Letter 143 To Hugh Falconer

Down, October 1st [1862].

On my return home yesterday I found your letter and MS., which I have read with extreme interest. Your note and every word in your paper are expressed with the same kind feeling which I have experienced from you ever since I have had the happiness of knowing you. I value scientific praise, but I value incomparably higher such kind feeling as yours. There is not a single word in your paper to which I could possibly object: I should be mad to do so; its only fault is perhaps its too great kindness. Your case seems the most striking one which I have met with of the persistence of specific characters. It is very much the more striking as it relates to the molar teeth, which differ so much in the species of the genus, and in which consequently I should have expected variation. As I read on I felt not a little dumbfounded, and thought to myself that whenever I came to this subject I should have to be savage against myself; and I wondered how savage you would be. I trembled a little. My only hope was that something could be made out of the bog N. American forms, which you rank as a geographical race; and possibly hereafter out of the Sicilian species. Guess, then, my satisfaction when I found that you yourself made a loophole (143/1. This perhaps refers to a passage ("N.H. Review," 1863, page 79) in which Falconer allows the existence of intermediate forms along certain possible lines of descent. Falconer's reference to the Sicilian elephants is in a note on page 78; the bog-elephant is mentioned on page 79.), which I never, of course, could have guessed at; and imagine my still greater satisfaction at your expressing yourself as an unbeliever in the eternal immutability of species. Your final remarks on my work are too generous, but have given me not a little pleasure. As for criticisms, I have only small ones. When you speak of "moderate range of variation" I cannot but think that you ought to remind your readers (though I daresay previously done) what the amount is, including the case of the American bog-mammoth. You speak of these animals as having been exposed to a vast range of climatal changes from before to after the Glacial period. I should have thought, from analogy of sea-shells, that by migration (or local extinction when migration not possible) these animals might and would have kept under nearly the same climate.

A rather more important consideration, as it seems to me, is that the whole proboscidean group may, I presume, be looked at as verging towards extinction: anyhow, the extinction has been complete as far as Europe and America are concerned. Numerous considerations and facts have led me in the "Origin" to conclude that it is the flourishing or dominant members of each order which generally give rise to new races, sub-species, and species; and under this point of view I am not at all surprised at the constancy of your species. This leads me to remark that the sentence at the bottom of page [80] is not applicable to my views (143/2. See Falconer at the bottom of page 80: it is the old difficulty--how can variability co-exist with persistence of type? In our copy of the letter the passage is given as occurring on page 60, a slip of the pen for page 80.), though quite applicable to those who attribute modification to the direct action of the conditions of life. An elephant might be more individually variable than any known quadruped (from the effects of the conditions of life or other innate unknown causes), but if these variations did not aid the animal in better resisting all hostile influences, and therefore making it increase in numbers, there would be no tendency to the preservation and accumulation of such variations--i.e. to the formation of a new race. As the proboscidean group seems to be from utterly unknown causes a failing group in many parts of the world, I should not have anticipated the formation of new races.

You make important remarks versus Natural Selection, and you will perhaps be surprised that I do to a large extent agree with you. I could show you many passages, written as strongly as I could in the "Origin," declaring that Natural Selection can do nothing without previous variability; and I have tried to put equally strongly that variability is governed by many laws, mostly quite unknown. My title deceives people, and I wish I had made it rather different. Your phyllotaxis (143/3. Falconer, page 80: "The law of Phyllotaxis...is nearly as constant in its manifestation as any of the physical laws connected with the material world.") will serve as example, for I quite agree that the spiral arrangement of a certain number of whorls of leaves (however that may have primordially arisen, and whether quite as invariable as you state), governs the limits of variability, and therefore governs what Natural Selection can do. Let me explain how it arose that I laid so much stress on Natural Selection, and I still think justly. I came to think from geographical distribution, etc., etc., that species probably change; but for years I was stopped dead by my utter incapability of seeing how every part of each creature (a woodpecker or swallow, for instance) had become adapted to its conditions of life. This seemed to me, and does still seem, the problem to solve; and I think Natural Selection solves it, as artificial selection solves the adaptation of domestic races for man's use. But I suspect that you mean something further,--that there is some unknown law of evolution by which species necessarily change; and if this be so, I cannot agree. This, however, is too large a question even for so unreasonably long a letter as this. Nevertheless, just to explain by mere valueless conjectures how I imagine the teeth of your elephants change, I should look at the change as indirectly resulting from changes in the form of the jaws, or from the development of tusks, or in the case of the primigenius even from correlation with the woolly covering; in all cases Natural Selection checking the variation. If, indeed, an elephant would succeed better by feeding on some new kinds of food, then any variation of any kind in the teeth which favoured their grinding power would be preserved. Now, I can fancy you holding up your hands and crying out what bosh! To return to your concluding sentence: far from being surprised, I look at it as absolutely certain that very much in the "Origin" will be proved rubbish; but I expect and hope that the framework will stand. (143/4. Falconer, page 80: "He [Darwin] has laid the foundations of a great edifice: but he need not be surprised if, in the progress of erection, the superstructure is altered by his successors...")

I had hoped to have called on you on Monday evening, but was quite knocked up. I saw Lyell yesterday morning. He was very curious about your views, and as I had to write to him this morning I could not help telling him a few words on your views. I suppose you are tired of the "Origin," and will never read it again; otherwise I should like you to have the third edition, and would gladly send it rather than you should look at the first or second edition. With cordial thanks for your generous kindness.

LETTER 144. J.D. HOOKER TO CHARLES DARWIN. Royal Gardens, Kew, November 7th, 1862.

I am greatly relieved by your letter this morning about my Arctic essay, for I had been conjuring up some egregious blunder (like the granitic plains of Patagonia).. Certes, after what you have told me of Dawson, he will not like the letter I wrote to him days ago, in which I told him that it was impossible to entertain a strong opinion against the Darwinian hypothesis without its giving rise to a mental twist when viewing matters in which that hypothesis was or might be involved. I told him I felt that this was so with me when I opposed you, and that all minds are subject to such obliquities!--the Lord help me, and this to an LL.D. and Principal of a College! I proceeded to discuss his Geology with the effrontery of a novice; and, thank God, I urged the very argument of your letter about evidence of subsidence--viz., not all submerged at once, and glacial action being subaerial and not oceanic. Your letter hence was a relief, for I felt I was hardly strong enough to have launched out as I did to a professed geologist.

(144/1. [On the subject of the above letter, see one of earlier date by

Sir J.D. Hooker (November 2nd, 1862) given in the present work (Letter 354)

with Darwin's reply (Letter 355).])

LETTER 145. TO HUGH FALCONER. Down, November 14th [1862].

I have read your paper (145/1. "On the disputed Affinity of the Mammalian Genus Plagiaulax, from the Purbeck beds."--"Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc." Volume XVIII., page 348, 1862.) with extreme interest, and I thank you for sending it, though I should certainly have carefully read it, or anything with your name, in the Journal. It seems to me a masterpiece of close reasoning: although, of course, not a judge of such subjects, I cannot feel any doubt that it is conclusive. Will Owen answer you? I expect that from his arrogant view of his own position he will not answer. Your paper is dreadfully severe on him, but perfectly courteous, and polished as the finest dagger. How kind you are towards me: your first sentence (145/2. "One of the most accurate observers and original thinkers of our time has discoursed with emphatic eloquence on the Imperfection of the Geological Record.") has pleased me more than perhaps it ought to do, if I had any modesty in my composition. By the way, after reading the first whole paragraph, I re-read it, not for matter, but for style; and then it suddenly occurred to me that a certain man once said to me, when I urged him to publish some of his miscellaneous wealth of knowledge, "Oh, he could not write,--he hated it," etc. You false man, never say that to me again. Your incidental remark on the remarkable specialisation of Plagiaulax (145/3. "If Plagiaulax be regarded through the medium of the view advocated with such power by Darwin, through what a number of intermediate forms must not the genus have passed before it attained the specialised condition in which the fossils come before us!") (which has stuck in my gizzard ever since I read your first paper) as bearing on the number of preceding forms, is quite new to me, and, of course, is in accordance to my notions a most impressive argument. I was also glad to be reminded of teeth of camel and tarsal bones. (145/4. Op. cit. page 353. A reference to Cuvier's instance "of the secret relation between the upper canine-shaped incisors of the camel and the bones of the tarsus.") Descent from an intermediate form, Ahem!

Well, all I can say is that I have not been for a long time more interested with a paper than with yours. It gives me a demoniacal chuckle to think of Owen's pleasant countenance when he reads it.

I have not been in London since the end of September; when I do come I will beat up your quarters if I possibly can; but I do not know what has come over me. I am worse than ever in bearing any excitement. Even talking of an evening for less than two hours has twice recently brought on such violent vomiting and trembling that I dread coming up to London. I hear that you came out strong at Cambridge (145/5. Prof. Owen, in a communication to the British Association at Cambridge (1862) "On a tooth of Mastodon from the Tertiary marls, near Shanghai," brought forward the case of the Australian Mastodon as a proof of the remarkable geographical distribution of the Proboscidia. In a subsequent discussion he frankly abandoned it, in consequence of the doubts then urged regarding its authenticity. (See footnote, page 101, in Falconer's paper "On the American Fossil Elephant," "Nat. Hist. Review," 1863.)), and am heartily glad you attacked the Australian Mastodon. I never did or could believe in him. I wish you would read my little Primula paper in the "Linnean Journal," Volume VI. Botany (No. 22), page 77 (I have no copy which I can spare), as I think there is a good chance that you may have observed similar cases. This is my real hobby-horse at present. I have re-tested this summer the functional difference of the two forms in Primula, and find all strictly accurate. If you should know of any cases analogous, pray inform me. Farewell, my good and kind friend.

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