Letter 42 To Mrs Lyell

(42/1. Mrs. Lyell is a daughter of the late Mr. Leonard Horner, and widow of Lieut.-Col. Lyell, a brother of Sir Charles.)

Down, January 26th [1856].

I shall be very glad to be of any sort of use to you in regard to the beetles. But first let me thank you for your kind note and offer of specimens to my children. My boys are all butterfly hunters; and all young and ardent lepidopterists despise, from the bottom of their souls, coleopterists.

The simplest plan for your end and for the good of entomology, I should think, would be to offer the collection to Dr. J.E. Gray for the British Museum on condition that a perfect set was made out for you. If the collection was at all valuable, I should think he would be very glad to have this done. Whether any third set would be worth making out would depend on the value of the collection. I do not suppose that you expect the insects to be named, for that would be a most serious labour. If you do not approve of this scheme, I should think it very likely that Mr. Waterhouse would think it worth his while to set a series for you, retaining duplicates for himself; but I say this only on a venture. You might trust Mr. Waterhouse implicitly, which I fear, as [illegible] goes, is more than can be said for all entomologists. I presume, if you thought of either scheme, Sir Charles Lyell could easily see the gentlemen and arrange it; but, if not, I could do so when next I come to town, which, however, will not be for three or four weeks.

With respect to giving your children a taste for Natural History, I will venture one remark--viz., that giving them specimens in my opinion would tend to destroy such taste. Youngsters must be themselves collectors to acquire a taste; and if I had a collection of English lepidoptera, I would be systematically most miserly, and not give my boys half a dozen butterflies in the year. Your eldest has the brow of an observer, if there be the least truth in phrenology. We are all better, but we have been of late a poor household.

I should have less scruple in troubling you if I had any confidence what my work would turn out. Sometimes I think it will be good, at other times I really feel as much ashamed of myself as the author of the "Vestiges" ought to be of himself. I know well that your kindness and friendship would make you do a great deal for me, but that is no reason that I should be unreasonable. I cannot and ought not to forget that all your time is employed in work certain to be valuable. It is superfluous in me to say that I enjoy exceedingly writing to you, and that your answers are of the greatest possible service to me. I return with many thanks the proof on Aquilegia (43/1. This seems to refer to the discussion on the genus Aquilegia in Hooker and Thomson's "Flora Indica," 1855, Volume I., Systematic Part, page 44. The authors' conclusion is that "all the European and many of the Siberian forms generally recognised belong to one very variable species." With regard to cirripedes, Mr. Darwin spoke of "certain just perceptible differences which blend together and constitute varieties and not species" ("Life and Letters," I., page 379).): it has interested me much. It is exactly like my barnacles; but for my particular purpose, most unfortunately, both Kolreuter and Gartner have worked chiefly on A. vulgaris and canadensis and atro-purpurea, and these are just the species that you seem not to have studied. N.B. Why do you not let me buy the Indian Flora? You are too magnificent.

Now for a short ride on my chief (at present) hobbyhorse, viz. aberrant genera. What you say under your remarks on Lepidodendron seems just the case that I want, to give some sort of evidence of what we both believe in, viz. how groups came to be anomalous or aberrant; and I think some sort of proof is required, for I do not believe very many naturalists would at all admit our view.

Thank you for the caution on large anomalous genera first catching attention. I do not quite agree with your "grave objection to the whole process," which is "that if you multiply the anomalous species by 100, and divide the normal by the same, you will then reverse the names..." For, to take an example, Ornithorhynchus and Echidna would not be less aberrant if each had a dozen (I do not say 100, because we have no such cases in the animal kingdom) species instead of one. What would really make these two genera less anomalous would be the creation of many genera and sub-families round and radiating from them on all sides. Thus if Australia were destroyed, Didelphys in S. America would be wonderfully anomalous (this is your case with Proteaceae), whereas now there are so many genera and little sub-families of Marsupiata that the group cannot be called aberrant or anomalous. Sagitta (and the earwig) is one of the most anomalous animals in the world, and not a bit the less because there are a dozen species. Now, my point (which, I think is a slightly new point of view) is, if it is extinction which has made the genus anomalous, as a general rule the same causes of extinction would allow the existence of only a few species in such genera. Whenever we meet (which will be on the 23rd [at the] Club) I shall much like to hear whether this strikes you as sound. I feel all the time on the borders of a circle of truism. Of course I could not think of such a request, but you might possibly:--if Bentham does not think the whole subject rubbish, ask him some time to pick out the dozen most anomalous genera in the Leguminosae, or any great order of which there is a monograph by which I could calculate the ordinary percentage of species to genera. I am the more anxious, as the more I enquire, the fewer are the cases in which it can be done. It cannot be done in birds, or, I fear, in mammifers. I doubt much whether in any other class of insects [other than Curculionidae].

I saw your nice notice of poor Forbes in the "Gardeners' Chronicle," and I see in the "Athenaeum" a notice of meeting on last Saturday of his friends. Of course I shall wish to subscribe as soon as possible to any memorial...

I have just been testing practically what disuse does in reducing parts. I have made [skeletons] of wild and tame duck (oh the smell of well-boiled, high duck!), and I find the tame duck ought, according to scale of wild prototype, to have its two wings 360 grains in weight; but it has only 317, or 43 grains too little, or 1/7 of [its] own two wings too little in weight. This seems rather interesting to me. (43/2. On the conclusions drawn from these researches, see Mr. Platt Ball, "The Effects of Use and Disuse" (Nature Series), 1890, page 55. With regard to his pigeons, Darwin wrote, in November 1855: "I love them to that extent that I cannot bear to kill and skeletonise them.")

P.S.--I do not know whether you will think this worth reading over. I have worked it out since writing my letter, and tabulate the whole.

21 orders with 1 genus, having 7.95 species (or 4.6?).

29 orders with 2 genera, having 15.05 species on an average.

23 orders each with 3 genera, and these genera include on an average 8.2


20 orders each with 4 genera, and these genera include on an average 12.2 species.

27 orders each with above 50 genera (altogether 4716 genera), and these genera on an average have 9.97 species.

From this I conclude, whether there be many or few genera in an order, the number of species in a genus is not much affected; but perhaps when [there is] only one genus in an order it will be affected, and this will depend whether the [genus] Erythroxylon be made a family of.

I have been particularly glad to get your splendid eloge of Lindley. His name had been lately passing through my head, and I had hoped that Miers would have proposed him for the Royal medal. I most entirely agree that the Copley (44/1. The late Professor Lindley never attained the honour of the Copley medal. The Royal medal was awarded to him in 1857.) is more appropriate, and I daresay he would not have valued the Royal. From skimming through many botanical books, and from often consulting the

"Vegetable Kingdom," I had (ignorant as I am) formed the highest opinion of his claims as a botanist. If Sharpey will stick up strong for him, we should have some chance; but the natural sciences are but feebly represented in the Council. Sir P. Egerton, I daresay, would be strong for him. You know Bell is out. Now, my only doubt is, and I hope that you will consider this, that the natural sciences being weak on the Council, and (I fancy) the most powerful man in the Council, Col. S[abine], being strong against Lindley, whether we should have any chance of succeeding.

It would be so easy to name some eminent man whose name would be well-known to all the physicists. Would Lindley hear of and dislike being proposed for the Copley and not succeeding? Would it not be better on this view to propose him for the Royal? Do think of this. Moreover, if Lindley is not proposed for the Royal, I fear both Royal medals would go [to] physicists;

for I, for one, should not like to propose another zoologist, though

Hancock would be a very good man, and I fancy there would be a feeling against medals to two botanists. But for whatever Lindley is proposed, I

will do my best. We will talk this over here.

...With respect to Huxley, I was on the point of speaking to Crawford and Strezlecki (who will be on Committee of the Athenaeum) when I bethought me of how Owen would look and what he would say. Cannot you fancy him, with slow and gentle voice, asking "Will Mr. Crawford tell me what Mr. Huxley has done, deserving this honour; I only know that he differs from, and disputes the authority of Cuvier, Ehrenberg, and Agassiz as of no weight at all." And when I began to tell Mr. Crawford what to say, I was puzzled, and could refer him only to some excellent papers in the "Phil. Trans." for which the medal had been awarded. But I doubt, with an opposing faction, whether this would be considered enough, for I believe real scientific merit is not thought enough, without the person is generally well known. Now I want to hear what you deliberately think on this head: it would be bad to get him proposed and then rejected; and Owen is very powerful.

I have got the Lectures, and have read them. (46/1. The reference is presumably to the Royal Institution Lectures given in 1854-56. Those which we have seen--namely, those reprinted in the "Scientific Memoirs," Volume I.--"On the Common Plan of Animal Form," page 281; "On certain Zoological Arguments, etc." page 300; "On Natural History as Knowledge, Discipline, and Power," page 305, do not seem to us to contain anything likely to offend; but Falconer's attack in the "Ann. and Mag. of Nat. Hist." June 1856, on the last-named lecture, shows strong feeling. A reply by Mr. Huxley appeared in the July number of the same Journal. The most heretical discussion from a modern standpoint is at page 311, where he asks how it is conceivable that the bright colours of butterflies and shells or the elegant forms of Foraminifera can possibly be of service to their possessors; and it is this which especially struck Darwin, judging by the pencil notes on his copy of the Lecture.) Though I believe, as far as my knowledge goes, that Huxley is right, yet I think his tone very much too vehement, and I have ventured to say so in a note to Huxley. I had not thought of these lectures in relation to the Athenaeum (46/2. Mr. Huxley was in 1858 elected to the Athenaeum Club under Rule 2, which provides for the annual election of "a certain number of persons of distinguished eminence in science, literature, or the arts, or for public services."), but I am inclined quite to agree with you, and that we had better pause before anything is said...(N.B. I found Falconer very indignant at the manner in which Huxley treated Cuvier in his Royal Institution lectures; and I have gently told Huxley so.) I think we had better do nothing: to try in earnest to get a great naturalist into the Athenaeum and fail, is far worse than doing nothing.

How strange, funny, and disgraceful that nearly all (Faraday and Sir J.

Herschel at least exceptions) our great men are in quarrels in couplets; it never struck me before...

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