Letter 59 To Th Huxley

Down, December 16th [1857].

In my opinion your Catalogue (59/1. It appears from a letter to Sir J.D. Hooker (December 25th, 1857) that the reference is to the proofs of Huxley's "Explanatory Preface to the Catalogue of the Palaeontological Collection in the Museum of Practical Geology," by T.H. Huxley and R. Etheridge, 1865. Mr. Huxley appends a note at page xlix: "It should be noted that these pages were written before the appearance of Mr. Darwin's book on 'The Origin of Species'--a work which has effected a revolution in biological speculation.") is simply the very best resume, by far, on the whole science of Natural History, which I have ever seen. I really have no criticisms: I agree with every word. Your metaphors and explanations strike me as admirable. In many parts it is curious how what you have written agrees with what I have been writing, only with the melancholy difference for me that you put everything in twice as striking a manner as I do. I append, more for the sake of showing that I have attended to the whole than for any other object, a few most trivial criticisms.

I was amused to meet with some of the arguments, which you advanced in talk with me, on classification; and it pleases me, [that] my long proses were so far not thrown away, as they led you to bring out here some good sentences. But on classification (59/2. This probably refers to Mr. Huxley's discussion on "Natural Classification," a subject hardly susceptible of fruitful treatment except from an evolutionary standpoint.) I am not quite sure that I yet wholly go with you, though I agree with every word you have here said. The whole, I repeat, in my opinion is admirable and excellent.

LETTER 60. TO J.D. HOOKER. Down, February 28th [1858].

Hearty thanks for De Candolle received. I have put the big genera in hand. Also many thanks for your valuable remarks on the affinities of the species in great genera, which will be of much use to me in my chapter on classification. Your opinion is what I had expected from what little I knew, but I much wanted it confirmed, and many of your remarks were more or less new to me and all of value.

You give a poor picture of the philosophy of Botany. From my ignorance, I suppose, I can hardly persuade myself that things are quite as bad as you make them,--you might have been writing remarks on Ornithology! I shall meditate much on your remarks, which will also come in very useful when I write and consider my tables of big and small genera. I grieve for myself to say that Watson agrees with your view, but with much doubt. I gave him no guide what your opinion was. I have written to A. Gray and to X., who--

i.e. the latter--on this point may be looked at as S. Smith's Foolometer.

I am now working several of the large local Floras, with leaving out altogether all the smallest genera. When I have done this, and seen what the sections of the largest genera say, and seen what the results are of range and commonness of varying species, I must come to some definite conclusion whether or not entirely to give up the ghost. I shall then show how my theory points, how the facts stand, then state the nature of your grievous assault and yield entirely or defend the case as far as I can honestly.

Again I thank you for your invaluable assistance. I have not felt the blow [Hooker's criticisms] so much of late, as I have been beyond measure interested on the constructive instinct of the hive-bee. Adios, you terrible worrier of poor theorists!

Many thanks for Ledebour and still more for your letter, with its admirable resume of all your objections. It is really most kind of you to take so very much trouble about what seems to you, and probably is, mere vagaries.

I will earnestly try and be cautious. I will write out my tables and conclusion, and (when well copied out) I hope you will be so kind as to read it. I will then put it by and after some months look at it with fresh eyes. I will briefly work in all your objections and Watson's. I labour under a great difficulty from feeling sure that, with what very little systematic work I have done, small genera were more interesting and therefore more attracted my attention.

One of your remarks I do not see the bearing of under your point of view-namely, that in monotypic genera "the variation and variability" are "much more frequently noticed" than in polytypic genera. I hardly like to ask, but this is the only one of your arguments of which I do not see the bearing; and I certainly should be very glad to know. I believe I am the slowest (perhaps the worst) thinker in England; and I now consequently fully admit the full hostility of Urticaceae, which I will give in my tables.

I will make no remarks on your objections, as I do hope you will read my MS., which will not cost you much trouble when fairly copied out. From my own experience, I hardly believe that the most sagacious observers, without counting, could have predicted whether there were more or fewer recorded varieties in large or small genera; for I found, when actually making the list, that I could never strike a balance in my mind,--a good many varieties occurring together, in small or in large genera, always threw me off the balance...

P.S.--I have just thought that your remark about the much variation of monotypic genera was to show me that even in these, the smallest genera, there was much variability. If this be so, then do not answer; and I will so understand it.

Will you think of some of the largest genera with which you are well acquainted, and then suppose 4/5 of the species utterly destroyed and unknown in the sections (as it were) as much as possible in the centre of such great genera. Then would the remaining 1/5 of the species, forming a few sections, be, according to the general practice of average good Botanists, ranked as distinct genera? Of course they would in that case be closely related genera. The question, in fact, is, are all the species in a gigantic genus kept together in that genus, because they are really so very closely similar as to be inseparable? or is it because no chasms or boundaries can be drawn separating the many species? The question might have been put for Orders.

LETTER 63. TO J.D. HOOKER. Down, February 9th [1858].

I should be very much obliged for your opinion on the enclosed. You may remember in the three first volumes tabulated, all orders went right except Labiatae. By the way, if by any extraordinary chance you have not thrown away the scrap of paper with former results, I wish you would return it, for I have lost my copy, and I shall have all the division to do again; but DO NOT hunt for it, for in any case I should have gone over the calculation again.

Now I have done the three other volumes. You will see that all species in the six volumes together go right, and likewise all orders in the three last volumes, except Verbenaceae. Is not Verbenaceae very closely allied to Labiatae? If so, one would think that it was not mere chance, this coincidence. The species in Labiatae and Verbenaceae together are between 1/5 and 1/6 of all the species (15,645), which I have now tabulated.

Now, bearing in mind the many local Floras which I have tabulated (belting the whole northern hemisphere), and considering that they (and authors of

D.C. Prodromus) would probably take different degrees of care in recording varieties, and the genera would be divided on different principles by different men, etc., I am much surprised at the uniformity of the result, and I am satisfied that there must be truth in the rule that the small genera vary less than the large. What do you think? Hypothetically I can conjecture how the Labiatae might fail--namely, if some small divisions of the Order were now coming into importance in the world and varying much and making species. This makes me want to know whether you could divide the Labiatae into a few great natural divisions, and then I would tabulate them separately as sub-orders. I see Lindley makes so many divisions that there would not be enough in each for an average. I send the table of the Labiatae for the chance of your being able to do this for me. You might draw oblique lines including and separating both large and small genera. I have also divided all the species into two equal masses, and my rule holds good for all the species in a mass in the six volumes; but it fails in several (four) large Orders--viz. Labiatae, Scrophulariaceae, Acanthaceae, and Proteaceae. But, then, when the species are divided into two almost exactly equal divisions, the divisions with large genera are so very few: for instance, in Solanaceae, Solanum balances all others. In Labiatae seven gigantic genera balance all others (viz. 113), and in Proteaceae five genera balance all others. Now, according to my hypothetical notions, I am far from supposing that all genera go on increasing forever, and therefore I am not surprised at this result, when the division is so made that only a very few genera are on one side. But, according to my notions, the sections or sub-genera of the gigantic genera ought to obey my rule (i.e., supposing a gigantic genus had come to its maximum, whatever increase was still going on ought to be going on in the larger sub-genera). Do you think that the sections of the gigantic genera in D.C. Prodromus are generally NATURAL: i.e. not founded on mere artificial characters? If you think that they are generally made as natural as they can be, then I should like very much to tabulate the sub-genera, considering them for the time as good genera. In this case, and if you do not think me unreasonable to ask it, I should be very glad of the loan of Volumes X., XI., XII., and XIV., which include Acanthaceae, Scrophulariaceae, Labiatae, and Proteaceae,--that is, the orders which, when divided quite equally, do not accord with my rule, and in which a very few genera balance all the others.

I have written you a tremendous long prose.

I am confined to the sofa with boils, so you must let me write in pencil.

You would laugh if you could know how much your note pleased me. I had the firmest conviction that you would say all my MS. was bosh, and thank God, you are one of the few men who dare speak the truth. Though I should not have much cared about throwing away what you have seen, yet I have been forced to confess to myself that all was much alike, and if you condemned that you would condemn all my life's work, and that I confess made me a little low; but I could have borne it, for I have the conviction that I have honestly done my best. The discussion comes in at the end of the long chapter on variation in a state of nature, so that I have discussed, as far as I am able, what to call varieties. I will try to leave out all allusion to genera coming in and out in this part, till when I discuss the "Principle of Divergence," which, with "Natural Selection," is the keystone of my book; and I have very great confidence it is sound. I would have this discussion copied out, if I could really think it would not bore you to read,--for, believe me, I value to the full every word of criticism from you, and the advantage which I have derived from you cannot be told...

I am glad to hear that poor old Brown is dying so easily...

You will think it paltry, but as I was asked to pay for printing the Diploma [from a Society of which he had been made an honorary member], I did not like to refuse, so I send 1 pound. But I think it a shabby proceeding. If a gentleman did me some service, though unasked to do it, and then demanded payment, I should pay him, and think him a shabby dog; and on this principle I send my 1 pound.

(65/1. The following four letters refer to an inquiry instituted in 1858 by the Trustees of the British Museum as to the disposal of the Natural History Collections. The inquiry was one of the first steps towards the establishment of the Cromwell Road Museum, which was effected in 1875.)

LETTER 65. TO R.I. MURCHISON. Down, June 19th [1858].

I have just received your note. Unfortunately I cannot attend at the British Museum on Monday. I do not suppose my opinion on the subject of your note can be of any value, as I have not much considered the subject, or had the advantage of discussing it with other naturalists. But my impression is, that there is much weight in what you say about not breaking up the natural history collection of the British Museum. I think a national collection ought to be in London. I can, however, see that some weighty arguments might be advanced in favour of Kew, owing to the immense value of Sir W. Hooker's collection and library; but these are private property, and I am not aware that there is any certainty of their always remaining at Kew. Had this been the case, I should have thought that the botanical collection might have been removed there without endangering the other branches of the collections. But I think it would be the greatest evil which could possibly happen to natural science in this country if the other collections were ever to be removed from the British Museum and Library.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
The Newbies Guide To Meditation

The Newbies Guide To Meditation

Perhaps you have heard all about the healthy benefits of meditation and you have been anxious to give it a try. Let this guide teach you everything you are needing to know. Download today for yourself.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment