The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume II
Part 8 out of 11
the great pleasure derived from your book,
I remain yours very faithfully,
P.S....I am glad that you have read Blytt (Axel Blytt.--'Essay on the
Immigration of the Norwegian Flora during alternate rainy and dry Seasons.'
Christiania, 1876.); his paper seemed to me a most important contribution
to Botanical Geography. How curious that the same conclusions should have
been arrived at by Mr. Skertchly, who seems to be a first-rate observer;
and this implies, as I always think, a sound theoriser.
I have told my publisher to send you in two or three days a copy (second
edition) of my geological work during the voyage of the "Beagle". The sole
point which would perhaps interest you is about the steppe-like plains of
For many years past I have had fearful misgivings that it must have been
the level of the sea, and not that of the land which has changed.
I read a few months ago your [brother's] very interesting life of
Murchison. (By Mr. Archibald Geikie.) Though I have always thought that
he ranked next to W. Smith in the classification of formations, and though
I knew how kind-hearted [he was], yet the book has raised him greatly in my
respect, notwithstanding his foibles and want of broad philosophical views.
[The only other geological work of his later years was embodied in his book
on earthworms (1881), which may therefore be conveniently considered in
this place. This subject was one which had interested him many years
before this date, and in 1838 a paper on the formation of mould was
published in the Proceedings of the Geological Society (see volume i.).
Here he showed that "fragments of burnt marl, cinders, etc., which had been
thickly strewed over the surface of several meadows were found after a few
years lying at a depth of some inches beneath the turf, but still forming a
layer." For the explanation of this fact, which forms the central idea of
the geological part of the book, he was indebted to his uncle Josiah
Wedgwood, who suggested that worms, by bringing earth to the surface in
their castings, must undermine any objects lying on the surface and cause
an apparent sinking.
In the book of 1881 he extended his observations on this burying action,
and devised a number of different ways of checking his estimates as to the
amount of work done. (He received much valuable help from Dr. King, of the
Botanical Gardens, Calcutta. The following passage is from a letter to Dr.
King, dated January 18, 1873:--
"I really do not know how to thank you enough for the immense trouble which
you have taken. You have attended EXACTLY and FULLY to the points about
which I was most anxious. If I had been each evening by your side, I could
not have suggested anything else.") He also added a mass of observations
on the habits, natural history and intelligence of worms, a part of the
work which added greatly to its popularity.
In 1877 Sir Thomas Farrer had discovered close to his garden the remains of
a building of Roman-British times, and thus gave my father the opportunity
of seeing for himself the effects produced by earthworms' work on the old
concrete-floors, walls, etc. On his return he wrote to Sir Thomas Farrer:
"I cannot remember a more delightful week than the last. I know very well
that E. will not believe me, but the worms were by no means the sole
In the autumn of 1880, when the 'Power of Movement in Plants' was nearly
finished, he began once more on the subject. He wrote to Professor Carus
"In the intervals of correcting the press, I am writing a very little book,
and have done nearly half of it. Its title will be (as at present
designed) 'The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms.'
(The full title is 'The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of
Worms with Observations on their Habits,' 1881.) As far as I can judge it
will be a curious little book."
The manuscript was sent to the printers in April, 1881, and when the proof-
sheets were coming in he wrote to Professor Carus: "The subject has been
to me a hobby-horse, and I have perhaps treated it in foolish detail."
It was published on October 10, and 2000 copies were sold at once. He
wrote to Sir J.D. Hooker, "I am glad that you approve of the 'Worms.' When
in old days I used to tell you whatever I was doing, if you were at all
interested, I always felt as most men do when their work is finally
To Mr. Mellard Reade he wrote (November 8): "It has been a complete
surprise to me how many persons have cared for the subject." And to Mr.
Dyer (in November): "My book has been received with almost laughable
enthusiasm, and 3500 copies have been sold!!!" Again, to his friend Mr.
Anthony Rich, he wrote on February 4, 1882, "I have been plagued with an
endless stream of letters on the subject; most of them very foolish and
enthusiastic; but some containing good facts which I have used in
correcting yesterday the 'Sixth Thousand.'" The popularity of the book may
be roughly estimated by the fact that, in the three years following its
publication, 8500 copies were sold--a sale relatively greater than that of
the 'Origin of Species.'
It is not difficult to account for its success with the non-scientific
public. Conclusions so wide and so novel, and so easily understood, drawn
from the study of creatures so familiar, and treated with unabated vigour
and freshness, may well have attracted many readers. A reviewer remarks:
"In the eyes of most men...the earthworm is a mere blind, dumb, senseless,
and unpleasantly slimy annelid. Mr. Darwin undertakes to rehabilitate his
character, and the earthworm steps forth at once as an intelligent and
beneficent personage, a worker of vast geological changes, a planer down of
mountain sides...a friend of man...and an ally of the Society for the
preservation of ancient monuments." The "St. James Gazette", October 17,
1881, pointed out that the teaching of the cumulative importance of the
infinitely little is the point of contact between this book and the
author's previous work.
One more book remains to be noticed, the 'Life of Erasmus Darwin.'
In February 1879 an essay by Dr. Ernst Krause, on the scientific work of
Erasmus Darwin, appeared in the evolutionary journal, 'Kosmos.' The number
of 'Kosmos' in question was a "Gratulationsheft" (The same number contains
a good biographical sketch of my father, of which the material was to a
large extent supplied by him to the writer, Professor Preyer of Jena. The
article contains an excellent list of my father's publications.), or
special congratulatory issue in honour of my father's birthday, so that Dr.
Krause's essay, glorifying the older evolutionist, was quite in its place.
He wrote to Dr. Krause, thanking him cordially for the honour paid to
Erasmus, and asking his permission to publish (The wish to do so was shared
by his brother, Erasmus Darwin the younger, who continued to be associated
with the project.) an English translation of the Essay.
His chief reason for writing a notice of his grandfather's life was "to
contradict flatly some calumnies by Miss Seward." This appears from a
letter of March 27, 1879, to his cousin Reginald Darwin, in which he asks
for any documents and letters which might throw light on the character of
Erasmus. This led to Mr. Reginald Darwin placing in my father's hands a
quantity of valuable material, including a curious folio common-place book,
of which he wrote: "I have been deeply interested by the great
book,...reading and looking at it is like having communion with the
dead...[it] has taught me a good deal about the occupations and tastes of
our grandfather." A subsequent letter (April 8) to the same correspondent
describes the source of a further supply of material:--
Since my last letter I have made a strange discovery; for an old box from
my father marked "Old Deeds," and which consequently I had never opened, I
found full of letters--hundreds from Dr. Erasmus--and others from old
members of the Family: some few very curious. Also a drawing of Elston
before it was altered, about 1750, of which I think I will give a copy."
Dr. Krause's contribution formed the second part of the 'Life of Erasmus
Darwin,' my father supplying a "preliminary notice." This expression on
the title-page is somewhat misleading; my father's contribution is more
than half the book, and should have been described as a biography. Work of
this kind was new to him, and he wrote doubtfully to Mr. Thiselton Dyer,
June 18th: "God only knows what I shall make of his life, it is such a new
kind of work to me." The strong interest he felt about his forebears
helped to give zest to the work, which became a decided enjoyment to him.
With the general public the book was not markedly successful, but many of
his friends recognised its merits. Sir J.D. Hooker was one of these, and
to him my father wrote, "Your praise of the Life of Dr. D. has pleased me
exceedingly, for I despised my work, and thought myself a perfect fool to
have undertaken such a job."
To Mr. Galton, too, he wrote, November 14:--
"I am EXTREMELY glad that you approve of the little 'Life' of our
grandfather, for I have been repenting that I ever undertook it, as the
work was quite beyond my tether."
The publication of the 'Life of Erasmus Darwin' led to an attack by Mr.
Samuel Butler, which amounted to a charge of falsehood against my father.
After consulting his friends, he came to the determination to leave the
charge unanswered, as unworthy of his notice. (He had, in a letter to Mr.
Butler, expressed his regret at the oversight which caused so much
offence.) Those who wish to know more of the matter, may gather the facts
of the case from Ernst Krause's 'Charles Darwin,' and they will find Mr.
Butler's statement of his grievance in the "Athenaeum", January 31, 1880,
and in the "St. James's Gazette", December 8, 1880. The affair gave my
father much pain, but the warm sympathy of those whose opinion he respected
soon helped him to let it pass into a well-merited oblivion.
The following letter refers to M. J.H. Fabre's 'Souvenirs Entomologiques.'
It may find a place here, as it contains a defence of Erasmus Darwin on a
small point. The postscript is interesting, as an example of one of my
father's bold ideas both as to experiment and theory:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.H. FABRE.
Down, January 31, 1880.
My dear Sir,
I hope that you will permit me to have the satisfaction of thanking you
cordially for the lively pleasure which I have derived from reading your
book. Never have the wonderful habits of insects been more vividly
described, and it is almost as good to read about them as to see them. I
feel sure that you would not be unjust to even an insect, much less to a
man. Now, you have been misled by some translator, for my grandfather,
Erasmus Darwin, states ('Zoonomia,' volume i. page 183, 1794) that it was a
wasp (guepe) which he saw cutting off the wings of a large fly. I have no
doubt that you are right in saying that the wings are generally cut off
instinctively; but in the case described by my grandfather, the wasp, after
cutting off the two ends of the body, rose in the air, and was turned round
by the wind; he then alighted and cut off the wings. I must believe, with
Pierre Huber, that insects have "une petite dose de raison." In the next
edition of your book, I hope that you will alter PART of what you say about
I am sorry that you are so strongly opposed to the Descent theory; I have
found the searching for the history of each structure or instinct an
excellent aid to observation; and wonderful observer as you are, it would
suggest new points to you. If I were to write on the evolution of
instincts, I could make good use of some of the facts which you give.
Permit me to add, that when I read the last sentence in your book, I
sympathised deeply with you. (The book is intended as a memorial of the
early death of M. Fabre's son, who had been his father's assistant in his
observations on insect life.)
With the most sincere respect,
I remain, dear Sir, yours faithfully,
P.S.--Allow me to make a suggestion in relation to your wonderful account
of insects finding their way home. I formerly wished to try it with
pigeons: namely, to carry the insects in their paper "cornets," about a
hundred paces in the opposite direction to that which you ultimately
intended to carry them; but before turning round to return, to put the
insect in a circular box, with an axle which could be made to revolve very
rapidly, first in one direction, and then in another, so as to destroy for
a time all sense of direction in the insects. I have sometimes IMAGINED
that animals may feel in which direction they were at the first start
carried. (This idea was a favourite one with him, and he has described in
'Nature' (volume vii. 1873, page 360) the behaviour of his cob Tommy, in
whom he fancied he detected a sense of direction. The horse had been taken
by rail from Kent to the Isle of Wight; when there he exhibited a marked
desire to go eastward, even when his stable lay in the opposite direction.
In the same volume of 'Nature,' page 417, is a letter on the 'Origin of
Certain Instincts,' which contains a short discussion on the sense of
direction.) If this plan failed, I had intended placing the pigeons within
an induction coil, so as to disturb any magnetic or dia-magnetic
sensibility, which it seems just possible that they may possess.
[During the latter years of my father's life there was a growing tendency
in the public to do him honour. In 1877 he received the honorary degree of
LL.D. from the University of Cambridge. The degree was conferred on
November 17, and with the customary Latin speech from the Public Orator,
concluding with the words: "Tu vero, qui leges naturae tam docte
illustraveris, legum doctor nobis esto."
The honorary degree led to a movement being set on foot in the University
to obtain some permanent memorial of my father. A sum of about 400 pounds
was subscribed, and after the rejection of the idea that a bust would be
the best memorial, a picture was determined on. In June 1879 he sat to Mr.
W. Richmond for the portrait in the possession of the University, now
placed in the Library of the philosophical Society at Cambridge. He is
represented seated in his Doctor's gown, the head turned towards the
spectator: the picture has many admirers, but, according to my own view,
neither the attitude nor the expression are characteristic of my father.
A similar wish on the part of the Linnean Society-- with which my father
was so closely associated--led to his sitting in August, 1881, to Mr. John
Collier, for the portrait now in the possession of the Society. Of the
artist, he wrote, "Collier was the most considerate, kind and pleasant
painter a sitter could desire." The portrait represents him standing
facing the observer in the loose cloak so familiar to those who knew him,
and with his slouch hat in his hand. Many of those who knew his face most
intimately, think that Mr. Collier's picture is the best of the portraits,
and in this judgment the sitter himself was inclined to agree. According
to my feeling it is not so simple or strong a representation of him as that
given by Mr. Ouless. There is a certain expression in Mr. Collier's
portrait which I am inclined to consider an exaggeration of the almost
painful expression which Professor Cohn has described in my father's face,
and which he had previously noticed in Humboldt. Professor Cohn's remarks
occur in a pleasantly written account of a visit to Down in 1876,
published in the "Breslauer Zeitung", April 23, 1882. (In this connection
may be mentioned a visit (1881) from another distinguished German, Hans
Richter. The occurrence is otherwise worthy of mention, inasmuch as it led
to the publication, after my father's death, of Herr Richter's
recollections of the visit. The sketch is simply and sympathetically
written, and the author has succeeded in giving a true picture of my father
as he lived at Down. It appeared in the "Neue Tagblatt" of Vienna, and was
republished by Dr. O. Zacharias in his 'Charles R. Darwin,' Berlin, 1882.)
Besides the Cambridge degree, he received about the same time honours of an
academic kind from some foreign societies.
On August 5, 1878, he was elected a Corresponding Member of the French
Institute ("Lyell always spoke of it as a great scandal that Darwin was so
long kept out of the French Institute. As he said, even if the development
hypothesis were objected to, Darwin's original works on Coral Reefs, the
Cirripedia, and other subjects, constituted a more than sufficient claim"--
From Professor Judd's notes.), in the Botanical Section, and wrote to Dr.
"I see that we are both elected Corresponding Members of the Institute. It
is rather a good joke that I should be elected in the Botanical Section, as
the extent of my knowledge is little more than that a daisy is a
Compositous plant and a pea a Leguminous one."
(The statement has been more than once published that he was elected to the
Zoological Section, but this was not the case.
He received twenty-six votes out of a possible 39, five blank papers were
sent in, and eight votes were recorded for the other candidates.
In 1872 an attempt had been made to elect him to the Section of Zoology,
when, however, he only received 15 out of 48 votes, and Loven was chosen
for the vacant place. It appears ('Nature,' August 1, 1872) that an
eminent member of the Academy wrote to "Les Mondes" to the following
"What has closed the doors of the Academy to Mr. Darwin is that the science
of those of his books which have made his chief title to fame-the 'Origin
of Species,' and still more the 'Descent of Man,' is not science, but a
mass of assertions and absolutely gratuitous hypotheses, often evidently
fallacious. This kind of publication and these theories are a bad example,
which a body that respects itself cannot encourage.")
In the early part of the same year he was elected a Corresponding Member of
the Berlin Academy of Sciences, and he wrote (March 12) to Professor Du
Bois Reymond, who had proposed him for election:--
"I thank you sincerely for your most kind letter, in which you announce the
great honour conferred on me. The knowledge of the names of the
illustrious men, who seconded the proposal is even a greater pleasure to me
than the honour itself."
The seconders were Helmholtz, Peters, Ewald, Pringsheim and Virchow.
In 1879 he received the Baly Medal of the Royal College of Physicians.
(The visit to London, necessitated by the presentation of the Baly Medal,
was combined with a visit to Miss Forster's house at Abinger, in Surrey,
and this was the occasion of the following characteristic letter:--"I must
write a few words to thank you cordially for lending us your house. It was
a most kind thought, and has pleased me greatly; but I know well that I do
not deserve such kindness from any one. On the other hand, no one can be
too kind to my dear wife, who is worth her weight in gold many times over,
and she was anxious that I should get some complete rest, and here I cannot
rest. Your house will be a delightful haven and again I thank you truly.")
Again in 1879 he received from the Royal Academy of Turin the "Bressa"
prize for the years 1875-78, amounting to the sum of 12,000 francs. In the
following year he received on his birthday, as on previous occasions, a
kind letter of congratulation from Dr. Dohrn of Naples. In writing
(February 15th) to thank him and the other naturalists at the Zoological
Station, my father added:--
"Perhaps you saw in the papers that the Turin Society honoured me to an
extraordinary degree by awarding me the "Bressa" Prize. Now it occurred to
me that if your station wanted some pieces of apparatus, of about the value
of 100 pounds, I should very much like to be allowed to pay for it. Will
you be so kind as to keep this in mind, and if any want should occur to
you, I would send you a cheque at any time."
I find from my father's accounts that 100 pounds was presented to the
He received also several tokens of respect and sympathy of a more private
character from various sources. With regard to such incidents and to the
estimation of the public generally, his attitude may be illustrated by a
passage from a letter to Mr. Romanes:--(The lecture referred to was given
at the Dublin meeting of the British association.)
"You have indeed passed a most magnificent eulogium upon me, and I wonder
that you were not afraid of hearing 'oh! oh!' or some other sign of
disapprobation. Many persons think that what I have done in science has
been much overrated, and I very often think so myself; but my comfort is
that I have never consciously done anything to gain applause. Enough and
too much about my dear self."
Among such expressions of regard he valued very highly the two photographic
albums received from Germany and Holland on his birthday, 1877. Herr Emil
Rade of Munster, originated the idea of the German birthday gift, and
undertook the necessary arrangements. To him my father wrote (February 16,
"I hope that you will inform the one hundred and fifty-four men of science,
including some of the most highly honoured names in the world, how grateful
I am for their kindness and generous sympathy in having sent me their
photographs on my birthday."
To Professor Haeckel he wrote (February 16, 1877):--
The album has just arrived quite safe. It is most superb. (The album is
magnificently bound and decorated with a beautifully illuminated title
page, the work of an artist, Herr A. Fitger of Bremen, who also contributed
the dedicatory poem.) It is by far the greatest honour which I have ever
received, and my satisfaction has been greatly enhanced by your most kind
letter of February 9...I thank you all from my heart. I have written by
this post to Herr Rade, and I hope he will somehow manage to thank all my
To Professor A. van Bemmelen he wrote, on receiving a similar present from
a number of distinguished men and lovers of Natural History in the
I received yesterday the magnificent present of the album, together with
your letter. I hope that you will endeavour to find some means to express
to the two hundred and seventeen distinguished observers and lovers of
natural science, who have sent me their photographs, my gratitude for their
extreme kindness. I feel deeply gratified by this gift, and I do not think
that any testimonial more honourable to me could have been imagined. I am
well aware that my books could never have been written, and would not have
made any impression on the public mind, had not an immense amount of
material been collected by a long series of admirable observers; and it is
to them that honour is chiefly due. I suppose that every worker at science
occasionally feels depressed, and doubts whether what he has published has
been worth the labour which it has cost him, but for the few remaining
years of my life, whenever I want cheering, I will look at the portraits of
my distinguished co-workers in the field of science, and remember their
generous sympathy. When I die, the album will be a most precious bequest
to my children. I must further express my obligation for the very
interesting history contained in your letter of the progress of opinion in
the Netherlands, with respect to Evolution, the whole of which is quite new
to me. I must again thank all my kind friends, from my heart, for their
ever-memorable testimonial, and I remain, Sir,
Your obliged and grateful servant,
CHARLES R. DARWIN."
[In the June of the following year (1878) he was gratified by learning that
the Emperor of Brazil had expressed a wish to meet him. Owing to absence
from home my father was unable to comply with this wish; he wrote to Sir
"The Emperor has done so much for science, that every scientific man is
bound to show him the utmost respect, and I hope that you will express in
the strongest language, and which you can do with entire truth, how greatly
I feel honoured by his wish to see me; and how much I regret my absence
Finally it should be mentioned that in 1880 he received an address
personally presented by members of the Council of the Birmingham
Philosophical Society, as well as a memorial from the Yorkshire Naturalist
Union presented by some of the members, headed by Dr. Sorby. He also
received in the same year a visit from some of the members of the Lewisham
and Blackheath Scientific Association,--a visit which was, I think, enjoyed
by both guests and host.]
[The chief incident of a personal kind (not already dealt with) in the
years which we are now considering was the death of his brother Erasmus,
who died at his house in Queen Anne Street, on August 26th, 1881. My
father wrote to Sir J.D. Hooker (August 30):--
"The death of Erasmus is a very heavy loss to all of us, for he had a most
affectionate disposition. He always appeared to me the most pleasant and
clearest headed man, whom I have ever known. London will seem a strange
place to me without his presence; I am deeply glad that he died without any
great suffering, after a very short illness from mere weakness and not from
any definite disease. ("He was not, I think, a happy man, and for many
years did not value life, though never complaining."--From a letter to Sir
"I cannot quite agree with you about the death of the old and young. Death
in the latter case, when there is a bright future ahead, causes grief never
to be wholly obliterated."
An incident of a happy character may also be selected for especial notice,
since it was one which strongly moved my father's sympathy. A letter
(December 17, 1879) to Sir Joseph Hooker shows that the possibility of a
Government Pension being conferred on Mr. Wallace first occurred to my
father at this time. The idea was taken up by others, and my father's
letters show that he felt the most lively interest in the success of the
plan. He wrote, for instance, to Mrs. Fisher, "I hardly ever wished for
anything more than I do for the success of our plan." He was deeply
pleased when this thoroughly deserved honour was bestowed on his friend,
and wrote to the same correspondent (January 7, 1881), on receiving a
letter from Mr. Gladstone announcing the fact: "How extraordinarily kind
of Mr. Gladstone to find time to write under the present circumstances.
(Mr. Gladstone was then in office, and the letter must have been written
when he was overwhelmed with business connected with the opening of
Parliament (January 6). Good heavens! how pleased I am!"
The letters which follow are of a miscellaneous character and refer
principally to the books he read, and to his minor writings.]
CHARLES DARWIN TO MISS BUCKLEY (MRS. FISHER).
Down, February 11 .
My dear Miss Buckley,
You must let me have the pleasure of saying that I have just finished
reading with very great interest your new book. ('A Short History of
Natural Science.') The idea seems to me a capital one, and as far as I can
judge very well carried out. There is much fascination in taking a bird's
eye view of all the grand leading steps in the progress of science. At
first I regretted that you had not kept each science more separate; but I
dare say you found it impossible. I have hardly any criticisms, except
that I think you ought to have introduced Murchison as a great classifier
of formations, second only to W. Smith. You have done full justice, and
not more than justice, to our dear old master, Lyell. Perhaps a little
more ought to have been said about botany, and if you should ever add this,
you would find Sachs' 'History,' lately published, very good for your
You have crowned Wallace and myself with much honour and glory. I heartily
congratulate you on having produced so novel and interesting a work, and
My dear Miss Buckley, yours very faithfully,
CHARLES DARWIN TO A.R. WALLACE.
[Hopedene] (Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood's house in Surrey.), June 5, 1876.
My dear Wallace,
I must have the pleasure of expressing to you my unbounded admiration of
your book ('Geographical Distribution,' 1876.), though I have read only to
page 184--my object having been to do as little as possible while resting.
I feel sure that you have laid a broad and safe foundation for all future
work on Distribution. How interesting it will be to see hereafter plants
treated in strict relation to your views; and then all insects, pulmonate
molluscs and fresh-water fishes, in greater detail than I suppose you have
given to these lower animals. The point which has interested me most, but
I do not say the most valuable point, is your protest against sinking
imaginary continents in a quite reckless manner, as was stated by Forbes,
followed, alas, by Hooker, and caricatured by Wollaston and [Andrew]
Murray! By the way, the main impression that the latter author has left on
my mind is his utter want of all scientific judgment. I have lifted up my
voice against the above view with no avail, but I have no doubt that you
will succeed, owing to your new arguments and the coloured chart. Of a
special value, as it seems to me, is the conclusion that we must determine
the areas, chiefly by the nature of the mammals. When I worked many years
ago on this subject, I doubted much whether the now called Palaearctic and
Nearctic regions ought to be separated; and I determined if I made another
region that it should be Madagascar. I have, therefore, been able to
appreciate your evidence on these points. What progress Palaeontology has
made during the last 20 years; but if it advances at the same rate in the
future, our views on the migration and birth-place of the various groups
will, I fear, be greatly altered. I cannot feel quite easy about the
Glacial period, and the extinction of large mammals, but I must hope that
you are right. I think you will have to modify your belief about the
difficulty of dispersal of land molluscs; I was interrupted when beginning
to experimentize on the just hatched young adhering to the feet of ground-
roosting birds. I differ on one other point, viz. in the belief that there
must have existed a Tertiary Antarctic continent, from which various forms
radiated to the southern extremities of our present continents. But I
could go on scribbling forever. You have written, as I believe, a grand
and memorable work which will last for years as the foundation for all
future treatises on Geographical Distribution.
My dear Wallace, yours very sincerely,
P.S.--You have paid me the highest conceivable compliment, by what you say
of your work in relation to my chapters on distribution in the 'Origin,'
and I heartily thank you for it.
[The following letters illustrate my father's power of taking a vivid
interest in work bearing on Evolution, but unconnected with his own special
researches at the time. The books referred to in the first letter are
Professor Weismann's 'Studien zur Descendenzlehre' (My father contributed a
prefatory note to Mr. Meldola's translation of Prof. Weismann's 'Studien,'
1880-81.), being part of the series of essays by which the author has done
such admirable service to the cause of evolution:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO AUGUST WEISMANN.
January 12, 1877.
...I read German so slowly, and have had lately to read several other
papers, so that I have as yet finished only half of your first essay and
two-thirds of your second. They have excited my interest and admiration in
the highest degree, and whichever I think of last, seems to me the most
valuable. I never expected to see the coloured marks on caterpillars so
well explained; and the case of the ocelli delights me especially...
...There is one other subject which has always seemed to me more difficult
to explain than even the colours of caterpillars, and that is the colour of
birds' eggs, and I wish you would take this up.
CHARLES DARWIN TO MELCHIOR NEUMAYR (Professor of Palaeontology at Vienna.),
Down, Beckenham, Kent, March 9, 1877.
From having been obliged to read other books, I finished only yesterday
your essay on 'Die Congerien,' etc. ('Die Congerien und Paludinenschichten
Slavoneins.' 4to, 1875.)
I hope that you will allow me to express my gratitude for the pleasure and
instruction which I have derived from reading it. It seems to me to be an
admirable work; and is by far the best case which I have ever met with,
showing the direct influence of the conditions of life on the organization.
Mr. Hyatt, who has been studying the Hilgendorf case, writes to me with
respect to the conclusions at which he has arrived, and these are nearly
the same as yours. He insists that closely similar forms may be derived
from distinct lines of descent; and this is what I formerly called
analogical variation. There can now be no doubt that species may become
greatly modified through the direct action of the environment. I have some
excuse for not having formerly insisted more strongly on this head in my
'Origin of Species,' as most of the best facts have been observed since its
With my renewed thanks for your most interesting essay, and with the
highest respect, I remain, dear Sir,
Yours very faithfully,
CHARLES DARWIN TO E.S. MORSE.
Down, April 23, 1877.
My dear Sir,
You must allow me just to tell you how very much I have been interested
with the excellent Address ("What American Zoologists have done for
Evolution," an Address to the American Association for the Advancement of
Science, August, 1876. Volume xxv. of the Proceedings of the Association.)
which you have been so kind as to send me, and which I had much wished to
read. I believe that I had read all, or very nearly all, the papers by
your countrymen to which you refer, but I have been fairly astonished at
their number and importance when seeing them thus put together. I quite
agree about the high value of Mr. Allen's works (Mr. J.A. Allen shows the
existence of geographical races of birds and mammals. Proc. Boston Soc.
Nat. Hist. volume xv.), as showing how much change may be expected
apparently through the direct action of the conditions of life. As for the
fossil remains in the West, no words will express how wonderful they are.
There is one point which I regret that you did not make clear in your
Address, namely what is the meaning and importance of Professors Cope and
Hyatt's views on acceleration and retardation. I have endeavoured, and
given up in despair, the attempt to grasp their meaning.
Permit me to thank you cordially for the kind feeling shown towards me
through your Address, and I remain, my dear Sir,
[The next letter refers to his 'Biographical Sketch of an Infant,' written
from notes made 37 years previously, and published in 'Mind,' July, 1877.
The article attracted a good deal of attention, and was translated at the
time in 'Kosmos,' and the 'Revue Scientifique,' and has been recently
published in Dr. Krause's 'Gesammelte kleinere SchrifteN von Charles
CHARLES DARWIN TO G. CROOM ROBERTSON. (The editor of 'Mind.')
Down, April 27, 1877.
I hope that you will be so good as to take the trouble to read the enclosed
MS., and if you think it fit for publication in your admirable journal of
'Mind,' I shall be gratified. If you do not think it fit, as is very
likely, will you please to return it to me. I hope that you will read it
in an extra critical spirit, as I cannot judge whether it is worth
publishing from having been so much interested in watching the dawn of the
several faculties in my own infant. I may add that I should never have
thought of sending you the MS., had not M. Taine's article appeared in your
Journal. (1877, page 252. The original appeared in the 'Revue
Philosophique' 1876.) If my MS. is printed, I think that I had better see
I remain, dear Sir,
[The two following extracts show the lively interest he preserved in
diverse fields of enquiry. Professor Cohn of Breslau had mentioned, in a
letter, Koch's researches on Splenic Fever, my father replied, January 3:--
"I well remember saying to myself, between twenty and thirty years ago,
that if ever the origin of any infectious disease could be proved, it would
be the greatest triumph to science; and now I rejoice to have seen the
In the spring he received a copy of Dr. E. von Mojsisovics' 'Dolomit
Riffe,' his letter to the author (June 1, 1878) is interesting as bearing
on the influence of his own work on the methods of geology.
"I have at last found time to read the first chapter of your 'Dolomit
Riffe,' and have been EXCEEDINGLY interested by it. What a wonderful
change in the future of Geological chronology you indicate, by assuming the
descent theory to be established, and then taking the graduated changes of
the same group of organisms as the true standard! I never hoped to live to
see such a step even proposed by any one."
Another geological research which roused my father's admiration was Mr. D.
Mackintosh's work on erratic blocks. Apart from its intrinsic merit the
work keenly excited his sympathy from the conditions under which it was
executed, Mr. Mackintosh being compelled to give nearly his whole time to
tuition. The following passage is from a letter to Mr. Mackintosh of
October 9, 1879, and refers to his paper in the Journal of the Geological
"I hope that you will allow me to have the pleasure of thanking you for the
very great pleasure which I have derived from just reading your paper on
erratic blocks. The map is wonderful, and what labour each of those lines
show! I have thought for some years that the agency of floating ice, which
nearly half a century ago was overrated, has of late been underrated. You
are the sole man who has ever noticed the distinction suggested by me (In
his paper on the 'Ancient Glaciers of Carnarvonshire,' Phil. Mag. xxi.
1842.) between flat or planed scored rocks, and mammillated scored rocks."]
CHARLES DARWIN TO C. RIDLEY.
Down, November 28, 1878.
I just skimmed through Dr. Pusey's sermon, as published in the "Guardian",
but it did [not] seem to me worthy of any attention. As I have never
answered criticisms excepting those made by scientific men, I am not
willing that this letter should be published; but I have no objection to
your saying that you sent me the three questions, and that I answered that
Dr. Pusey was mistaken in imagining that I wrote the 'Origin' with any
relation whatever to Theology. I should have thought that this would have
been evident to any one who had taken the trouble to read the book, more
especially as in the opening lines of the introduction I specify how the
subject arose in my mind. This answer disposes of your two other
questions; but I may add that many years ago, when I was collecting facts
for the 'Origin,' my belief in what is called a personal God was as firm as
that of Dr. Pusey himself, and as to the eternity of matter I have never
troubled myself about such insoluble questions. Dr. Pusey's attack will be
as powerless to retard by a day the belief in Evolution, as were the
virulent attacks made by divines fifty years ago against Geology, and the
still older ones of the Catholic Church against Galileo, for the public is
wise enough always to follow Scientific men when they agree on any subject;
and now there is almost complete unanimity amongst Biologists about
Evolution, though there is still considerable difference as to the means,
such as how far natural selection has acted, and how far external
conditions, or whether there exists some mysterious innate tendency to
perfectability. I remain, dear Sir,
[Theologians were not the only adversaries of freedom in science. On
September 22, 1877, Prof. Virchow delivered an address at the Munich
meeting of German Naturalists and Physicians, which had the effect of
connecting Socialism with the Descent theory. This point of view was taken
up by anti-evolutionists to such an extent that, according to Haeckel, the
"Kreuz Zeitung" threw "all the blame of" the "treasonable attempts of the
democrats Hodel and Nobiling...directly on the theory of Descent." Prof.
Haeckel replied with vigour and ability in his 'Freedom in Science and
Teaching' (English Translation 1879), an essay which must have the sympathy
of all lovers of freedom.
The following passage from a letter (December 26, 1879) to Dr. Scherzer,
the author of the 'Voyage of the "Novara",' gives a hint of my father's
views on this once burning question:--
"What a foolish idea seems to prevail in Germany on the connection between
Socialism and Evolution through Natural Selection."]
CHARLES DARWIN TO H.N. MOSELEY. (Professor of Zoology at Oxford. The book
alluded to is Prof. Moseley's 'Notes by a Naturalist on the "Challenger".')
Down, January 20, 1879.
I have just received your book, and I declare that never in my life have I
seen a dedication which I admired so much. ("To Charles Darwin, Esquire,
LL.D., F.R.S., etc., from the study of whose 'Journal of Researches' I
mainly derived my desire to travel round the world; to the development of
whose theory I owe the principal pleasures and interests of my life, and
who has personally given me much kindly encouragement in the prosecution of
my studies, this book is, by permission, gratefully dedicated.") Of course
I am not a fair judge, but I hope that I speak dispassionately, though you
have touched me in my very tenderest point, by saying that my old Journal
mainly gave you the wish to travel as a Naturalist. I shall begin to read
your book this very evening, and am sure that I shall enjoy it much.
Yours very sincerely,
CHARLES DARWIN TO H.N. MOSELEY.
Down, February 4, 1879.
I have at last read every word of your book, and it has excited in me
greater interest than any other scientific book which I have read for a
long time. You will perhaps be surprised how slow I have been, but my head
prevents me reading except at intervals. If I were asked which parts have
interested me most, I should be somewhat puzzled to answer. I fancy that
the general reader would prefer your account of Japan. For myself I
hesitate between your discussions and description of the Southern ice,
which seems to me admirable, and the last chapter which contained many
facts and views new to me, though I had read your papers on the stony
Hydroid Corals, yet your resume made me realise better than I had done
before, what a most curious case it is.
You have also collected a surprising number of valuable facts bearing on
the dispersal of plants, far more than in any other book known to me. In
fact your volume is a mass of interesting facts and discussions, with
hardly a superfluous word; and I heartily congratulate you on its
Your dedication makes me prouder than ever.
Believe me, yours sincerely,
[In November, 1879, he answered for Mr. Galton a series of questions
utilised in his 'Inquiries into Human Faculty,' 1883. He wrote to Mr.
"I have answered the questions as well as I could, but they are miserably
answered, for I have never tried looking into my own mind. Unless others
answer very much better than I can do, you will get no good from your
queries. Do you not think you ought to have the age of the answerer? I
think so, because I can call up faces of many schoolboys, not seen for
sixty years, with MUCH DISTINCTNESS, but nowadays I may talk with a man for
an hour, and see him several times consecutively, and, after a month, I am
utterly unable to recollect what he is at all like. The picture is quite
washed out. The greater number of the answers are given in the annexed
QUESTIONS ON THE FACULTY OF VISUALISING.
1. ILLUMINATION? Moderate, but my solitary breakfast was early, and the
2. DEFINITION? Some objects quite defined, a slice of cold beef, some
grapes and a pear, the state of my plate when I had finished, and a few
other objects, are as distinct as if I had photo's before me.
3. COMPLETENESS? Very moderately so.
4. COLOURING? The objects above named perfectly coloured.
5. EXTENT OF FIELD OF VIEW? Rather small.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF IMAGERY.
6. PRINTED PAGES. I cannot remember a single sentence, but I remember the
place of the sentence and the kind of type.
7. FURNITURE? I have never attended to it.
8. PERSONS? I remember the faces of persons formerly well-known vividly,
and can make them do anything I like.
9. SCENERY? Remembrance vivid and distinct, and gives me pleasure.
10. GEOGRAPHY? No.
11. MILITARY MOVEMENTS? No.
12. MECHANISM? Never tried.
13. GEOMETRY? I do not think I have any power of the kind.
14. NUMERALS? When I think of any number, printed figures arise before my
mind. I can't remember for an hour four consecutive figures.
15. CARD PLAYING? Have not played for many years, but I am sure should
16. CHESS? Never played.
[In 1880 he published a short paper in 'Nature' (volume xxi. page 207) on
the "Fertility of Hybrids from the common and Chinese goose." He received
the hybrids from the Rev. Dr. Goodacre, and was glad of the opportunity of
testing the accuracy of the statement that these species are fertile inter
se. This fact, which was given in the 'Origin' on the authority of Mr.
Eyton, he considered the most remarkable as yet recorded with respect to
the fertility of hybrids. The fact (as confirmed by himself and Dr.
Goodacre) is of interest as giving another proof that sterility is no
criterion of specific difference, since the two species of goose now shown
to be fertile inter se are so distinct that they have been placed by some
authorities in distinct genera or sub-genera.
The following letter refers to Mr. Huxley's lecture: "The Coming of Age of
the Origin of Species" (This same "Coming of Age" was the subject of an
address from the Council of the Otago Institute. It is given in 'Nature,'
February 24, 1881.), given at the Royal Institution, April 9, 1880,
published in 'Nature,' and in 'Science and Culture,' page 310:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO T.H. HUXLEY.
Abinger Hall, Dorking, Sunday, April 11, 1880.
My dear Huxley,
I wished much to attend your Lecture, but I have had a bad cough, and we
have come here to see whether a change would do me good, as it has done.
What a magnificent success your lecture seems to have been, as I judge from
the reports in the "Standard" and "Daily News", and more especially from
the accounts given me by three of my children. I suppose that you have not
written out your lecture, so I fear there is no chance of its being printed
in extenso. You appear to have piled, as on so many other occasions,
honours high and thick on my old head. But I well know how great a part
you have played in establishing and spreading the belief in the descent-
theory, ever since that grand review in the "Times" and the battle royal at
Oxford up to the present day.
Ever my dear Huxley,
Yours sincerely and gratefully,
P.S.--It was absurdly stupid in me, but I had read the announcement of your
Lecture, and thought that you meant the maturity of the subject, until my
wife one day remarked, "it is almost twenty-one years since the 'Origin'
appeared," and then for the first time the meaning of your words flashed on
[In the above-mentioned lecture Mr. Huxley made a strong point of the
accumulation of palaeontological evidence which the years between 1859 and
1880 have given us in favour of Evolution. On this subject my father wrote
(August 31, 1880):]
My dear Professor Marsh,
I received some time ago your very kind note of July 28th, and yesterday
the magnificent volume. (Odontornithes. A Monograph on the extinct
Toothed Birds of North America. 1880. By O.C. Marsh.) I have looked with
renewed admiration at the plates, and will soon read the text. Your work
on these old birds, and on the many fossil animals of North America has
afforded the best support to the theory of Evolution, which has appeared
within the last twenty years. (Mr. Huxley has well pointed out ('Science
and Culture,' page 317) that: "In 1875, the discovery of the toothed birds
of the cretaceous formation in North America, by Prof. Marsh, completed the
series of transitional forms between birds and reptiles, and removed Mr.
Darwin's proposition that, 'many animal forms of life have been utterly
lost, through which the early progenitors of birds were formerly connected
with the early progenitors of the other vertebrate classes,' from the
region of hypothesis to that of demonstrable fact.") The general
appearance of the copy which you have sent me is worthy of its contents,
and I can say nothing stronger than this.
With cordial thanks, believe me,
Yours very sincerely,
[In November, 1880, he received an account of a flood in Brazil, from which
his friend Fritz Muller had barely escaped with his life. My father
immediately wrote to Hermann Muller anxiously enquiring whether his brother
had lost books, instruments, etc., by this accident, and begging in that
case "for the sake of science, so that science should not suffer," to be
allowed to help in making good the loss. Fortunately, however, the injury
to Fritz Muller's possessions was not so great as was expected, and the
incident remains only as a memento, which I trust cannot be otherwise than
pleasing to the survivor, of the friendship of the two naturalists.
In 'Nature' (November 11, 1880) appeared a letter from my father, which is,
I believe, the only instance in which he wrote publicly with anything like
severity. The late Sir Wyville Thomson wrote, in the Introduction to the
'Voyage of the "Challenger"': "The character of the abyssal fauna refuses
to give the least support to the theory which refers the evolution of
species to extreme variation guided only by natural selection." My father,
after characterising these remarks as a "standard of criticism, not
uncommonly reached by theologians and metaphysicians," goes on to take
exception to the term "extreme variation," and challenges Sir Wyville to
name any one who has "said that the evolution of species depends only on
natural selection." The letter closes with an imaginary scene between Sir
Wyville and a breeder, in which Sir Wyville criticises artificial selection
in a somewhat similar manner. The breeder is silent, but on the departure
of his critic he is supposed to make use of "emphatic but irreverent
language about naturalists." The letter, as originally written, ended with
a quotation from Sedgwick on the invulnerability of those who write on what
they do not understand, but this was omitted on the advice of a friend, and
curiously enough a friend whose combativeness in the good cause my father
had occasionally curbed.]
CHARLES DARWIN TO G.J. ROMANES.
Down, April 16, 1881.
My dear Romanes,
My MS. on 'Worms' has been sent to the printers, so I am going to amuse
myself by scribbling to you on a few points; but you must not waste your
time in answering at any length this scribble.
Firstly, your letter on intelligence was very useful to me and I tor up and
re-wrote what I sent to you. I have not attempted to define intelligence;
but have quoted your remarks on experience, and have shown how far they
apply to worms. It seems to me that they must be said to work with some
intelligence, anyhow they are not guided by a blind instinct.
Secondly, I was greatly interested by the abstract in 'Nature' of your work
on Echinoderms ("On the locomotor system of Echinoderms," by G.J. Romanes
and J. Cossar Ewart. 'Philosophical Transactions,' 1881, page 829.), the
complexity with simplicity, and with such curious co-ordination of the
nervous system is marvellous; and you showed me before what splendid
gymnastic feats they can perform.
Thirdly, Dr. Roux has sent me a book just published by him: 'Der Kampf der
Theile,' etc., 1881 (240 pages in length).
He is manifestly a well-read physiologist and pathologist, and from his
position a good anatomist. It is full of reasoning, and this in German is
very difficult to me, so that I have only skimmed through each page; here
and there reading with a little more care. As far as I can imperfectly
judge, it is the most important book on Evolution, which has appeared for
some time. I believe that G.H. Lewes hinted at the same fundamental idea,
viz. that there is a struggle going on within every organism between the
organic molecules, the cells and the organs. I think that his basis is,
that every cell which best performs its function is, in consequence, at the
same time best nourished and best propagates its kind. The book does not
touch on mental phenomena, but there is much discussion on rudimentary or
atrophied parts, to which subject you formerly attended. Now if you would
like to read this book, I would sent it...If you read it, and are struck
with it (but I may be WHOLLY mistaken about its value), you would do a
public service by analysing and criticising it in 'Nature.'
Dr. Roux makes, I think, a gigantic oversight in never considering plants;
these would simplify the problem for him.
Fourthly, I do not know whether you will discuss in your book on the mind
of animals any of the more complex and wonderful instincts. It is
unsatisfactory work, as there can be no fossilised instincts, and the sole
guide is their state in other members of the same order, and mere
But if you do discuss any (and it will perhaps be expected of you), I
should think that you could not select a better case than that of the sand
wasps, which paralyse their prey, as formerly described by Fabre, in his
wonderful paper in the 'Annales des Sciences,' and since amplified in his
Whilst reading this latter book, I speculated a little on the subject.
Astonishing nonsense is often spoken of the sand wasp's knowledge of
anatomy. Now will any one say that the Gauchos on the plains of La Plata
have such knowledge, yet I have often seen them pith a struggling and
lassoed cow on the ground with unerring skill, which no mere anatomist
could imitate. The pointed knife was infallibly driven in between the
vertebrae by a single slight thrust. I presume that the art was first
discovered by chance, and that each young Gaucho sees exactly how the
others do it, and then with a very little practice learns the art. Now I
suppose that the sand wasps originally merely killed their prey by stinging
them in many places (see page 129 of Fabre's 'Souvenirs,' and page 241) on
the lower and softest side of the body--and that to sting a certain segment
was found by far the most successful method; and was inherited like the
tendency of a bulldog to pin the nose of a bull, or of a ferret to bite the
cerebellum. It would not be a very great step in advance to prick the
ganglion of its prey only slightly, and thus to give its larvae fresh meat
instead of old dried meat. Though Fabre insists so strongly on the
unvarying character of instinct, yet it is shown that there is some
variability, as at pages 176, 177.
I fear that I shall have utterly wearied you with my scribbling and bad
My dear Romanes, yours, very sincerely,
POSTSCRIPT OF A LETTER TO PROFESSOR A. AGASSIZ, MAY 5TH, 1881:--
I read with much interest your address before the American Association.
However true your remarks on the genealogies of the several groups may be,
I hope and believe that you have over-estimated the difficulties to be
encountered in the future:--A few days after reading your address, I
interpreted to myself your remarks on one point (I hope in some degree
correctly) in the following fashion:--
Any character of an ancient, generalised, or intermediate form may, and
often does, re-appear in its descendants, after countless generations, and
this explains the extraordinarily complicated affinities of existing
groups. This idea seems to me to throw a flood of light on the lines,
sometimes used to represent affinities, which radiate in all directions,
often to very distant sub-groups,--a difficulty which has haunted me for
half a century. A strong case could be made out in favour of believing in
such reversion after immense intervals of time. I wish the idea had been
put into my head in old days, for I shall never again write on difficult
subjects, as I have seen too many cases of old men becoming feeble in their
minds, without being in the least conscious of it. If I have interpreted
your ideas at all correctly, I hope that you will re-urge, on any fitting
occasion, your view. I have mentioned it to a few persons capable of
judging, and it seemed quite new to them. I beg you to forgive the
proverbial garrulity of old age.
[The following letter refers to Sir J.D. Hooker's Geographical address at
the York Meeting (1881) of the British Association:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.D. HOOKER.
Down, August 6, 1881.
My dear Hooker,
For Heaven's sake never speak of boring me, as it would be the greatest
pleasure to aid you in the slightest degree and your letter has interested
me exceedingly. I will go through your points seriatim, but I have never
attended much to the history of any subject, and my memory has become
atrociously bad. It will therefore be a mere chance whether any of my
remarks are of any use.
Your idea, to show what travellers have done, seems to me a brilliant and
just one, especially considering your audience.
1. I know nothing about Tournefort's works.
2. I believe that you are fully right in calling Humboldt the greatest
scientific traveller who ever lived, I have lately read two or three
volumes again. His Geology is funny stuff; but that merely means that he
was not in advance of his age. I should say he was wonderful, more for his
near approach to omniscience than for originality. Whether or not his
position as a scientific man is as eminent as we think, you might truly
call him the parent of a grand progeny of scientific travellers, who, taken
together, have done much for science.
3. It seems to me quite just to give Lyell (and secondarily E. Forbes) a
very prominent place.
4. Dana was, I believe, the first man who maintained the permanence of
continents and the great oceans...When I read the 'Challenger's' conclusion
that sediment from the land is not deposited at greater distances than 200
or 300 miles from the land, I was much strengthened in my old belief.
Wallace seems to me to have argued the case excellently. Nevertheless, I
would speak, if I were in your place, rather cautiously; for T. Mellard
Reade has argued lately with some force against the view; but I cannot call
to mind his arguments. If forced to express a judgment, I should abide by
the view of approximate permanence since Cambrian days.
5. The extreme importance of the Arctic fossil-plants, is self-evident.
Take the opportunity of groaning over [our] ignorance of the Lignite Plants
of Kerguelen Land, or any Antarctic land. It might do good.
6. I cannot avoid feeling sceptical about the travelling of plants from
the North EXCEPT DURING THE TERTIARY PERIOD. It may of course have been so
and probably was so from one of the two poles at the earliest period,
during Pre-Cambrian ages; but such speculations seem to me hardly
scientific seeing how little we know of the old Floras.
I will now jot down without any order a few miscellaneous remarks.
I think you ought to allude to Alph. De Candolle's great book, for though
it (like almost everything else) is washed out of my mind, yet I remember
most distinctly thinking it a very valuable work. Anyhow, you might allude
to his excellent account of the history of all cultivated plants.
How shall you manage to allude to your New Zealand and Tierra del Fuego
work? if you do not allude to them you will be scandalously unjust.
The many Angiosperm plants in the Cretacean beds of the United States (and
as far as I can judge the age of these beds has been fairly well made out)
seems to me a fact of very great importance, so is their relation to the
existing flora of the United States under an Evolutionary point of view.
Have not some Australian extinct forms been lately found in Australia? or
have I dreamed it?
Again, the recent discovery of plants rather low down in our Silurian beds
is very important.
Nothing is more extraordinary in the history of the Vegetable Kingdom, as
it seems to me, than the APPARENTLY very sudden or abrupt development of
the higher plants. I have sometimes speculated whether there did not exist
somewhere during long ages an extremely isolated continent, perhaps near
the South Pole.
Hence I was greatly interested by a view which Saporta propounded to me, a
few years ago, at great length in MS. and which I fancy he has since
published, as I urged him to do--viz., that as soon as flower-frequenting
insects were developed, during the latter part of the secondary period, an
enormous impulse was given to the development of the higher plants by
cross-fertilization being thus suddenly formed.
A few years ago I was much struck with Axel Blytt's Essay showing from
observation, on the peat beds in Scandinavia, that there had apparently
been long periods with more rain and other with less rain (perhaps
connected with Croll's recurrent astronomical periods), and that these
periods had largely determined the present distribution of the plants of
Norway and Sweden. This seemed to me, a very important essay.
I have just read over my remarks and I fear that they will not be of the
slightest use to you.
I cannot but think that you have got through the hardest, or at least the
most difficult, part of your work in having made so good and striking a
sketch of what you intend to say; but I can quite understand how you must
groan over the great necessary labour.
I most heartily sympathise with you on the successes of B. and R.: as
years advance what happens to oneself becomes of very little consequence,
in comparison with the careers of our children.
Keep your spirits up, for I am convinced that you will make an excellent
Ever yours, affectionately,
[In September he wrote:--
"I have this minute finished reading your splendid but too short address.
I cannot doubt that it will have been fully appreciated by the Geographers
of York; if not, they are asses and fools."]
CHARLES DARWIN TO JOHN LUBBOCK.
Sunday evening .
My dear L.,
Your address (Presidential Address at the York meeting of the British
Association.) has made me think over what have been the great steps in
Geology during the last fifty years, and there can be no harm in telling
you my impression. But it is very odd that I cannot remember what you have
said on Geology. I suppose that the classification of the Silurian and
Cambrian formations must be considered the greatest or most important step;
for I well remember when all these older rocks were called grau-wacke, and
nobody dreamed of classing them; and now we have three azoic formations
pretty well made out beneath the Cambrian! But the most striking step has
been the discovery of the Glacial period: you are too young to remember
the prodigious effect this produced about the year 1840 (?) on all our
minds. Elie de Beaumont never believed in it to the day of his death! the
study of the glacial deposits led to the study of the superficial drift,
which was formerly NEVER STUDIED and called Diluvium, as I well remember.
The study under the microscope of rock-sections is another not
inconsiderable step. So again the making out of cleavage and the foliation
of the metamorphic rocks. But I will not run on, having now eased my mind.
Pray do not waste even one minute in acknowledging my horrid scrawls.
[The following extracts referring to the late Francis Maitland Balfour
(Professor of Animal Morphology at Cambridge. He was born in 1851, and was
killed, with his guide, on the Aiguille Blanche, near Courmayeur, in July,
1882.), show my father's estimate of his work and intellectual qualities,
but they give merely an indication of his strong appreciation of Balfour's
most lovable personal character:--
From a letter to Fritz Muller, January 5, 1882:--
"Your appreciation of Balfour's book ['Comparative Embryology'] has pleased
me excessively, for though I could not properly judge of it, yet it seemed
to me one of the most remarkable books which have been published for some
considerable time. He is quite a young man, and if he keeps his health,
will do splendid work...He has a fair fortune of his own, so that he can
give up his whole time to Biology. He is very modest, and very pleasant,
and often visits here and we like him very much."
From a letter to Dr. Dohrn, February 13, 1882:--
"I have got one very bad piece of news to tell you, that F. Balfour is very
ill at Cambridge with typhoid fever...I hope that he is not in a very
dangerous state; but the fever is severe. Good Heavens, what a loss he
would be to Science, and to his many loving friends!"]
CHARLES DARWIN TO T.H. HUXLEY.
Down, January 12, 1882.
My dear Huxley,
Very many thanks for 'Science and Culture,' and I am sure that I shall read
most of the essays with much interest. With respect to Automatism ("On the
hypothesis that animals are automata and its history," an Address given at
the Belfast meeting of the British Association, 1874, and published in the
'Fortnightly Review,' 1874, and in 'Science and Culture.'), I wish that you
could review yourself in the old, and of course forgotten, trenchant style,
and then you would here answer yourself with equal incisiveness; and thus,
by Jove, you might go on ad infinitum, to the joy and instruction of the
Ever yours very sincerely,
[The following letter refers to Dr. Ogle's translation of Aristotle, 'On
the Parts of Animals' (1882):]
CHARLES DARWIN TO W. OGLE.
Down, February 22, 1882.
My dear Dr. Ogle,
You must let me thank you for the pleasure which the introduction to the
Aristotle book has given me. I have rarely read anything which has
interested me more, though I have not read as yet more than a quarter of
the book proper.
From quotations which I had seen, I had a high notion of Aristotle's
merits, but I had not the most remote notion what a wonderful man he was.
Linnaeus and Cuvier have been my two gods, though in very different ways,
but they were mere schoolboys to old Aristotle. How very curious, also,
his ignorance on some points, as on muscles as the means of movement. I am
glad that you have explained in so probable a manner some of the grossest
mistakes attributed to him. I never realized, before reading your book, to
what an enormous summation of labour we owe even our common knowledge. I
wish old Aristotle could know what a grand Defender of the Faith he had
found in you. Believe me, my dear Dr. Ogle,
Yours very sincerely,
[In February, he received a letter and a specimen from a Mr. W.D. Crick,
which illustrated a curious mode of dispersal of bivalve shells, namely, by
closure of their valves so as to hold on to the leg of a water-beetle.
This class of fact had a special charm for him, and he wrote to 'Nature,'
describing the case. ('Nature,' April 6, 1882.)
In April he received a letter from Dr. W. Van Dyck, Lecturer in Zoology at
the Protestant College of Beyrout. The letter showed that the street dogs
of Beyrout had been rapidly mongrelised by introduced European dogs, and
the facts have an interesting bearing on my father's theory of Sexual
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.T. VAN DYCK.
Down, April 3, 1882.
After much deliberation, I have thought it best to send your very
interesting paper to the Zoological Society, in hopes that it will be
published in their Journal. This journal goes to every scientific
institution in the world, and the contents are abstracted in all year-books
on Zoology. Therefore I have preferred it to 'Nature,' though the latter
has a wider circulation, but is ephemeral.
I have prefaced your essay by a few general remarks, to which I hope that
you will not object.
Of course I do not know that the Zoological Society, which is much addicted
to mere systematic work, will publish your essay. If it does, I will send
you copies of your essay, but these will not be ready for some months. If
not published by the Zoological Society, I will endeavour to get 'Nature'
to publish it. I am very anxious that it should be published and
[The paper was read at a meeting of the Zoological Society on April 18th--
the day before my father's death.
The preliminary remarks with which Dr. Van Dyck's paper is prefaced are
thus the latest of my father's writings.]
We must now return to an early period of his life, and give a connected
account of his botanical work, which has hitherto been omitted.
FERTILISATION OF FLOWERS.
[In the letters already given we have had occasion to notice the general
bearing of a number of botanical problems on the wider question of
Evolution. The detailed work in botany which my father accomplished by the
guidance of the light cast on the study of natural history by his own work
on Evolution remains to be noticed. In a letter to Mr. Murray, September
24th, 1861, speaking of his book on the 'Fertilisation of Orchids,' he
says: "It will perhaps serve to illustrate how Natural History may be
worked under the belief of the modification of species." This remark gives
a suggestion as to the value and interest of his botanical work, and it
might be expressed in far more emphatic language without danger of
In the same letter to Mr. Murray, he says: "I think this little volume
will do good to the 'Origin,' as it will show that I have worked hard at
details." It is true that his botanical work added a mass of corroborative
detail to the case for Evolution, but the chief support to his doctrines
given by these researches was of another kind. They supplied an argument
against those critics who have so freely dogmatised as to the uselessness
of particular structures, and as to the consequent impossibility of their
having been developed by means of natural selection. His observations on
Orchids enabled him to say: "I can show the meaning of some of the
apparently meaningless ridges, horns, who will now venture to say that this
or that structure is useless?" A kindred point is expressed in a letter to
Sir J.D. Hooker (May 14th, 1862:)--
"When many parts of structure, as in the woodpecker, show distinct
adaptation to external bodies, it is preposterous to attribute them to the
effects of climate, etc., but when a single point alone, as a hooked seed,
it is conceivable it may thus have arisen. I have found the study of
Orchids eminently useful in showing me how nearly all parts of the flower
are co-adapted for fertilization by insects, and therefore the results of
natural selection--even the most trifling details of structure."
One of the greatest services rendered by my father to the study of Natural
History is the revival of Teleology. The evolutionist studies the purpose
or meaning of organs with the zeal of the older Teleology, but with far
wider and more coherent purpose. He has the invigorating knowledge that he
is gaining not isolated conceptions of the economy of the present, but a
coherent view of both past and present. And even where he fails to
discover the use of any part, he may, by a knowledge of its structure,
unravel the history of the past vicissitudes in the life of the species.
In this way a vigour and unity is given to the study of the forms of
organised beings, which before it lacked. This point has already been
discussed in Mr. Huxley's chapter on the 'Reception of the "Origin of
Species",' and need not be here considered. It does, however, concern us
to recognize that this "great service to natural science," as Dr. Gray
describes it, was effected almost as much by his special botanical work as
by the 'Origin of Species.'
For a statement of the scope and influence of my father's botanical work, I
may refer to Mr. Thiselton Dyer's article in 'Charles Darwin,' one of the
"Nature Series". Mr. Dyer's wide knowledge, his friendship with my father,
and especially his power of sympathising with the work of others, combine
to give this essay a permanent value. The following passage (page 43)
gives a true picture:--
"Notwithstanding the extent and variety of his botanical work, Mr. Darwin
always disclaimed any right to be regarded as a professed botanist. He
turned his attention to plants, doubtless because they were convenient
objects for studying organic phenomena in their least complicated forms;
and this point of view, which, if one may use the expression without
disrespect, had something of the amateur about it, was in itself of the
greatest importance. For, from not being, till he took up any point,
familiar with the literature bearing on it, his mind was absolutely free
from any prepossession. He was never afraid of his facts, or of framing
any hypothesis, however startling, which seemed to explain them...In any
one else such an attitude would have produced much work that was crude and
rash. But Mr. Darwin--if one may venture on language which will strike no
one who had conversed with him as over-strained--seemed by gentle
persuasion to have penetrated that reserve of nature which baffles smaller
men. In other words, his long experience had given him a kind of
instinctive insight into the method of attack of any biological problem,
however unfamiliar to him, while he rigidly controlled the fertility of his
mind in hypothetical explanations by the no less fertility of ingeniously
To form any just idea of the greatness of the revolution worked by my
father's researches in the study of the fertilisation of flowers, it is
necessary to know from what a condition this branch of knowledge has
emerged. It should be remembered that it was only during the early years
of the present century that the idea of sex, as applied to plants, became
at all firmly established. Sachs, in his 'History of Botany' (1875), has
given some striking illustrations of the remarkable slowness with which its
acceptance gained ground. He remarks that when we consider the
experimental proofs given by Camerarius (1694), and by Kolreuter (1761-66),
it appears incredible that doubts should afterwards have been raised as to
the sexuality of plants. Yet he shows that such doubts did actually
repeatedly crop up. These adverse criticisms rested for the most part on
careless experiments, but in many cases on a priori arguments. Even as
late as 1820, a book of this kind, which would now rank with circle
squaring, or flat-earth philosophy, was seriously noticed in a botanical
A distinct conception of sex as applied to plants, had not long emerged
from the mists of profitless discussion and feeble experiment, at the time
when my father began botany by attending Henslow's lectures at Cambridge.
When the belief in the sexuality of plants had become established as an
incontrovertible piece of knowledge, a weight of misconception remained,
weighing down any rational view of the subject. Camerarius (Sachs,
'Geschichte,' page 419.) believed (naturally enough in his day) that
hermaphrodite flowers are necessarily self-fertilised. He had the wit to
be astonished at this, a degree of intelligence which, as Sachs points out,
the majority of his successors did not attain to.
The following extracts from a note-book show that this point occurred to my
father as early as 1837:--
"Do not plants which have male and female organs together [i.e. in the same
flower] yet receive influence from other plants? Does not Lyell give some
argument about varieties being difficult to keep [true] on account of
pollen from other plants? Because this may be applied to show all plants
do receive intermixture."
Sprengel (Christian Conrad Sprengel, 1750-1816.), indeed, understood that
the hermaphrodite structure of flowers by no means necessarily leads to
self-fertilisation. But although he discovered that in many cases pollen
is of necessity carried to the stigma of another FLOWER, he did not
understand that in the advantage gained by the intercrossing of distinct
PLANTS lies the key to the whole question. Hermann Muller has well
remarked that this "omission was for several generations fatal to
Sprengel's work...For both at the time and subsequently, botanists felt
above all the weakness of his theory, and they set aside, along with his
defective ideas, his rich store of patient and acute observations and his
comprehensive and accurate interpretations." It remained for my father to
convince the world that the meaning hidden in the structure of flowers was
to be found by seeking light in the same direction in which Sprengel,
seventy years before, had laboured. Robert Brown was the connecting link
between them, for it was at his recommendation that my father in 1841 read
Sprengel's now celebrated 'Secret of Nature Displayed.' ('Das entdeckte
Geheimniss der Natur im Baue und in der Befruchtung der Blumen.' Berlin,
1793.) The book impressed him as being "full of truth," although "with
some little nonsense." It not only encouraged him in kindred speculation,
but guided him in his work, for in 1844 he speaks of verifying Sprengel's
observations. It may be doubted whether Robert Brown ever planted a more
beautiful seed than in putting such a book into such hands.
A passage in the 'Autobiography' (volume i.) shows how it was that my
father was attracted to the subject of fertilisation: "During the summer
of 1839, and I believe during the previous summer, I was led to attend to
the cross-fertilisation of flowers by the aid of insects, from having come
to the conclusion in my speculations on the origin of species, that
crossing played an important part in keeping specific forms constant."
The original connection between the study of flowers and the problem of
evolution is curious, and could hardly have been predicted. Moreover, it
was not a permanent bond. As soon as the idea arose that the offspring of
cross-fertilisation is, in the struggle for life, likely to conquer the
seedlings of self-fertilised parentage, a far more vigorous belief in the
potency of natural selection in moulding the structure of flowers is
attained. A central idea is gained towards which experiment and
observation may be directed.
Dr. Gray has well remarked with regard to this central idea ('Nature,' June
4, 1874):--"The aphorism, 'Nature abhors a vacuum,' is a characteristic
specimen of the science of the middle ages. The aphorism, Nature abhors
close fertilisation,' and the demonstration of the principle, belong to our
age and to Mr. Darwin. To have originated this, and also the principle of
Natural Selection...and to have applied these principles to the system of
nature, in such a manner as to make, within a dozen years, a deeper
impression upon natural history than has been made since Linnaeus, is ample
title for one man's fame."
The flowers of the Papilionaceae attracted his attention early, and were
the subject of his first paper on fertilisation. ("Gardeners' Chronicle",
1857, page 725. It appears that this paper was a piece of "over-time"
work. He wrote to a friend, "that confounded leguminous paper was done in
the afternoon, and the consequence was I had to go to Moor Park for a
week.") The following extract from an undated letter to Dr. Asa Gray seems
to have been written before the publication of this paper, probably in 1856
"...What you say on Papilionaceous flowers is very true; and I have no
facts to show that varieties are crossed; but yet (and the same remark is
applicable in a beautiful way to Fumaria and Dielytra, as I noticed many
years ago), I must believe that the flowers are constructed partly in
direct relation to the visits of insects; and how insects can avoid
bringing pollen from other individuals I cannot understand. It is really
pretty to watch the action of a Humble-bee on the scarlet kidney bean, and
in this genus (and in Lathyrus grandiflorus) the honey is so placed that
the bee invariably alights on that ONE side of the flower towards which the
spiral pistil is protruded (bringing out with it pollen), and by the
depression of the wing-petal is forced against the bee's side all dusted
with pollen. (If you will look at a bed of scarlet kidney beans you will
find that the wing-petals on the LEFT side alone are all scratched by the
tarsi of the bees. [Note in the original letter by C. Darwin.]) In the
broom the pistil is rubbed on the centre of the back of the bee. I suspect
there is something to be made out about the Leguminosae, which will bring
the case within OUR theory; though I have failed to do so. Our theory will
explain why in the vegetable and animal kingdom the act of fertilisation
even in hermaphrodites usually takes place sub-jove, though thus exposed to
GREAT injury from damp and rain. In animals which cannot be [fertilised]
by insects or wind, there is NO CASE of LAND-animals being hermaphrodite
without the concourse of two individuals."
A letter to Dr. Asa Gray (September 5th, 1857) gives the substance of the
paper in the "Gardeners' Chronicle":--
"Lately I was led to examine buds of kidney bean with the pollen shed; but
I was led to believe that the pollen could HARDLY get on the stigma by wind
or otherwise, except by bees visiting [the flower] and moving the wing
petals: hence I included a small bunch of flowers in two bottles in every
way treated the same: the flowers in one I daily just momentarily moved,
as if by a bee; these set three fine pods, the other NOT ONE. Of course
this little experiment must be tried again, and this year in England it is
too late, as the flowers seem now seldom to set. If bees are necessary to
this flower's self-fertilisation, bees must almost cross them, as their
dusted right-side of head and right legs constantly touch the stigma.
"I have, also, lately been re-observing daily Lobelia fulgens--this in my
garden is never visited by insects, and never sets seeds, without pollen be
put on the stigma (whereas the small blue Lobelia is visited by bees and
does set seed); I mention this because there are such beautiful
contrivances to prevent the stigma ever getting its own pollen; which seems
only explicable on the doctrine of the advantage of crosses."
The paper was supplemented by a second in 1858. ("Gardeners' Chronicle",
1858, page 828. In 1861 another paper on Fertilisation appeared in the
"Gardeners' Chronicle", page 552, in which he explained the action of
insects on Vinca major. He was attracted to the periwinkle by the fact
that it is not visited by insects and never set seeds.) The chief object
of these publications seems to have been to obtain information as to the
possibility of growing varieties of leguminous plants near each other, and
yet keeping them true. It is curious that the Papilionaceae should not
only have been the first flowers which attracted his attention by their
obvious adaptation to the visits of insects, but should also have
constituted one of his sorest puzzles. The common pea and the sweet pea
gave him much difficulty, because, although they are as obviously fitted
for insect-visits as the rest of the order, yet their varieties keep true.
The fact is that neither of these plants being indigenous, they are not
perfectly adapted for fertilisation by British insects. He could not, at
this stage of his observations, know that the co-ordination between a
flower and the particular insect which fertilises it may be as delicate as
that between a lock and its key, so that this explanation was not likely to
occur to him. (He was of course alive to variety in the habits of insects.
He published a short note in the "Entomologists Weekly Intelligencer",
1860, asking whether the Tineina and other small moths suck flowers.)
Besides observing the Leguminosae, he had already begun, as shown in the
foregoing extracts, to attend to the structure of other flowers in relation
to insects. At the beginning of 1860 he worked at Leschenaultia (He
published a short paper on the manner of fertilisation of this flower, in
the "Gardeners' Chronicle", 1871, page 1166.), which at first puzzled him,
but was ultimately made out. A passage in a letter chiefly relating to
Leschenaultia seems to show that it was only in the spring of 1860 that he
began widely to apply his knowledge to the relation of insects to other
flowers. This is somewhat surprising, when we remember that he had read
Sprengel many years before. He wrote (May 14):--
"I should look at this curious contrivance as specially related to visits
of insects; as I begin to think is almost universally the case."
Even in July 1862 he wrote to Dr. Asa Gray:--
"There is no end to the adaptations. Ought not these cases to make one
very cautious when one doubts about the use of all parts? I fully believe
that the structure of all irregular flowers is governed in relation to
insects. Insects are the Lords of the floral (to quote the witty
He was probably attracted to the study of Orchids by the fact that several
kinds are common near Down. The letters of 1860 show that these plants
occupied a good deal of his attention; and in 1861 he gave part of the
summer and all the autumn to the subject. He evidently considered himself
idle for wasting time on Orchids, which ought to have been given to
'Variation under Domestication.' Thus he wrote:--
"There is to me incomparably more interest in observing than in writing;
but I feel quite guilty in trespassing on these subjects, and not sticking
to varieties of the confounded cocks, hens and ducks. I hear that Lyell is
savage at me. I shall never resist Linum next summer."
It was in the summer of 1860 that he made out one of the most striking and
familiar facts in the book, namely, the manner in which the pollen masses
in Orchis are adapted for removal by insects. He wrote to Sir J.D. Hooker
"I have been examining Orchis pyramidalis, and it almost equals, perhaps
even beats, your Listera case; the sticky glands are congenitally united
into a saddle-shaped organ, which has great power of movement, and seizes
hold of a bristle (or proboscis) in an admirable manner, and then another
movement takes place in the pollen masses, by which they are beautifully
adapted to leave pollen on the two LATERAL stigmatic surfaces. I never saw
anything so beautiful."
In June of the same year he wrote:--
"You speak of adaptation being rarely VISIBLE, though present in plants. I
have just recently been looking at the common Orchis, and I declare I think
its adaptations in every part of the flower quite as beautiful and plain,
or even more beautiful than in the Woodpecker. I have written and sent a
notice for the "Gardeners' Chronicle" (June 9, 1860. This seems to have
attracted some attention, especially among entomologists, as it was
reprinted in the "Entomologists Weekly Intelligencer", 1860.), on a curious
difficulty in the Bee Orchis, and should much like to hear what you think
of the case. In this article I have incidentally touched on adaptation to
visits of insects; but the contrivance to keep the sticky glands fresh and
sticky beats almost everything in nature. I never remember having seen it
described, but it must have been, and, as I ought not in my book to give
the observation as my own, I should be very glad to know where this
beautiful contrivance is described."
He wrote also to Dr. Gray, June 8, 1860:--
"Talking of adaptation, I have lately been looking at our common orchids,
and I dare say the facts are as old and well-known as the hills, but I have
been so struck with admiration at the contrivances, that I have sent a
notice to the "Gardeners' Chronicle". The Ophrys apifera, offers, as you
will see, a curious contradiction in structure."
Besides attending to the fertilisation of the flowers he was already, in
1860, busy with the homologies of the parts, a subject of which he made
good use in the Orchid book. He wrote to Sir Joseph Hooker (July):--
"It is a real good joke my discussing homologies of Orchids with you, after
examining only three or four genera; and this very fact makes me feel
positive I am right! I do not quite understand some of your terms; but
sometime I must get you to explain the homologies; for I am intensely
interested on the subject, just as at a game of chess."
This work was valuable from a systematic point of view. In 1880 he wrote
to Mr. Bentham:--
"It was very kind in you to write to me about the Orchideae, for it has
pleased me to an extreme degree that I could have been of the LEAST use to
you about the nature of the parts."
The pleasure which his early observations on Orchids gave him is shown in
such extracts as the following from a letter to Sir J.D. Hooker (July 27,
"You cannot conceive how the Orchids have delighted me. They came safe,
but box rather smashed; cylindrical old cocoa- or snuff-canister much
safer. I enclose postage. As an account of the movement, I shall allude
to what I suppose is Oncidium, to make CERTAIN,--is the enclosed flower
with crumpled petals this genus? Also I most specially want to know what
the enclosed little globular brown Orchid is. I have only seen pollen of a
Cattleya on a bee, but surely have you not unintentionally sent me what I
wanted most (after Catasetum or Mormodes), viz. one of the Epidendreae?! I
PARTICULARLY want (and will presently tell you why) another spike of this
little Orchid, with older flowers, some even almost withered."
His delight in observation is again shown in a letter to Dr. Gray (1863).
referring to Cruger's letters from Trinidad, he wrote:--"Happy man, he has
actually seen crowds of bees flying round Catasetum, with the pollinia
sticking to their backs!"
The following extracts of letters to Sir J.D. Hooker illustrate further the
interest which his work excited in him:--
"Veitch sent me a grand lot this morning. What wonderful structures!
"I have now seen enough, and you must not send me more, for though I enjoy
looking at them MUCH, and it has been very useful to me, seeing so many
different forms, it is idleness. For my object each species requires
studying for days. I wish you had time to take up the group. I would give
a good deal to know what the rostellum is, of which I have traced so many
curious modifications. I suppose it cannot be one of the stigmas (It is a
modification of the upper stigma.), there seems a great tendency for two
lateral stigmas to appear. My paper, though touching on only subordinate
points will run, I fear, to 100 MS. folio pages! The beauty of the
adaptation of parts seems to me unparalleled. I should think or guess waxy
pollen was most differentiated. In Cypripedium which seems least modified,
and a much exterminated group, the grains are single. In ALL OTHERS, as
far as I have seen, they are in packets of four; and these packets cohere
into many wedge-formed masses in Orchis; into eight, four, and finally two.
It seems curious that a flower should exist, which could AT MOST fertilise
only two other flowers, seeing how abundant pollen generally is; this fact
I look at as explaining the perfection of the contrivance by which the
pollen, so important from its fewness, is carried from flower to flower"
"I was thinking of writing to you to-day, when your note with the Orchids
came. What frightful trouble you have taken about Vanilla; you really must
not take an atom more; for the Orchids are more play than real work. I
have been much interested by Epidendrum, and have worked all morning at
them; for heaven's sake, do not corrupt me by any more" (August 30, 1861).
He originally intended to publish his notes on Orchids as a paper in the
Linnean Society's Journal, but it soon became evident that a separate
volume would be a more suitable form of publication. In a letter to Sir
J.D. Hooker, September 24, 1861, he writes:--
"I have been acting, I fear that you will think, like a goose; and perhaps
in truth I have. When I finished a few days ago my Orchis paper, which
turns out 140 folio pages!! and thought of the expense of woodcuts, I said
to myself, I will offer the Linnean Society to withdraw it, and publish it
in a pamphlet. It then flashed on me that perhaps Murray would publish it,
so I gave him a cautious description, and offered to share risks and
profits. This morning he writes that he will publish and take all risks,
and share profits and pay for all illustrations. It is a risk, and heaven
knows whether it will not be a dead failure, but I have not deceived
Murray, and [have] told him that it would interest those alone who cared
much for natural history. I hope I do not exaggerate the curiosity of the
many special contrivances."
He wrote the two following letters to Mr. Murray about the publication of
Down, September 21 .
My dear Sir,
Will you have the kindness to give me your opinion, which I shall
implicitly follow. I have just finished a very long paper intended for
Linnean Society (the title is enclosed), and yesterday for the first time
it occurred to me that POSSIBLY it might be worth publishing separately
which would save me trouble and delay. The facts are new, and have been
collected during twenty years and strike me as curious. Like a Bridgewater
treatise, the chief object is to show the perfection of the many
contrivances in Orchids. The subject of propagation is interesting to most
people, and is treated in my paper so that any woman could read it. Parts
are dry and purely scientific; but I think my paper would interest a good
many of such persons who care for Natural History, but no others.
...It would be a very little book, and I believe you think very little
books objectionable. I have myself GREAT doubts on the subject. I am very
apt to think that my geese are swans; but the subject seems to me curious
I beg you not to be guided in the least in order to oblige me, but as far
as you can judge, please give me your opinion. If I were to publish
separately, I would agree to any terms, such as half risk and half profit,
or what you liked; but I would not publish on my sole risk, for to be
frank, I have been told that no publisher whatever, under such
circumstances, cares for the success of a book.
CHARLES DARWIN TO J. MURRAY.
Down, September 24 .
My dear Sir,
I am very much obliged for your note and very liberal offer. I have had
some qualms and fears. All that I can feel sure of is that the MS.
contains many new and curious facts, and I am sure the Essay would have
interested me, and will interest those who feel lively interest in the
wonders of nature; but how far the public will care for such minute
details, I cannot at all tell. It is a bold experiment; and at worst,
cannot entail much loss; as a certain amount of sale will, I think, be
pretty certain. A large sale is out of the question. As far as I can
judge, generally the points which interest me I find interest others; but I
make the experiment with fear and trembling,--not for my own sake, but for
[On September 28th he wrote to Sir J.D. Hooker:--
"What a good soul you are not to sneer at me, but to pat me on the back. I
have the greatest doubt whether I am not going to do, in publishing my
paper, a most ridiculous thing. It would annoy me much, but only for
Murray's sake, if the publication were a dead failure."
There was still much work to be done, and in October he was still receiving
Orchids from Kew, and wrote to Hooker:--
"It is impossible to thank you enough. I was almost mad at the wealth of
Orchids." And again--
"Mr. Veitch most generously has sent me two splendid buds of Mormodes,
which will be capital for dissection, but I fear will never be irritable;
so for the sake of charity and love of heaven do, I beseech you, observe
what movement takes place in Cychnoches, and what part must be touched.
Mr. V. has also sent me one splendid flower of Catasetum, the most
wonderful Orchid I have seen."
On October 13th he wrote to Sir Joseph Hooker:--
"It seems that I cannot exhaust your good nature. I have had the hardest
day's work at Catasetum and buds of Mormodes, and believe I understand at
last the mechanism of movements and the functions. Catasetum is a
beautiful case of slight modification of structure leading to new
functions. I never was more interested in any subject in my life than in
this of Orchids. I owe very much to you."
Again to the same friend, November 1, 1861:--
"If you really can spare another Catasetum, when nearly ready, I shall be
most grateful; had I not better send for it? The case is truly marvellous;
the (so-called) sensation, or stimulus from a light touch is certainly
transmitted through the antennae for more than one inch INSTANTANEOUSLY...A
cursed insect or something let my last flower off last night."
Professor de Candolle has remarked ('Darwin considere, etc.,' 'Archives des
Sciences Physiques et Naturelles,' 3eme periode. Tome vii. 481, 1882
(May).) of my father, "Ce n'est pas lui qui aurait demande de construire
des palais pour y loger des laboratoires." This was singularly true of his
orchid work, or rather it would be nearer the truth to say that he had no
laboratory, for it was only after the publication of the 'Fertilisation of
Orchids,' that he built himself a greenhouse. He wrote to Sir J.D. Hooker
(December 24th, 1862):--
"And now I am going to tell you a MOST important piece of news!! I have
almost resolved to build a small hot-house; my neighbour's really first-
rate gardener has suggested it, and offered to make me plans, and see that
it is well done, and he is really a clever fellow, who wins lots of prizes,
and is very observant. He believes that we should succeed with a little
patience; it will be a grand amusement for me to experiment with plants."
Again he wrote (February 15th, 1863):--
"I write now because the new hot-house is ready, and I long to stock it,
just like a schoolboy. Could you tell me pretty soon what plants you can
give me; and then I shall know what to order? And do advise me how I had
better get such plants as you can SPARE. Would it do to send my tax-cart
early in the morning, on a day that was not frosty, lining the cart with
mats, and arriving here before night? I have no idea whether this degree
of exposure (and of course the cart would be cold) could injure stove-
plants; they would be about five hours (with bait) on the journey home."
A week later he wrote:--
"you cannot imagine what pleasure your plants give me (far more than your
dead Wedgwood ware can give you); and I go and gloat over them, but we
privately confessed to each other, that if they were not our own, perhaps
we should not see such transcendent beauty in each leaf."
And in March, when he was extremely unwell he wrote:--
"A few words about the Stove-plants; they do so amuse me. I have crawled
to see them two or three times. Will you correct and answer, and return
enclosed. I have hunted in all my books and cannot find these names (His
difficulty with regard to the names of plants is illustrated, with regard
to a Lupine on which he was at work, in an extract from a letter (July 21,
1866) to Sir J.D. Hooker: "I sent to the nursery garden, whence I bought
the seed, and could only hear that it was 'the common blue Lupine,' the man
saying 'he was no scholard, and did not know Latin, and that parties who
make experiments ought to find out the names.'"), and I like much to know
The book was published May 15th, 1862. Of its reception he writes to
Murray, June 13th and 18th:--
"The Botanists praise my Orchid-book to the skies. Some one sent me
(perhaps you) the 'Parthenon,' with a good review. The "Athenaeum" (May
24, 1862.) treats me with very kind pity and contempt; but the reviewer
knew nothing of his subject."
"There is a superb, but I fear exaggerated, review in the 'London Review,'
(June 14, 1862.) But I have not been a fool, as I thought I was, to
publish (Doubts on this point still, however, occurred to him about this
time. He wrote to Prof. Oliver (June 8): "I am glad that you have read my
Orchis-book and seem to approve of it; for I never published anything which
I so much doubted whether it was worth publishing, and indeed I still
doubt. The subject interested me beyond what, I suppose, it is worth.");
for Asa Gray, about the most competent judge in the world, thinks almost as
highly of the book as does the 'London Review.' The "Athenaeum" will
hinder the sale greatly."
The Rev. M.J. Berkeley was the author of the notice in the 'London Review,'
as my father learned from Sir J.D. Hooker, who added, 'I thought it very
well done indeed. I have read a good deal of the Orchid-book, and echo all
To this my father replied (June 30th, 1862):--
"My dear Old Friend,
You speak of my warming the cockles of your heart, but you will never know
how often you have warmed mine. It is not your approbation of my
scientific work (though I care for that more than for any one's): it is
something deeper. To this day I remember keenly a letter you wrote to me
from Oxford, when I was at the Water-cure, and how it cheered me when I was
utterly weary of life. Well, my Orchis-book is a success (but I do not
know whether it sells.)"
In another letter to the same friend, he wrote:--
"You have pleased me much by what you say in regard to Bentham and Oliver
approving of my book; for I had got a sort of nervousness, and doubted
whether I had not made an egregious fool of myself, and concocted pleasant
little stinging remarks for reviews, such as 'Mr. Darwin's head seems to
have been turned by a certain degree of success, and he thinks that the
most trifling observations are worth publication.'"
Mr. Bentham's approval was given in his Presidential Address to the Linnean
Society, May 24, 1862, and was all the more valuable because it came from
one who was by no means supposed to be favourable to evolutionary
CHARLES DARWIN TO ASA GRAY.
Down, June 10 .
My dear Gray,
Your generous sympathy makes you overestimate what you have read of my
Orchid-book. But your letter of May 18th and 26th has given me an almost
foolish amount of satisfaction. The subject interested me, I knew, beyond
its real value; but I had lately got to think that I had made myself a
complete fool by publishing in a semi-popular form. Now I shall
confidently defy the world. I have heard that Bentham and Oliver approve
of it; but I have heard the opinion of no one else whose opinion is worth a
farthing...No doubt my volume contains much error: how curiously difficult
it is to be accurate, though I try my utmost. Your notes have interested
me beyond measure. I can now afford to d-- my critics with ineffable
complacency of mind. Cordial thanks for this benefit. It is surprising to
me that you should have strength of mind to care for science, amidst the
awful events daily occurring in your country. I daily look at the "Times"
with almost as much interest as an American could do. When will peace
come? it is dreadful to think of the desolation of large parts of your
magnificent country; and all the speechless misery suffered by many. I
hope and think it not unlikely that we English are wrong in concluding that
it will take a long time for prosperity to return to you. It is an awful
subject to reflect on...
[Dr. Asa Gray reviewed the book in 'Silliman's Journal' ('Silliman's
Journal,' volume xxiv. page 138. Here is given an account of the
fertilisation of Platanthera Hookeri. P. hyperborea is discussed in Dr.
Gray's 'Enumeration' in the same volume, page 259; also, with other
species, in a second notice of the Orchid-book at page 420.), where he
speaks, in strong terms, of the fascination which it must have for even
slightly instructed readers. He made, too, some original observations on
an American orchid, and these first-fruits of the subject, sent in MS. or
proof sheet to my father, were welcomed by him in a letter (July 23rd):--
"Last night, after writing the above, I read the great bundle of notes.
Little did I think what I had to read. What admirable observations! You
have distanced me on my own hobby-horse! I have not had for weeks such a
glow of pleasure as your observations gave me."
The next letter refers to the publication of the review:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO ASA GRAY.
Down, July 28 .
My dear Gray,
I hardly know what to thank for first. Your stamps gave infinite
satisfaction. I took him (One of his boys who was ill.) first one lot, and
then an hour afterwards another lot. He actually raised himself on one
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