning; and I know not why, but I never feel convinced by deduction,
even in the case of H. Spencer's writings. If Dr. Bastian's book had been
turned upside down, and he had begun with the various cases of
Heterogenesis, and then gone on to organic, and afterwards to saline
solutions, and had then given his general arguments, I should have been, I
believe, much more influenced. I suspect, however, that my chief
difficulty is the effect of old convictions being stereotyped on my brain.
I must have more evidence that germs, or the minutest fragments of the
lowest forms, are always killed by 212 degrees of Fahr. Perhaps the mere
reiteration of the statements given by Dr. Bastian [by] other men, whose
judgment I respect, and who have worked long on the lower organisms, would
suffice to convince me. Here is a fine confession of intellectual
weakness; but what an inexplicable frame of mind is that of belief!
As for Rotifers and Tardigrades being spontaneously generated, my mind can
no more digest such statements, whether true or false, than my stomach can
digest a lump of lead. Dr. Bastian is always comparing Archebiosis, as
well as growth, to crystallisation; but, on this view, a Rotifer or
Tardigrade is adapted to its humble conditions of life by a happy accident,
and this I cannot believe...He must have worked with very impure materials
in some cases, as plenty of organisms appeared in a saline solution not
containing an atom of nitrogen.
I wholly disagree with Dr. Bastian about many points in his latter
chapters. Thus the frequency of generalised forms in the older strata
seems to me clearly to indicate the common descent with divergence of more
recent forms. Notwithstanding all his sneers, I do not strike my colours
as yet about Pangenesis. I should like to live to see Archebiosis proved
true, for it would be a discovery of transcendent importance; or, if false,
I should like to see it disproved, and the facts otherwise explained; but I
shall not live to see all this. If ever proved, Dr. Bastian will have
taken a prominent part in the work. How grand is the onward rush of
science; it is enough to console us for the many errors which we have
committed, and for our efforts being overlaid and forgotten in the mass of
new facts and new views which are daily turning up.
This is all I have to say about Dr. Bastian's book, and it certainly has
not been worth saying...
CHARLES DARWIN TO A. DE CANDOLLE.
Down, December 11, 1872.
My dear Sir,
I began reading your new book ('Histoire des Sciences et des Savants.'
1873.) sooner than I intended, and when I once began, I could not stop; and
now you must allow me to thank you for the very great pleasure which it has
given me. I have hardly ever read anything more original and interesting
than your treatment of the causes which favour the development of
scientific men. The whole was quite new to me, and most curious. When I
began your essay I was afraid that you were going to attack the principle
of inheritance in relation to mind, but I soon found myself fully content
to follow you and accept your limitations. I have felt, of course, special
interest in the latter part of your work, but there was here less novelty
to me. In many parts you do me much honour, and everywhere more than
justice. Authors generally like to hear what points most strike different
readers, so I will mention that of your shorter essays, that on the future
prevalence of languages, and on vaccination interested me the most, as,
indeed, did that on statistics, and free will. Great liability to certain
diseases, being probably liable to atavism, is quite a new idea to me. At
page 322 you suggest that a young swallow ought to be separated, and then
let loose in order to test the power of instinct; but nature annually
performs this experiment, as old cuckoos migrate in England some weeks
before the young birds of the same year. By the way, I have just used the
forbidden word "nature," which, after reading your essay, I almost
determined never to use again. There are very few remarks in your book to
which I demur, but when you back up Asa Gray in saying that all instincts
are congenital habits, I must protest.
Finally, will you permit me to ask you a question: have you yourself, or
some one who can be quite trusted, observed (page 322) that the butterflies
on the Alps are tamer than those on the lowlands? Do they belong to the
same species? Has this fact been observed with more than one species? Are
they brightly coloured kinds? I am especially curious about their
alighting on the brightly coloured parts of ladies' dresses, more
especially because I have been more than once assured that butterflies like
bright colours, for instance, in India the scarlet leaves of Poinsettia.
Once again allow me to thank you for having sent me your work, and for the
very unusual amount of pleasure which I have received in reading it.
With much respect, I remain, my dear Sir,
Yours very sincerely,
[The last revise of the 'Expression of the Emotions' was finished on August
22nd, 1872, and he wrote in his Diary:--"Has taken me about twelve months."
As usual he had no belief in the possibility of the book being generally
successful. The following passage in a letter to Haeckel gives the
impression that he had felt the writing of this book as a somewhat severe
"I have finished my little book on 'Expression,' and when it is published
in November I will of course send you a copy, in case you would like to
read it for amusement. I have resumed some old botanical work, and perhaps
I shall never again attempt to discuss theoretical views.
"I am growing old and weak, and no man can tell when his intellectual
powers begin to fail. Long life and happiness to you for your own sake and
for that of science."
It was published in the autumn. The edition consisted of 7000, and of
these 5267 copies were sold at Mr. Murray's sale in November. Two thousand
were printed at the end of the year, and this proved a misfortune, as they
did not afterwards sell so rapidly, and thus a mass of notes collected by
the author was never employed for a second edition during his lifetime.
Among the reviews of the 'Expression of the Emotions' may be mentioned the
unfavourable notices in the "Athenaeum", November 9, 1872, and the "Times",
December 13, 1872. A good review by Mr. Wallace appeared in the 'Quarterly
Journal of Science,' January 1873. Mr. Wallace truly remarks that the book
exhibits certain "characteristics of the author's mind in an eminent
degree," namely, "the insatiable longing to discover the causes of the
varied and complex phenomena presented by living things." He adds that in
the case of the author "the restless curiosity of the child to know the
'what for?' the 'why?' and the 'how?' of everything" seems "never to have
abated its force."
A writer in one of the theological reviews describes the book as the most
"powerful and insidious" of all the author's works.
Professor Alexander Bain criticised the book in a postscript to the 'Senses
and the Intellect;' to this essay the following letter refers:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO ALEXANDER BAIN.
Down, October 9, 1873.
My dear Sir,
I am particularly obliged to you for having send me your essay. Your
criticisms are all written in a quite fair spirit, and indeed no one who
knows you or your works would expect anything else. What you say about the
vagueness of what I have called the direct action of the nervous system, is
perfectly just. I felt it so at the time, and even more of late. I
confess that I have never been able fully to grasp your principle of
spontaneity, as well as some other of your points, so as to apply them to
special cases. But as we look at everything from different points of view,
it is not likely that we should agree closely. (Professor Bain expounded
his theory of Spontaneity in the essay here alluded to. It would be
impossible to do justice to it within the limits of a foot-note. The
following quotations may give some notion of it:--
"By Spontaneity I understand the readiness to pass into movement in the
absence of all stimulation whatever; the essential requisite being that the
nerve-centres and muscles shall be fresh and vigorous...The gesticulations
and the carols of young and active animals are mere overflow of nervous
energy; and although they are very apt to concur with pleasing emotion,
they have an independent source...They are not properly movements of
expression; they express nothing at all except an abundant stock of
I have been greatly pleased by what you say about the crying expression and
about blushing. Did you read a review in a late 'Edinburgh?' (The review
on the 'Expression of the Emotions' appeared in the April number of the
'Edinburgh Review,' 1873. The opening sentence is a fair sample of the
general tone of the article: "Mr. Darwin has added another volume of
amusing stories and grotesque illustrations to the remarkable series of
works already devoted to the exposition and defence of the evolutionary
hypothesis." A few other quotations may be worth giving. "His one-sided
devotion to an a priori scheme of interpretation seems thus steadily
tending to impair the author's hitherto unrivalled powers as an observer.
However this may be, most impartial critics will, we think, admit that
there is a marked falling off both in philosophical tone and scientific
interest in the works produced since Mr. Darwin committed himself to the
crude metaphysical conception so largely associated with his name." The
article is directed against Evolution as a whole, almost as much as against
the doctrines of the book under discussion. We find throughout plenty of
that effective style of criticism which consists in the use of such
expressions as "dogmatism," "intolerance," "presumptuous," "arrogant."
Together with accusations of such various faults a "virtual abandonment of
the inductive method," and the use of slang and vulgarisms.
The part of the article which seems to have interested my father is the
discussion on the use which he ought to have made of painting and
sculpture.) It was magnificently contemptuous towards myself and many
I retain a very pleasant recollection of our sojourn together at that
delightful place, Moor Park.
With my renewed thanks, I remain, my dear Sir,
CHARLES DARWIN TO MRS. HALIBURTON. (Mrs. Haliburton was a daughter of my
father's old friend, Mr. Owen of Woodhouse. Her husband, Judge Haliburton,
was the well-known author of 'Sam Slick.')
Down, November 1 .
My dear Mrs. Haliburton,
I dare say you will be surprised to hear from me. My object in writing now
is to say that I have just published a book on the 'Expression of the
Emotions in Man and Animals;' and it has occurred to me that you might
possibly like to read some parts of it; and I can hardly think that this
would have been the case with any of the books which I have already
published. So I send by this post my present book. Although I have had no
communication with you or the other members of your family for so long a
time, no scenes in my whole life pass so frequently or so vividly before my
mind as those which relate to happy old days spent at Woodhouse. I should
very much like to hear a little news about yourself and the other members
of your family, if you will take the trouble to write to me. Formerly I
used to glean some news about you from my sisters.
I have had many years of bad health and have not been able to visit
anywhere; and now I feel very old. As long as I pass a perfectly uniform
life, I am able to do some daily work in Natural History, which is still my
passion, as it was in old days, when you used to laugh at me for collecting
beetles with such zeal at Woodhouse. Excepting from my continued ill-
health, which has excluded me from society, my life has been a very happy
one; the greatest drawback being that several of my children have inherited
from me feeble health. I hope with all my heart that you retain, at least
to a large extent, the famous "Owen constitution." With sincere feelings
of gratitude and affection for all bearing the name of Owen, I venture to
CHARLES DARWIN TO MRS. HALIBURTON.
Down, November 6 .
My dear Sarah,
I have been very much pleased by your letter, which I must call charming.
I hardly ventured to think that you would have retained a friendly
recollection of me for so many years. Yet I ought to have felt assured
that you would remain as warm-hearted and as true-hearted as you have ever
been from my earliest recollection. I know well how many grievous sorrows
you have gone through; but I am very sorry to hear that your health is not
good. In the spring or summer, when the weather is better, if you can
summon up courage to pay us a visit here, both my wife, as she desires me
to say, and myself, would be truly glad to see you, and I know that you
would not care about being rather dull here. It would be a real pleasure
to me to see you.--Thank you much for telling about your family,--much of
which was new to me. How kind you all were to me as a boy, and you
especially, and how much happiness I owe to you. Believe me your
affectionate and obliged friend,
P.S.--Perhaps you would like to see a photograph of me now that I am old.
[The only work (other than botanical) of this year was the preparation of a
second edition of the 'Descent of Man,' the publication of which is
referred to in the following chapter. This work was undertaken much
against the grain, as he was at the time deeply immersed in the manuscript
of 'Insectivorous Plants.' Thus he wrote to Mr. Wallace (November 19), "I
never in my lifetime regretted an interruption so much as this new edition
of the 'Descent.'" And later (in December) he wrote to Mr. Huxley: "The
new edition of the 'Descent' has turned out an awful job. It took me ten
days merely to glance over letters and reviews with criticisms and new
facts. It is a devil of a job."
The work was continued until April 1, 1874, when he was able to return to
his much loved Drosera. He wrote to Mr. Murray:--
"I have at last finished, after above three months as hard work as I have
ever had in my life, a corrected edition of the 'Descent,' and I much wish
to have it printed off as soon as possible. As it is to be stereotyped I
shall never touch it again."
The first of the miscellaneous letters of 1873 refers to a pleasant visit
received from Colonel Higginson of Newport, U.S.]
CHARLES DARWIN TO THOS. WENTWORTH HIGGINSON.
Down, February 27th .
My dear Sir,
My wife has just finished reading aloud your 'Life with a Black Regiment,'
and you must allow me to thank you heartily for the very great pleasure
which it has in many ways given us. I always thought well of the negroes,
from the little which I have seen of them; and I have been delighted to
have my vague impressions confirmed, and their character and mental powers
so ably discussed. When you were here I did not know of the noble position
which you had filled. I had formerly read about the black regiments, but
failed to connect your name with your admirable undertaking. Although we
enjoyed greatly your visit to Down, my wife and myself have over and over
again regretted that we did not know about the black regiment, as we should
have greatly liked to have heard a little about the South from your own
Your descriptions have vividly recalled walks taken forty years ago in
Brazil. We have your collected Essays, which were kindly sent us by Mr.
[Moncure] Conway, but have not yet had time to read them. I occasionally
glean a little news of you in the 'Index'; and within the last hour have
read an interesting article of yours on the progress of Free Thought.
Believe me, my dear sir, with sincere admiration,
Yours very faithfully,
[On May 28th he sent the following answers to the questions that Mr. Galton
was at that time addressing to various scientific men, in the course of the
inquiry which is given in his 'English Men of Science, their Nature and
Nurture,' 1874. With regard to the questions my father wrote, "I have
filled up the answers as well as I could, but it is simply impossible for
me to estimate the degrees." For the sake of convenience, the questions
and answers relating to "Nurture" are made to precede those on "Nature":
How taught? I consider that all I have learnt of any value has been self-
Conducive to or restrictive of habits of observation? Restrictive of
observation, being almost entirely classical.
Conducive to health or otherwise? Yes.
Peculiar merits? None whatever.
Chief omissions? No mathematics or modern languages, nor any habits of
observation or reasoning.
Has the religious creed taught in your youth had any deterrent effect on
the freedom of your researches? No.
Do your scientific tastes appear to have been innate? Certainly innate.
Were they determined by any and what events? My innate taste for natural
history strongly confirmed and directed by the voyage in the "Beagle".
Specify any interests that have been very actively pursued. Science, and
field sports to a passionate degree during youth.
(C.D. = CHARLES DARWIN, R.D. = ROBERT DARWIN, his father.)
C.D.--Nominally to Church of England.
R.D.--Nominally to Church of England.
C.D.--Liberal or Radical.
C.D.--Good when young--bad for last 33 years.
R.D.--Good throughout life, except from gout.
C.D.--6ft. Figure, etc.?--Spare, whilst young rather stout. Measurement
round inside of hat?--22 1/4 in. Colour of Hair?--Brown. Complexion?--
R.D.--6ft. 2 in. Figure, etc?--Very broad and corpulent. Colour of hair?
ENERGY OF BODY, ETC.?
C.D.--Energy shown by much activity, and whilst I had health, power of
resisting fatigue. I and one other man were alone able to fetch water for
a large party of officers and sailors utterly prostrated. Some of my
expeditions in S. America were adventurous. An early riser in the morning.
R.D.--Great power of endurance although feeling much fatigue, as after
consultations after long journeys ; very active--not restless--very early
riser, no travels. My father said his father suffered much from sense of
fatigue, that he worked very hard.
ENERGY OF MIND, ETC.?
C.D.--Shown by rigorous and long-continued work on same subject, as 20
years on the 'Origin of Species,' and 9 years on 'Cirripedia.'
R.D.--Habitually very active mind--shown in conversation with a succession
of people during the whole day.
C.D.--Memory very bad for dates, and for learning by rote; but good in
retaining a general or vague recollection of many facts.
R.D.--Wonderful memory for dates. In old age he told a person, reading
aloud to him a book only read in youth, the passages which were coming--
knew the birthdays and death, etc., of all friends and acquaintances.
C.D.--Very studious, but not large acquirements.
R.D.--Not very studious or mentally receptive, except for facts in
conversation--great collector of anecdotes.
INDEPENDENCE OF JUDGMENT?
C.D.--I think fairly independent; but I can give no instances. I gave up
common religious belief almost independently from my own reflections.
R.D.--Free thinker in religious matters. Liberal, with rather a tendency
ORIGINALITY OR ECCENTRICITY?
C.D.-- -- Thinks this applies to me; I do not think so--i.e., as far as
eccentricity. I suppose that I have shown originality in science, as I
have made discoveries with regard to common objects.
R.D.--Original character, had great personal influence and power of
producing fear of himself in others. He kept his accounts with great care
in a peculiar way, in a number of separate little books, without any
C.D.--None, except for business as evinced by keeping accounts, replies to
correspondence, and investing money very well. Very methodical in all my
R.D.--Practical business--made a large fortune and incurred no losses.
STRONGLY MARKED MENTAL PECULIARITIES, BEARING ON SCIENTIFIC SUCCESS, AND
NOT SPECIFIED ABOVE?
C.D.--Steadiness--great curiosity about facts and their meaning. Some love
of the new and marvellous.
R.D.--Strong social affection and great sympathy in the pleasures of
others. Sceptical as to new things. Curious as to facts. Great
foresight. Not much public spirit--great generosity in giving money and
N.B.--I find it quite impossible to estimate my character by your degrees.
The following letter refers inter alia to a letter which appeared in
'Nature' (September 25, 1873), "On the Males and Complemental Males of
certain Cirripedes, and on Rudimentary Organs:"]
CHARLES DARWIN TO E. HAECKEL.
Down, September 25, 1873.
My dear Haeckel,
I thank you for the present of your book ('Schopfungs-geschichte,' 4th
edition. The translation ('The History of Creation') was not published
until 1876.), and I am heartily glad to see its great success. You will do
a wonderful amount of good in spreading the doctrine of Evolution,
supporting it as you do by so many original observations. I have read the
new preface with very great interest. The delay in the appearance of the
English translation vexes and surprises me, for I have never been able to
read it thoroughly in German, and I shall assuredly do so when it appears
in English. Has the problem of the later stages of reduction of useless
structures ever perplexed you? This problem has of late caused me much
perplexity. I have just written a letter to 'Nature' with a hypothetical
explanation of this difficulty, and I will send you the paper with the
passage marked. I will at the same time send a paper which has interested
me; it need not be returned. It contains a singular statement bearing on
so-called Spontaneous Generation. I much wish that this latter question
could be settled, but I see no prospect of it. If it could be proved true
this would be most important to us...
Wishing you every success in your admirable labours,
I remain, my dear Haeckel, yours very sincerely,
MISCELLANEA, INCLUDING SECOND EDITIONS OF 'CORAL REEFS,' THE 'DESCENT OF
MAN,' AND THE 'VARIATION OF ANIMALS AND PLANTS.'
1874 AND 1875.
[The year 1874 was given up to 'Insectivorous Plants,' with the exception
of the months devoted to the second edition of the 'Descent of Man,' and
with the further exception of the time given to a second edition of his
'Coral Reefs' (1874). The Preface to the latter states that new facts have
been added, the whole book revised, and "the latter chapters almost
rewritten." In the Appendix some account is given of Professor Semper's
objections, and this was the occasion of correspondence between that
naturalist and my father. In Professor Semper's volume, 'Animal Life' (one
of the International Series), the author calls attention to the subject in
the following passage which I give in German, the published English
translation being, as it seems to me, incorrect: "Es scheint mir als ob er
in der zweiten Ausgabe seines allgemein bekannten Werks uber Korallenriffe
einem Irrthume uber meine Beobachtungen zum Opfer gefallen ist, indem er
die Angaben, die ich allerdings bisher immer nur sehr kurz gehalten hatte,
vollstandig falsch wiedergegeben hat."
The proof-sheets containing this passage were sent by Professor Semper to
my father before 'Animal Life' was published, and this was the occasion for
the following letter, which was afterwards published in Professor Semper's
CHARLES DARWIN TO K. SEMPER.
Down, October 2, 1879.
My dear Professor Semper,
I thank you for your extremely kind letter of the 19th, and for the proof-
sheets. I believe that I understand all, excepting one or two sentences,
where my imperfect knowledge of German has interfered. This is my sole and
poor excuse for the mistake which I made in the second edition of my
'Coral' book. Your account of the Pellew Islands is a fine addition to our
knowledge on coral reefs. I have very little to say on the subject, even
if I had formerly read your account and seen your maps, but had known
nothing of the proofs of recent elevation, and of your belief that the
islands have not since subsided. I have no doubt that I should have
considered them as formed during subsidence. But I should have been much
troubled in my mind by the sea not being so deep as it usually is round
atolls, and by the reef on one side sloping so gradually beneath the sea;
for this latter fact, as far as my memory serves me, is a very unusual and
almost unparalleled case. I always foresaw that a bank at the proper depth
beneath the surface would give rise to a reef which could not be
distinguished from an atoll, formed during subsidence. I must still adhere
to my opinion that the atolls and barrier reefs in the middle of the
Pacific and Indian Oceans indicate subsidence; but I fully agree with you
that such cases as that of the Pellew Islands, if of at all frequent
occurrence, would make my general conclusions of very little value. Future
observers must decide between us. It will be a strange fact if there has
not been subsidence of the beds of the great oceans, and if this has not
affected the forms of the coral reefs.
In the last three pages of the last sheet sent I am extremely glad to see
that you are going to treat of the dispersion of animals. Your preliminary
remarks seem to me quite excellent. There is nothing about M. Wagner, as I
expected to find. I suppose that you have seen Moseley's last book, which
contains some good observations on dispersion.
I am glad that your book will appear in English, for then I can read it
with ease. Pray believe me,
Yours very sincerely,
[The most recent criticism on the Coral-reef theory is by Mr. Murray, one
of the staff of the "Challenger", who read a paper before the Royal Society
of Edinburgh, April 5, 1880. (An abstract is published in volume x. of the
'Proceedings,' page 505, and in 'Nature,' August 12, 1880.) The chief
point brought forward is the possibility of the building up of submarine
mountains, which may serve as foundations for coral reefs. Mr. Murray also
seeks to prove that "the chief features of coral reefs and islands can be
accounted for without calling in the aid of great and general subsidence."
The following letter refers to this subject:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO A. AGASSIZ.
Down, May 5, 1881.
...You will have seen Mr. Murray's views on the formation of atolls and
barrier reefs. Before publishing my book, I thought long over the same
view, but only as far as ordinary marine organisms are concerned, for at
that time little was known of the multitude of minute oceanic organisms. I
rejected this view, as from the few dredgings made in the "Beagle", in the
south temperate regions, I concluded that shells, the smaller corals, etc.,
decayed, and were dissolved, when not protected by the deposition of
sediment, and sediment could not accumulate in the open ocean. Certainly,
shells, etc., were in several cases completely rotten, and crumbled into
mud between my fingers; but you will know well whether this is in any
degree common. I have expressly said that a bank at the proper depth would
give rise to an atoll, which could not be distinguished from one formed
during subsidence. I can, however, hardly believe in the former presence
of as many banks (there having been no subsidence) as there are atolls in
the great oceans, within a reasonable depth, on which minute oceanic
organisms could have accumulated to the thickness of many hundred
feet...Pray forgive me for troubling you at such length, but it has
occurred [to me] that you might be disposed to give, after your wide
experience, your judgment. If I am wrong, the sooner I am knocked on the
head and annihilated so much the better. It still seems to me a marvellous
thing that there should not have been much, and long continued, subsidence
in the beds of the great oceans. I wish that some doubly rich millionaire
would take it into his head to have borings made in some of the Pacific and
Indian atolls, and bring home cores for slicing from a depth of 500 or 600
[The second edition of the 'Descent of Man' was published in the autumn of
1874. Some severe remarks on the "monistic hypothesis" appeared in the
July (The review necessarily deals with the first edition of the 'Descent
of Man.') number of the 'Quarterly Review' (page 45). The Reviewer
expresses his astonishment at the ignorance of certain elementary
distinctions and principles (e.g. with regard to the verbum mentale)
exhibited, among others, by Mr. Darwin, who does not exhibit the faintest
indication of having grasped them, yet a clear perception of them, and a
direct and detailed examination of his facts with regard to them, "was a
sine qua non for attempting, with a chance of success, the solution of the
mystery as to the descent of man."
Some further criticisms of a later date may be here alluded to. In the
'Academy,' 1876 (pages 562, 587), appeared a review of Mr. Mivart's
'Lessons from Nature,' by Mr. Wallace. When considering the part of Mr.
Mivart's book relating to Natural and Sexual Selection, Mr. Wallace says:
"In his violent attack on Mr. Darwin's theories our author uses unusually
strong language. Not content with mere argument, he expresses 'reprobation
of Mr. Darwin's views'; and asserts that though he (Mr. Darwin) has been
obliged, virtually, to give up his theory, it is still maintained by
Darwinians with 'unscrupulous audacity,' and the actual repudiation of it
concealed by the 'conspiracy of silence.'" Mr. Wallace goes on to show
that these charges are without foundation, and points out that, "if there
is one thing more than another for which Mr. Darwin is pre-eminent among
modern literary and scientific men, it is for his perfect literary honesty,
his self-abnegation in confessing himself wrong, and the eager haste with
which he proclaims and even magnifies small errors in his works, for the
most part discovered by himself."
The following extract from a letter to Mr. Wallace (June 17th) refers to
Mr. Mivart's statement ('Lessons from Nature,' page 144) that Mr. Darwin at
first studiously disguised his views as to the "bestiality of man":--
"I have only just heard of and procured your two articles in the Academy.
I thank you most cordially for your generous defence of me against Mr.
Mivart. In the 'Origin' I did not discuss the derivation of any one
species; but that I might not be accused of concealing my opinion, I went
out of my way, and inserted a sentence which seemed to me (and still so
seems) to disclose plainly my belief. This was quoted in my 'Descent of
Man.' Therefore it is very unjust,...of Mr. Mivart to accuse me of base
The letter which here follows is of interest in connection with the
discussion, in the 'Descent of Man,' on the origin of the musical sense in
CHARLES DARWIN TO E. GURNEY. (Author of 'The Power of Sound.')
Down, July 8, 1876.
My dear Mr. Gurney,
I have read your article ("Some disputed Points in Music."--'Fortnightly
Review,' July, 1876.) with much interest, except the latter part, which
soared above my ken. I am greatly pleased that you uphold my views to a
certain extent. Your criticism of the rasping noise made by insects being
necessarily rhythmical is very good; but though not made intentionally, it
may be pleasing to the females from the nerve cells being nearly similar in
function throughout the animal kingdom. With respect to your letter, I
believe that I understand your meaning, and agree with you. I never
supposed that the different degrees and kinds of pleasure derived from
different music could be explained by the musical powers of our semi-human
progenitors. Does not the fact that different people belonging to the same
civilised nation are very differently affected by the same music, almost
show that these diversities of taste and pleasure have been acquired during
their individual lives? Your simile of architecture seems to me
particularly good; for in this case the appreciation almost must be
individual, though possibly the sense of sublimity excited by a grand
cathedral, may have some connection with the vague feelings of terror and
superstition in our savage ancestors, when they entered a great cavern or
gloomy forest. I wish some one could analyse the feeling of sublimity. It
amuses me to think how horrified some high flying aesthetic men will be at
your encouraging such low degraded views as mine.
Believe me, yours very sincerely,
[The letters which follow are of a miscellaneous interest. The first
extract (from a letter, January 18, 1874) refers to a spiritualistic
seance, held at Erasmus Darwin's house, 6 Queen Anne Street, under the
auspices of a well-known medium:]
"...We had grand fun, one afternoon, for George hired a medium, who made
the chairs, a flute, a bell, and candlestick, and fiery points jump about
in my brother's diningroom, in a manner that astounded every one, and took
away all their breaths. It was in the dark, but George and Hensleigh
Wedgwood held the medium's hands and feet on both sides all the time. I
found it so hot and tiring that I went away before all these astounding
miracles, or jugglery, took place. How the man could possibly do what was
done passes my understanding. I came downstairs, and saw all the chairs,
etc., on the table, which had been lifted over the heads of those sitting
The Lord have mercy on us all, if we have to believe in such rubbish. F.
Galton was there, and says it was a good seance..."
The Seance in question led to a smaller and more carefully organised one
being undertaken, at which Mr. Huxley was present, and on which he reported
to my father:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO PROFESSOR T.H. HUXLEY.
Down, January 29 .
My dear Huxley,
It was very good of you to write so long an account. Though the seance did
tire you so much it was, I think, really worth the exertion, as the same
sort of things are done at all the seances, even at --'s; and now to my
mind an enormous weight of evidence would be requisite to make one believe
in anything beyond mere trickery...I am pleased to think that I declared to
all my family, the day before yesterday, that the more I thought of all
that I had heard happened at Queen Anne St., the more convinced I was it
was all imposture...my theory was that [the medium] managed to get the two
men on each side of him to hold each other's hands, instead of his, and
that he was thus free to perform his antics. I am very glad that I issued
my ukase to you to attend.
[In the spring of this year (1874) he read a book which gave him great
pleasure and of which he often spoke with admiration:--'The Naturalist in
Nicaragua,' by the late Thomas Belt. Mr. Belt, whose untimely death may
well be deplored by naturalists, was by profession an Engineer, so that all
his admirable observations in Natural History in Nicaragua and elsewhere
were the fruit of his leisure. The book is direct and vivid in style and
is full of description and suggestive discussions. With reference to it my
father wrote to Sir J.D. Hooker:--
"Belt I have read, and I am delighted that you like it so much, it appears
to me the best of all natural history journals which have ever been
CHARLES DARWIN TO THE MARQUIS DE SAPORTA.
Down, May 30, 1874.
I have been very neglectful in not having sooner thanked you for your
kindness in having sent me your 'Etudes sur la Vegetation,' etc., and other
memoirs. I have read several of them with very great interest, and nothing
can be more important, in my opinion, than your evidence of the extremely
slow and gradual manner in which specific forms change. I observe that M.
A. De Candolle has lately quoted you on this head versus Heer. I hope that
you may be able to throw light on the question whether such protean, or
polymorphic forms, as those of Rubus, Hieracium, etc., at the present day,
are those which generate new species; as for myself, I have always felt
some doubt on this head. I trust that you may soon bring many of your
countrymen to believe in Evolution, and my name will then perhaps cease to
be scorned. With the most sincere respect, I remain, Dear Sir,
CHARLES DARWIN TO ASA GRAY.
Down, June 5 .
My dear Gray,
I have now read your article (The article, "Charles Darwin," in the series
of "Scientific Worthies" ('Nature,' June 4, 1874). This admirable estimate
of my father's work in science is given in the form of a comparison and
contrast between Robert Brown and Charles Darwin.) in 'Nature,' and the
last two paragraphs were not included in the slip sent before. I wrote
yesterday and cannot remember exactly what I said, and now cannot be easy
without again telling you how profoundly I have been gratified. Every one,
I suppose, occasionally thinks that he has worked in vain, and when one of
these fits overtakes me, I will think of your article, and if that does not
dispel the evil spirit, I shall know that I am at the time a little bit
insane, as we all are occasionally.
What you say about Teleology ("Let us recognise Darwin's great service to
Natural Science in bringing back to it Teleology: so that instead of
Morphology versus Teleology, we shall have Morphology wedded to
Teleology.") pleases me especially, and I do not think any one else has
ever noticed the point. (See, however, Mr. Huxley's chapter on the
'Reception of the Origin of Species' in volume i.) I have always said you
were the man to hit the nail on the head.
Yours gratefully and affectionately,
[As a contribution to the history of the reception of the 'Origin of
Species,' the meeting of the British Association in 1874, at Belfast,
should be mentioned. It is memorable for Professor Tyndall's brilliant
presidential address, in which a sketch of the history of Evolution is
given culminating in an eloquent analysis of the 'Origin of Species,' and
of the nature of its great success. With regard to Prof. Tyndall's
address, Lyell wrote ('Life,' ii. page 455) congratulating my father on the
meeting, "on which occasion you and your theory of Evolution may be fairly
said to have had an ovation." In the same letter Sir Charles speaks of a
paper (On the Ancient Volcanoes of the Highlands, 'Journal of Geological
Soc.,' 1874.) of Professor Judd's, and it is to this that the following
CHARLES DARWIN TO C. LYELL.
Down, September 23, 1874.
My dear Lyell,
I suppose that you have returned, or will soon return, to London (Sir
Charles Lyell returned from Scotland towards the end of September.); and, I
hope, reinvigorated by your outing. In your last letter you spoke of Mr.
Judd's paper on the Volcanoes of the Hebrides. I have just finished it,
and to ease my mind must express my extreme admiration.
It is years since I have read a purely geological paper which has
interested me so greatly. I was all the more interested, as in the
Cordillera I often speculated on the sources of the deluges of submarine
porphyritic lavas, of which they are built; and, as I have stated, I saw to
a certain extent the causes of the obliteration of the points of eruption.
I was also not a little pleased to see my volcanic book quoted, for I
thought it was completely dead and forgotten. What fine work will Mr. Judd
assuredly do!...Now I have eased my mind; and so farewell, with both E.D.'s
and C.D.'s very kind remembrances to Miss Lyell.
[Sir Charles Lyell's reply to the above letter must have been one of the
latest that my father received from his old friend, and it is with this
letter that the volumes of his published correspondence closes.]
CHARLES DARWIN TO AUG. FOREL.
Down, October 15, 1874.
My dear Sir,
I have now read the whole of your admirable work ('Les Fourmis de la
Suisse,' 4to, 1874.) and seldom in my life have I been more interested by
any book. There are so many interesting facts and discussions, that I
hardly know which to specify; but I think, firstly, the newest points to me
have been about the size of the brain in the three sexes, together with
your suggestion that increase of mind power may have led to the sterility
of the workers. Secondly about the battles of the ants, and your curious
account of the enraged ants being held by their comrades until they calmed
down. Thirdly, the evidence of ants of the same community being the
offspring of brothers and sisters. You admit, I think, that new
communities will often be the product of a cross between not-related ants.
Fritz Muller has made some interesting observations on this head with
respect to Termites. The case of Anergates is most perplexing in many
ways, but I have such faith in the law of occasional crossing that I
believe an explanation will hereafter be found, such as the dimorphism of
either sex and the occasional production of winged males. I see that you
are puzzled how ants of the same community recognize each other; I once
placed two (F. rufa) in a pill-box smelling strongly of asafoetida and
after a day returned them to their homes; they were threatened, but at last
recognized. I made the trial thinking that they might know each other by
their odour; but this cannot have been the case, and I have often fancied
that they must have some common signal. Your last chapter is one great
mass of wonderful facts and suggestions, and the whole profoundly
interesting. I have seldom been more gratified than by [your] honourable
mention of my work.
I should like to tell you one little observation which I made with care
many years ago; I saw ants (Formica rufa) carrying cocoons from a nest
which was the largest I ever saw and which was well-known to all the
country people near, and an old man, apparently about eighty years of age,
told me that he had known it ever since he was a boy. The ants carrying
the cocoons did not appear to be emigrating; following the line, I saw many
ascending a tall fir tree still carrying their cocoons. But when I looked
closely I found that all the cocoons were empty cases. This astonished me,
and next day I got a man to observe with me, and we again saw ants bringing
empty cocoons out of the nest; each of us fixed on one ant and slowly
followed it, and repeated the observation on many others. We thus found
that some ants soon dropped their empty cocoons; others carried them for
many yards, as much as thirty paces, and others carried them high up the
fir tree out of sight. Now here I think we have one instinct in contest
with another and mistaken one. The first instinct being to carry the empty
cocoons out of the nest, and it would have been sufficient to have laid
them on the heap of rubbish, as the first breath of wind would have blown
them away. And then came in the contest with the other very powerful
instinct of preserving and carrying their cocoons as long as possible; and
this they could not help doing although the cocoons were empty. According
as the one or other instinct was the stronger in each individual ant, so
did it carry the empty cocoon to a greater or less distance. If this
little observation should ever prove of any use to you, you are quite at
liberty to use it. Again thanking you cordially for the great pleasure
which your work has given me, I remain with much respect,
P.S.--If you read English easily I should like to send you Mr. Belt's book,
as I think you would like it as much as did Fritz Muller.
CHARLES DARWIN TO J. FISKE.
Down, December 8, 1874.
My dear Sir,
You must allow me to thank you for the very great interest with which I
have at last slowly read the whole of your work. ('Outlines of Cosmic
Philosophy,' 2 volumes, 8vo. 1874.) I have long wished to know something
about the views of the many great men whose doctrines you give. With the
exception of special points I did not even understand H. Spencer's general
doctrine; for his style is too hard work for me. I never in my life read
so lucid an expositor (and therefore thinker) as you are; and I think that
I understand nearly the whole--perhaps less clearly about Cosmic Theism and
Causation than other parts. It is hopeless to attempt out of so much to
specify what has interested me most, and probably you would not care to
hear. I wish some chemist would attempt to ascertain the result of the
cooling of heated gases of the proper kinds, in relation to your hypothesis
of the origin of living matter. It pleased me to find that here and there
I had arrived from my own crude thoughts at some of the same conclusions
with you; though I could seldom or never have given my reasons for such
conclusions. I find that my mind is so fixed by the inducive method, that
I cannot appreciate deductive reasoning: I must begin with a good body of
facts and not from a principle (in which I always suspect some fallacy) and
then as much deduction as you please. This may be very narrow-minded; but
the result is that such parts of H. Spencer, as I have read with care
impress my mind with the idea of his inexhaustible wealth of suggestion,
but never convince me; and so I find it with some others. I believe the
cause to lie in the frequency with which I have found first-formed theories
[to be] erroneous. I thank you for the honourable mention which you make
of my works. Parts of the 'Descent of Man' must have appeared laughably
weak to you: nevertheless, I have sent you a new edition just published.
Thanking you for the profound interest and profit with which I have read
your work. I remain,
My dear Sir, yours very faithfully,
[The only work, not purely botanical, which occupied my father in the
present year was the correction of the second edition of 'The Variation of
Animals and Plants,' and on this he was engaged from the beginning of July
till October 3rd. The rest of the year was taken up with his work on
insectivorous plants, and on cross-fertilisation, as will be shown in a
later chapter. The chief alterations in the second edition of 'Animals and
Plants' are in the eleventh chapter on "Bud-variation and on certain
anomalous modes of reproduction;" the chapter on Pangenesis "was also
largely altered and remodelled." He mentions briefly some of the authors
who have noticed the doctrine. Professor Delpino's 'Sulla Darwiniana
Teoria della Pangenesi' (1869), an adverse but fair criticism, seems to
have impressed him as valuable. Of another critique my father
characteristically says ('Animals and Plants,' 2nd edition volume ii. page
350.), "Dr. Lionel Beale ('Nature,' May 11, 1871, page 26) sneers at the
whole doctrine with much acerbity and some justice." He also points out
that, in Mantegazza's 'Elementi di Igiene,' the theory of Pangenesis was
In connection with this subject, a letter of my father's to 'Nature' (April
27, 1871) should be mentioned. A paper by Mr. Galton had been read before
the Royal Society (March 30, 1871) in which were described experiments, on
intertransfusion of blood, designed to test the truth of the hypothesis of
pangenesis. My father, while giving all due credit to Mr. Galton for his
ingenious experiments, does not allow that pangenesis has "as yet received
its death-blow, though from presenting so many vulnerable points its life
is always in jeopardy."
He seems to have found the work of correcting very wearisome, for he
"I have no news about myself, as I am merely slaving over the sickening
work of preparing new editions. I wish I could get a touch of poor Lyell's
feelings, that it was delightful to improve a sentence, like a painter
improving a picture."
The feeling of effort or strain over this piece of work, is shown in a
letter to Professor Haeckel:--
"What I shall do in future if I live, Heaven only knows; I ought perhaps to
avoid general and large subjects, as too difficult for me with my advancing
years, and I suppose enfeebled brain."
At the end of March, in this year, the portrait for which he was sitting to
Mr. Ouless was finished. He felt the sittings a great fatigue, in spite of
Mr. Ouless's considerate desire to spare him as far as was possible. In a
letter to Sir J.D. Hooker he wrote, "I look a very venerable, acute,
melancholy old dog; whether I really look so I do not know." The picture
is in the possession of the family, and is known to many through M. Rajon's
etching. Mr. Ouless's portrait is, in my opinion, the finest
representation of my father that has been produced.
The following letter refers to the death of Sir Charles Lyell, which took
place on February 22nd, 1875, in his seventy-eighth year.]
CHARLES DARWIN TO MISS BUCKLEY (NOW MRS. FISHER). (Mrs. Fisher acted as
Secretary to Sir Charles Lyell.)
Down, February 23, 1875.
My dear Miss Buckley,
I am grieved to hear of the death of my old and kind friend, though I knew
that it could not be long delayed, and that it was a happy thing that his
life should not have been prolonged, as I suppose that his mind would
inevitably have suffered. I am glad that Lady Lyell (Lady Lyell died in
1873.) has been saved this terrible blow. His death makes me think of the
time when I first saw him, and how full of sympathy and interest he was
about what I could tell him of coral reefs and South America. I think that
this sympathy with the work of every other naturalist was one of the finest
features of his character. How completely he revolutionised Geology: for
I can remember something of pre-Lyellian days.
I never forget that almost everything which I have done in science I owe to
the study of his great works. Well, he has had a grand and happy career,
and no one ever worked with a truer zeal in a noble cause. It seems
strange to me that I shall never again sit with him and Lady Lyell at their
breakfast. I am very much obliged to you for having so kindly written to
Pray give our kindest remembrances to Miss Lyell, and I hope that she has
not suffered much in health, from fatigue and anxiety.
Believe me, my dear Miss Buckley,
Yours very sincerely,
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.D. HOOKER.
Down, February 25 .
My dear Hooker,
Your letter so full of feeling has interested me greatly. I cannot say
that I felt his [Lyell's] death much, for I fully expected it, and have
looked for some little time at his career as finished.
I dreaded nothing so much as his surviving with impaired mental powers. He
was, indeed, a noble man in very many ways; perhaps in none more than in
his warm sympathy with the work of others. How vividly I can recall my
first conversation with him, and how he astonished me by his interest in
what I told him. How grand also was his candour and pure love of truth.
Well, he is gone, and I feel as if we were all soon to go...I am deeply
rejoiced about Westminster Abbey (Sir C. Lyell was buried in Westminster
Abbey.), the possibility of which had not occurred to me when I wrote
before. I did think that his works were the most enduring of all
testimonials (as you say) to him; but then I did not like the idea of his
passing away with no outward sign of what scientific men thought of his
merits. Now all this is changed, and nothing can be better than
Westminster Abbey. Mrs. Lyell has asked me to be one of the pall-bearers,
but I have written to say that I dared not, as I should so likely fail in
the midst of the ceremony, and have my head whirling off my shoulders. All
this affair must have cost you much fatigue and worry, and how I do wish
you were out of England...
[In 1881 he wrote to Mrs. Fisher in reference to her article on Sir Charles
Lyell in the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica':--
"For such a publication I suppose you do not want to say much about his
private character, otherwise his strong sense of humour and love of society
might have been added. Also his extreme interest in the progress of the
world, and in the happiness of mankind. Also his freedom from all
religious bigotry, though these perhaps would be a superfluity."
The following refers to the Zoological station at Naples, a subject on
which my father felt an enthusiastic interest:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO ANTON DOHRN.
My dear Dr. Dohrn,
Many thanks for your most kind letter, I most heartily rejoice at your
improved health and at the success of your grand undertaking, which will
have so much influence on the progress of Zoology throughout Europe.
If we look to England alone, what capital work has already been done at the
Station by Balfour and Ray Lankester...When you come to England, I suppose
that you will bring Mrs. Dohrn, and we shall be delighted to see you both
here. I have often boasted that I have had a live Uhlan in my house! It
will be very interesting to me to read your new views on the ancestry of
the Vertebrates. I shall be sorry to give up the Ascidians, to whom I feel
profound gratitude; but the great thing, as it appears to me, is that any
link whatever should be found between the main divisions of the Animal
CHARLES DARWIN TO AUGUST WEISMANN.
Down, December 6, 1875.
My dear Sir,
I have been profoundly interested by your essay on Amblystoma ('Umwandlung
des Axolotl.'), and think that you have removed a great stumbling block in
the way of Evolution. I once thought of reversion in this case; but in a
crude and imperfect manner. I write now to call your attention to the
sterility of moths when hatched out of their proper season; I give
references in chapter 18 of my 'Variation under Domestication' (volume ii.
page 157, of English edition), and these cases illustrate, I think, the
sterility of Amblystoma. Would it not be worth while to examine the
reproductive organs of those individuals of WINGLESS Hemiptera which
occasionally have wings, as in the case of the bed-bug. I think I have
heard that the females of Mutilla sometimes have wings. These cases must
be due to reversion. I dare say many anomalous cases will be hereafter
explained on the same principle.
I hinted at this explanation in the extraordinary case of the black-
shouldered peacock, the so-called Pavo nigripennis given in my 'Variation
under Domestication;' and I might have been bolder, as the variety is in
many respects intermediate between the two known species.
With much respect,
THE VIVISECTION QUESTION.
[It was in November 1875 that my father gave his evidence before the Royal
Commission on Vivisection. (See volume i.) I have, therefore, placed
together here the matter relating to this subject, irrespective of date.
Something has already been said of my father's strong feeling with regard
to suffering both in man and beast. It was indeed one of the strongest
feelings in his nature, and was exemplified in matters small and great, in
his sympathy with the educational miseries of dancing dogs, or in his
horror at the sufferings of slaves. (He once made an attempt to free a
patient in a mad-house, who (as he wrongly supposed) was sane. He had some
correspondence with the gardener at the asylum, and on one occasion he
found a letter from a patient enclosed with one from the gardener. The
letter was rational in tone and declared that the writer was sane and
My father wrote to the Lunacy Commissioners (without explaining the source
of his information) and in due time heard that the man had been visited by
the Commissioners, and that he was certainly insane. Sometime afterwards
the patient was discharged, and wrote to thank my father for his
interference, adding that he had undoubtedly been insane, when he wrote his
The remembrance of screams, or other sounds heard in Brazil, when he was
powerless to interfere with what he believed to be the torture of a slave,
haunted him for years, especially at night. In smaller matters, where he
could interfere, he did so vigorously. He returned one day from his walk
pale and faint from having seen a horse ill-used, and from the agitation of
violently remonstrating with the man. On another occasion he saw a horse-
breaker teaching his son to ride, the little boy was frightened and the man
was rough; my father stopped, and jumping out of the carriage reproved the
man in no measured terms.
One other little incident may be mentioned, showing that his humanity to
animals was well-known in his own neighbourhood. A visitor, driving from
Orpington to Down, told the man to go faster, "Why," said the driver, "If I
had whipped the horse THIS much, driving Mr. Darwin, he would have got out
of the carriage and abused me well."
With respect to the special point under consideration,--the sufferings of
animals subjected to experiment,--nothing could show a stronger feeling
than the following extract from a letter to Professor Ray Lankester (March
"You ask about my opinion on vivisection. I quite agree that it is
justifiable for real investigations on physiology; but not for mere
damnable and detestable curiosity. It is a subject which makes me sick
with horror, so I will not say another word about it, else I shall not
An extract from Sir Thomas Farrer's notes shows how strongly he expressed
himself in a similar manner in conversation:--
"The last time I had any conversation with him was at my house in Bryanston
Square, just before one of his last seizures. He was then deeply
interested in the vivisection question; and what he said made a deep
impression on me. He was a man eminently fond of animals and tender to
them; he would not knowingly have inflicted pain on a living creature; but
he entertained the strongest opinion that to prohibit experiments on living
animals, would be to put a stop to the knowledge of and the remedies for
pain and disease."
The Anti-Vivisection agitation, to which the following letters refer, seems
to have become specially active in 1874, as may be seen, e.g. by the index
to 'Nature' for that year, in which the word "Vivisection," suddenly comes
into prominence. But before that date the subject had received the earnest
attention of biologists. Thus at the Liverpool Meeting of the British
Association in 1870, a Committee was appointed, which reported, defining
the circumstances and conditions under which, in the opinion of the
signatories, experiments on living animals were justifiable. In the spring
of 1875, Lord Hartismere introduced a Bill into the Upper House to regulate
the course of physiological research. Shortly afterwards a Bill more just
towards science in its provisions was introduced to the House of Commons by
Messrs. Lyon Playfair, Walpole, and Ashley. It was, however, withdrawn on
the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole question.
The Commissioners were Lords Cardwell and Winmarleigh, Mr. W.E. Forster,
Sir J.B. Karslake, Mr. Huxley, Professor Erichssen, and Mr. R.H. Hutton:
they commenced their inquiry in July, 1875, and the Report was published
early in the following year.
In the early summer of 1876, Lord Carnarvon's Bill, entitled, "An Act to
amend the Law relating to Cruelty to Animals," was introduced. It cannot
be denied that the framers of this Bill, yielding to the unreasonable
clamour of the public, went far beyond the recommendations of the Royal
Commission. As a correspondent in 'Nature' put it (1876, page 248), "the
evidence on the strength of which legislation was recommended went beyond
the facts, the Report went beyond the evidence, the Recommendations beyond
the Report; and the Bill can hardly be said to have gone beyond the
Recommendations; but rather to have contradicted them."
The legislation which my father worked for, as described in the following
letters, was practically what was introduced as Dr. Lyon Playfair's Bill.]
CHARLES DARWIN TO MRS. LITCHFIELD. (His daughter.)
January 4, 1875.
My dear H.
Your letter has led me to think over vivisection (I wish some new word like
anaes-section could be invented (He communicated to 'Nature' (September 30,
1880) an article by Dr. Wilder, of Cornell University, an abstract of which
was published (page 517). Dr. Wilder advocated the use of the word
'Callisection' for painless operations on animals.) for some hours, and I
will jot down my conclusions, which will appear very unsatisfactory to you.
I have long thought physiology one of the greatest of sciences, sure
sooner, or more probably later, greatly to benefit mankind; but, judging
from all other sciences, the benefits will accrue only indirectly in the
search for abstract truth. It is certain that physiology can progress only
by experiments on living animals. Therefore the proposal to limit research
to points of which we can now see the bearings in regard to health, etc., I
look at as puerile. I thought at first it would be good to limit
vivisection to public laboratories; but I have heard only of those in
London and Cambridge, and I think Oxford; but probably there may be a few
others. Therefore only men living in a few great towns would carry on
investigation, and this I should consider a great evil. If private men
were permitted to work in their own houses, and required a licence, I do
not see who is to determine whether any particular man should receive one.
It is young unknown men who are the most likely to do good work. I would
gladly punish severely any one who operated on an animal not rendered
insensible, if the experiment made this possible; but here again I do not
see that a magistrate or jury could possibly determine such a point.
Therefore I conclude, if (as is likely) some experiments have been tried
too often, or anaesthetics have not been used when they could have been,
the cure must be in the improvement of humanitarian feelings. Under this
point of view I have rejoiced at the present agitation. If stringent laws
are passed, and this is likely, seeing how unscientific the House of
Commons is, and that the gentlemen of England are humane, as long as their
sports are not considered, which entailed a hundred or thousand-fold more
suffering than the experiments of physiologists--if such laws are passed,
the result will assuredly be that physiology, which has been until within
the last few years at a standstill in England, will languish or quite
cease. It will then be carried on solely on the Continent; and there will
be so many the fewer workers on this grand subject, and this I should
greatly regret. By the way, F. Balfour, who has worked for two or three
years in the laboratory at Cambridge, declares to George that he has never
seen an experiment, except with animals rendered insensible. No doubt the
names of Doctors will have great weight with the House of Commons; but very
many practitioners neither know nor care anything about the progress of
knowledge. I cannot at present see my way to sign any petition, without
hearing what physiologists thought would be its effect, and then judging
for myself. I certainly could not sign the paper sent me by Miss Cobbe,
with its monstrous (as it seems to me) attack on Virchow for experimenting
on the Trichinae. I am tired and so no more.
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.D. HOOKER.
Down, April 14 .
My dear Hooker,
I worked all the time in London on the vivisection question; and we now
think it advisable to go further than a mere petition. Litchfield (Mr.
R.B. Litchfield, his son-in-law.) drew up a sketch of a Bill, the essential
features of which have been approved by Sanderson, Simon and Huxley, and
from conversation, will, I believe, be approved by Paget, and almost
certainly, I think, by Michael Foster. Sanderson, Simon and Paget wish me
to see Lord Derby, and endeavour to gain his advocacy with the Home
Secretary. Now, if this is carried into effect, it will be of great
importance to me to be able to say that the Bill in its essential features
has the approval of some half-dozen eminent scientific men. I have
therefore asked Litchfield to enclose a copy to you in its first rough
form; and if it is not essentially modified may I say that it meets with
your approval as President of the Royal Society? The object is to protect
animals, and at the same time not to injure Physiology, and Huxley and
Sanderson's approval almost suffices on this head. Pray let me have a line
from you soon.
[The Physiological Society, which was founded in 1876, was in some measure
the outcome of the anti-vivisection movement, since it was this agitation
which impressed on Physiologists the need of a centre for those engaged in
this particular branch of science. With respect to the Society, my father
wrote to Mr. Romanes (May 29, 1876):--
"I was very much gratified by the wholly unexpected honour of being elected
one of the Honorary Members. This mark of sympathy has pleased me to a
very high degree."
The following letter appeared in the "Times", April 18th, 1881:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO FRITHIOF HOLMGREN. (Professor of Physiology at Upsala.)
Down, April 14, 1881.
In answer to your courteous letter of April 7, I have no objection to
express my opinion with respect to the right of experimenting on living
animals. I use this latter expression as more correct and comprehensive
than that of vivisection. You are at liberty to make any use of this
letter which you may think fit, but if published I should wish the whole to
appear. I have all my life been a strong advocate for humanity to animals,
and have done what I could in my writings to enforce this duty. Several
years ago, when the agitation against physiologists commenced in England,
it was asserted that inhumanity was here practised, and useless suffering
caused to animals; and I was led to think that it might be advisable to
have an Act of Parliament on the subject. I then took an active part in
trying to get a Bill passed, such as would have removed all just cause of
complaint, and at the same time have left physiologists free to pursue
their researches,--a Bill very different from the Act which has since been
passed. It is right to add that the investigation of the matter by a Royal
Commission proved that the accusations made against our English
physiologists were false. From all that I have heard, however, I fear that
in some parts of Europe little regard is paid to the sufferings of animals,
and if this be the case, I should be glad to hear of legislation against
inhumanity in any such country. On the other hand, I know that physiology
cannot possibly progress except by means of experiments on living animals,
and I feel the deepest conviction that he who retards the progress of
physiology commits a crime against mankind. Any one who remembers, as I
can, the state of this science half a century ago, must admit that it has
made immense progress, and it is now progressing at an ever-increasing
rate. What improvements in medical practice may be directly attributed to
physiological research is a question which can be properly discussed only
by those physiologists and medical practitioners who have studied the
history of their subjects; but, as far as I can learn, the benefits are
already great. However this may be, no one, unless he is grossly ignorant
of what science has done for mankind, can entertain any doubt of the
incalculable benefits which will hereafter be derived from physiology, not
only by man, but by the lower animals. Look for instance at Pasteur's
results in modifying the germs of the most malignant diseases, from which,
as it so happens, animals will in the first place receive more relief than
man. Let it be remembered how many lives and what a fearful amount of
suffering have been saved by the knowledge gained of parasitic worms
through the experiments of Virchow and others on living animals. In the
future every one will be astonished at the ingratitude shown, at least in
England, to these benefactors of mankind. As for myself, permit me to
assure you that I honour, and shall always honour, every one who advances
the noble science of physiology.
Dear Sir, yours faithfully,
[In the "Times" of the following day appeared a letter headed "Mr. Darwin
and Vivisection," signed by Miss Frances Power Cobbe. To this my father
replied in the "Times" of April 22, 1881. On the same day he wrote to Mr.
"As I have a fair opportunity, I sent a letter to the "Times" on
Vivisection, which is printed to-day. I thought it fair to bear my share
of the abuse poured in so atrocious a manner on all physiologists.]
CHARLES DARWIN TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
I do not wish to discuss the views expressed by Miss Cobbe in the letter
which appeared in the "Times" of the 19th inst.; but as she asserts that I
have "misinformed" my correspondent in Sweden in saying that "the
investigation of the matter by a Royal Commission proved that the
accusations made against our English physiologists were false," I will
merely ask leave to refer to some other sentences from the Report of the
1. The sentence--"It is not to be doubted that inhumanity may be found in
persons of very high position as physiologists," which Miss Cobbe quotes
from page 17 of the report, and which, in her opinion, "can necessarily
concern English physiologists alone and not foreigners," is immediately
followed by the words "We have seen that it was so in Magendie." Magendie
was a French physiologist who became notorious some half century ago for
his cruel experiments on living animals.
2. The Commissioners, after speaking of the "general sentiment of
humanity" prevailing in this country, say (page 10):--
"This principle is accepted generally by the very highly educated men whose
lives are devoted either to scientific investigation and education or to
the mitigation or the removal of the sufferings of their fellow-creatures;
though differences of degree in regard to its practical application will be
easily discernible by those who study the evidence as it has been laid
Again, according to the Commissioners (page 10):--
"The secretary of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals, when asked whether the general tendency of the scientific world in
this country is at variance with humanity, says he believes it to be very
different, indeed, from that of foreign physiologists; and while giving it
as the opinion of the society that experiments are performed which are in
their nature beyond any legitimate province of science, and that the pain
which they inflict is pain which it is not justifiable to inflict even for
the scientific object in view, he readily acknowledges that he does not
know a single case of wanton cruelty, and that in general the English
physiologists have used anaesthetics where they think they can do so with
safety to the experiment."
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
[In the "Times" of Saturday, April 23, 1881, appeared a letter from Miss
Cobbe in reply:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO G.J. ROMANES.
Down, April 25, 1881.
My dear Romanes,
I was very glad to read your last note with much news interesting to me.
But I write now to say how I, and indeed all of us in the house have
admired your letter in the "Times". (April 25, 1881.--Mr. Romanes defended
Dr. Sanderson against the accusations made by Miss Cobbe.) It was so
simple and direct. I was particularly glad about Burton Sanderson, of whom
I have been for several years a great admirer. I was also especially glad
to read the last sentences. I have been bothered with several letters, but
none abusive. Under a SELFISH point of view I am very glad of the
publication of your letter, as I was at first inclined to think that I had
done mischief by stirring up the mud. Now I feel sure that I have done
good. Mr. Jesse has written to me very politely, he says his Society has
had nothing to do with placards and diagrams against physiology, and I
suppose, therefore, that these all originate with Miss Cobbe...Mr. Jesse
complains bitterly that the "Times" will "burke" all his letters to this
newspaper, nor am I surprised, judging from the laughable tirades
advertised in "Nature".
Ever yours, very sincerely,
[The next letter refers to a projected conjoint article on vivisection, to
which Mr. Romanes wished my father to contribute:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO G.J. ROMANES.
Down, September 2, 1881.
My dear Romanes,
Your letter has perplexed me beyond all measure. I fully recognise the
duty of every one whose opinion is worth anything, expressing his opinion
publicly on vivisection; and this made me send my letter to the "Times". I
have been thinking at intervals all morning what I could say, and it is the
simple truth that I have nothing worth saying. You and men like you, whose
ideas flow freely, and who can express them easily, cannot understand the
state of mental paralysis in which I find myself. What is most wanted is a
careful and accurate attempt to show what physiology has already done for
man, and even still more strongly what there is every reason to believe it
will hereafter do. Now I am absolutely incapable of doing this, or of
discussing the other points suggested by you.
If you wish for my name (and I should be glad that it should appear with
that of others in the same cause), could you not quote some sentence from
my letter in the "Times" which I enclose, but please return it. If you
thought fit you might say you quoted it with my approval, and that after
still further reflection I still abide most strongly in my expressed
For Heaven's sake, do think of this. I do not grudge the labour and
thought; but I could write nothing worth any one reading.
Allow me to demur to your calling your conjoint article a "symposium"
strictly a "drinking party." This seems to me very bad taste, and I do
hope every one of you will avoid any semblance of a joke on the subject. I
KNOW that words, like a joke, on this subject have quite disgusted some
persons not at all inimical to physiology. One person lamented to me that
Mr. Simon, in his truly admirable Address at the Medical Congress (by far
the best thing which I have read), spoke of the fantastic SENSUALITY
('Transactions of the International Medical Congress,' 1881, volume iv.
page 413. The expression "lackadaisical" (not fantastic), and "feeble
sensuality," are used with regard to the feelings of the anti-
vivisectionists.) (or some such term) of the many mistaken, but honest men
and women who are half mad on the subject...
[To Dr. Lauder Brunton my father wrote in February 1882:--
"Have you read Mr. [Edmund] Gurney's articles in the 'Fortnightly' ("A
chapter in the Ethics of Pain," 'Fortnightly Review,' 1881, volume xxx.
page 778.) and 'Cornhill?' ("An Epilogue on Vivisection," 'Cornhill
Magazine,' 1882, volume xlv. page 191.) They seem to me very clever,
though obscurely written, and I agree with almost everything he says,
except with some passages which appear to imply that no experiments should
be tried unless some immediate good can be predicted, and this is a
gigantic mistake contradicted by the whole history of science."]
MISCELLANEA (continued)--A REVIVAL OF GEOLOGICAL WORK--THE BOOK ON
EARTHWORMS--LIFE OF ERASMUS DARWIN--MISCELLANEOUS LETTERS.
[We have now to consider the work (other than botanical) which occupied the
concluding six years of my father's life. A letter to his old friend Rev.
L. Blomefield (Jenyns), written in March, 1877, shows what was my father's
estimate of his own powers of work at this time:--
"My dear Jenyns (I see I have forgotten your proper names).--Your extremely
kind letter has given me warm pleasure. As one gets old, one's thoughts
turn back to the past rather than to the future, and I often think of the
pleasant, and to me valuable, hours which I spent with you on the borders
of the Fens.
"You ask about my future work; I doubt whether I shall be able to do much
more that is new, and I always keep before my mind the example of poor old
--, who in his old age had a cacoethes for writing. But I cannot endure
doing nothing, so I suppose that I shall go on as long as I can without
obviously making a fool of myself. I have a great mass of matter with
respect to variation under nature; but so much has been published since the
appearance of the 'Origin of Species,' that I very much doubt whether I
retain power of mind and strength to reduce the mass into a digested whole.
I have sometimes thought that I would try, but dread the attempt..."
His prophecy proved to be a true one with regard to any continuation of any
general work in the direction of Evolution, but his estimate of powers
which could afterwards prove capable of grappling with the 'Power of
Movement in Plants,' and with the work on 'Earthworms,' was certainly a low
The year 1876, with which the present chapter begins, brought with it a
revival of geological work. He had been astonished, as I hear from
Professor Judd, and as appears in his letters, to learn that his books on
'Volcanic Islands,' 1844, and on 'South America,' 1846, were still
consulted by geologists, and it was a surprise to him that new editions
should be required. Both these works were originally published by Messrs.
Smith and Elder, and the new edition of 1876 was also brought out by them.
This appeared in one volume with the title 'Geological Observations on the
Volcanic Islands, and Parts of South America visited during the Voyage of
H.M.S. "Beagle".' He has explained in the preface his reasons for leaving
untouched the text of the original editions: "They relate to parts of the
world which have been so rarely visited by men of science, that I am not
aware that much could be corrected or added from observations subsequently
made. Owing to the great progress which Geology has made within recent
times, my views on some few points may be somewhat antiquated; but I have
thought it best to leave them as they originally appeared."
It may have been the revival of geological speculation, due to the revision
of his early books, that led to his recording the observations of which
some account is given in the following letter. Part of it has been
published in Professor James Geikie's 'Prehistoric Europe,' chapters vii.
and ix. (My father's suggestion is also noticed in Prof. Geikie's address
on the 'Ice Age in Europe and North America,' given at Edinburgh, November
20, 1884.), a few verbal alterations having been made at my father's
request in the passages quoted. Mr. Geikie lately wrote to me: "The views
suggested in his letter as to the origin of the angular gravels, etc., in
the South of England will, I believe, come to be accepted as the truth.
This question has a much wider bearing than might at first appear. In
point of fact it solves one of the most difficult problems in Quaternary
Geology--and has already attracted the attention of German geologists."]
CHARLES DARWIN TO JAMES GEIKIE.
Down, November 16, 1876.
My dear Sir,
I hope that you will forgive me for troubling you with a very long letter.
But first allow me to tell you with what extreme pleasure and admiration I
have just finished reading your 'Great Ice Age.' It seems to me admirably
done, and most clear. Interesting as many chapters are in the history of
the world, I do not think that any one comes [up] nearly to the glacial
period or periods. Though I have steadily read much on the subject, your
book makes the whole appear almost new to me.
I am now going to mention a small observation, made by me two or three
years ago, near Southampton, but not followed out, as I have no strength
for excursions. I need say nothing about the character of the drift there
(which includes palaeolithic celts), for you have described its essential
features in a few words at page 506. It covers the whole country [in an]
even plain-like surface, almost irrespective of the present outline of the
The coarse stratification has sometimes been disturbed. I find that you
allude "to the larger stones often standing on end;" and this is the point
which struck me so much. Not only moderately sized angular stones, but
small oval pebbles often stand vertically up, in a manner which I have
never seen in ordinary gravel beds. This fact reminded me of what occurs
near my home, in the stiff red clay, full of unworn flints over the chalk,
which is no doubt the residue left undissolved by rain water. In this
clay, flints as long and thin as my arm often stand perpendicularly up; and
I have been told by the tank-diggers that it is their "natural position!"
I presume that this position may safely be attributed to the differential
movement of parts of the red clay as it subsided very slowly from the
dissolution of the underlying chalk; so that the flints arrange themselves
in the lines of least resistance. The similar but less strongly marked
arrangement of the stones in the drift near Southampton makes me suspect
that it also must have slowly subsided; and the notion has crossed my mind
that during the commencement and height of the glacial period great beds of
frozen snow accumulated over the south of England, and that, during the
summer, gravel and stones were washed from the higher land over its
surface, and in superficial channels. The larger streams may have cut
right through the frozen snow, and deposited gravel in lines at the bottom.
But on each succeeding autumn, when the running water failed, I imagine
that the lines of drainage would have been filled up by blown snow
afterwards congealed, and that, owing to great surface accumulations of
snow, it would be a mere chance whether the drainage, together with gravel
and sand, would follow the same lines during the next summer. Thus, as I
apprehend, alternate layers of frozen snow and drift, in sheets and lines,
would ultimately have covered the country to a great thickness, with lines
of drift probably deposited in various directions at the bottom by the
larger streams. As the climate became warmer, the lower beds of frozen
snow would have melted with extreme slowness, and the many irregular beds
of interstratified drift would have sunk down with equal slowness; and
during this movement the elongated pebbles would have arranged themselves
more or less vertically. The drift would also have been deposited almost
irrespective of the outline of the underlying land. When I viewed the
country I could not persuade myself that any flood, however great, could
have deposited such coarse gravel over the almost level platforms between
the valleys. My view differs from that of Holst, page 415 ['Great Ice
Age'], of which I had never heard, as his relates to channels cut through
glaciers, and mine to beds of drift interstratified with frozen snow where
no glaciers existed. The upshot of this long letter is to ask you to keep
my notion in your head, and look out for upright pebbles in any lowland
country which you may examine, where glaciers have not existed. Or if you
think the notion deserves any further thought, but not otherwise, to tell
any one of it, for instance Mr. Skertchly, who is examining such districts.
Pray forgive me for writing so long a letter, and again thanking you for
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