Letter 92 To Th Huxley

(92/1. The point here discussed is one to which Mr. Huxley attached great, in our opinion too great, importance.) Down, January 11th [1860?].

I fully agree that the difficulty is great, and might be made much of by a mere advocate. Will you oblige me by reading again slowly from pages 267 to 272. (92/2. The reference is to the "Origin," Edition I.: the section on "The Fertility of Varieties when crossed, and of their Mongrel Offspring" occupies pages 267-72.) I may add to what is there said, that it seems to me quite hopeless to attempt to explain why varieties are not sterile, until we know the precise cause of sterility in species.

Reflect for a moment on how small and on what very peculiar causes the unequal reciprocity of fertility in the same two species must depend. Reflect on the curious case of species more fertile with foreign pollen than their own. Reflect on many cases which could be given, and shall be given in my larger book (independently of hybridity) of very slight changes of conditions causing one species to be quite sterile and not affecting a closely allied species. How profoundly ignorant we are on the intimate relation between conditions of life and impaired fertility in pure species!

The only point which I might add to my short discussion on this subject, is that I think it probable that the want of adaptation to uniform conditions of life in our domestic varieties has played an important part in preventing their acquiring sterility when crossed. For the want of uniformity, and changes in the conditions of life, seem the only cause of the elimination of sterility (when crossed) under domestication. (92/3. The meaning which we attach to this obscure sentence is as follows: Species in a state of nature are closely adapted to definite conditions of life, so that the sexual constitution of species A is attuned, as it were, to a condition different from that to which B is attuned, and this leads to sterility. But domestic varieties are not strictly adapted by Natural Selection to definite conditions, and thus have less specialised sexual constitutions.) This elimination, though admitted by many authors, rests on very slight evidence, yet I think is very probably true, as may be inferred from the case of dogs. Under nature it seems improbable that the differences in the reproductive constitution, on which the sterility of any two species when crossed depends, can be acquired directly by Natural Selection; for it is of no advantage to the species. Such differences in reproductive constitution must stand in correlation with some other differences; but how impossible to conjecture what these are! Reflect on the case of the variations of Verbascum, which differ in no other respect whatever besides the fluctuating element of the colour of the flower, and yet it is impossible to resist Gartner's evidence, that this difference in the colour does affect the mutual fertility of the varieties.

The whole case seems to me far too mysterious to rest (92/4. The word "rest" seems to be used in place of "to serve as a foundation for.") a valid attack on the theory of modification of species, though, as you say, it offers excellent ground for a mere advocate.

I am surprised, considering how ignorant we are on very many points, [that] more weak parts in my book have not as yet been pointed out to me. No doubt many will be. H.C. Watson founds his objection in MS. on there being no limit to infinite diversification of species: I have answered this, I think, satisfactorily, and have sent attack and answer to Lyell and Hooker. If this seems to you a good objection, I would send papers to you. Andrew Murray "disposes of" the whole theory by an ingenious difficulty from the distribution of blind cave insects (92/5. See "Life and Letters, Volume II., page 265. The reference here is to Murray's address before the Botanical Society, Edinburgh. Mr. Darwin seems to have read Murray's views only in a separate copy reprinted from the "Proc. R. Soc. Edin." There is some confusion about the date of the paper; the separate copy is dated January 16th, while in the volume of the "Proc. R. Soc." it is February 20th. In the "Life and Letters," II., page 261 it is erroneously stated that these are two different papers.); but it can, I think, be fairly answered.

LETTER 93. TO T.H. HUXLEY. Down, [February] 2nd [1860].

I have had this morning a letter from old Bronn (93/1. See "Life and Letters, II., page 277.) (who, to my astonishment, seems slightly staggered by Natural Selection), and he says a publisher in Stuttgart is willing to publish a translation, and that he, Bronn, will to a certain extent superintend. Have you written to Kolliker? if not, perhaps I had better close with this proposal--what do you think? If you have written, I must wait, and in this case will you kindly let me hear as soon as you hear from Kolliker?

My poor dear friend, you will curse the day when you took up the "general agency" line; but really after this I will not give you any more trouble.

Do not forget the three tickets for us for your lecture, and the ticket for Baily, the poulterer.

Old Bronn has published in the "Year-book for Mineralogy" a notice of the "Origin" (93/2. "Neues Jahrb. fur Min." 1860, page 112.); and says he has himself published elsewhere a foreboding of the theory!

LETTER 94. TO J.D. HOOKER. Down, February 14th [1860].

I succeeded in persuading myself for twenty-four hours that Huxley's lecture was a success. (94/1. At the Royal Institution. See "Life and Letters," II., page 282.) Parts were eloquent and good, and all very bold; and I heard strangers say, "What a good lecture!" I told Huxley so; but I demurred much to the time wasted in introductory remarks, especially to his making it appear that sterility was a clear and manifest distinction of species, and to his not having even alluded to the more important parts of the subject. He said that he had much more written out, but time failed. After conversation with others and more reflection, I must confess that as an exposition of the doctrine the lecture seems to me an entire failure. I thank God I did not think so when I saw Huxley; for he spoke so kindly and magnificently of me, that I could hardly have endured to say what I now think. He gave no just idea of Natural Selection. I have always looked at the doctrine of Natural Selection as an hypothesis, which, if it explained several large classes of facts, would deserve to be ranked as a theory deserving acceptance; and this, of course, is my own opinion. But, as Huxley has never alluded to my explanation of classification, morphology, embryology, etc., I thought he was thoroughly dissatisfied with all this part of my book. But to my joy I find it is not so, and that he agrees with my manner of looking at the subject; only that he rates higher than I do the necessity of Natural Selection being shown to be a vera causa always in action. He tells me he is writing a long review in the "Westminster." It was really provoking how he wasted time over the idea of a species as exemplified in the horse, and over Sir J. Hall's old experiment on marble. Murchison was very civil to me over my book after the lecture, in which he was disappointed. I have quite made up my mind to a savage onslaught; but with Lyell, you, and Huxley, I feel confident we are right, and in the long run shall prevail. I do not think Asa Gray has quite done you justice in the beginning of the review of me. (94/2. "Review of Darwin's Theory on the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection," by "A.G." ("Amer. Jour. Sci." Volume XXIX., page 153, 1860). In a letter to Asa Gray on February 18th, 1860, Darwin writes: "Your review seems to me admirable; by far the best which I have read." ("Life and Letters," II., 1887, page 286.) The review seemed to me very good, but I read it very hastily.

LETTER 95. TO C. LYELL. Down, [February] 18th [1860].

I send by this post Asa Gray, which seems to me very good, with the stamp of originality on it. Also Bronn's "Jahrbuch fUr Mineralogie." (95/1. See Letter 93.)

The united intellect of my family has vainly tried to make it out. I never tried such confoundedly hard german; nor does it seem worth the labour. He sticks to Priestley's Green Matter, and seems to think that till it can be shown how life arises it is no good showing how the forms of life arise. This seems to me about as logical (comparing very great things with little) as to say it was no use in Newton showing the laws of attraction of gravity and the consequent movement of the planets, because he could not show what the attraction of gravity is.

The expression "Wahl der Lebens-Weise" (95/2. "Die fruchtbarste und allgemeinste Ursache der Varietaten-Bildung ist jedoch die Wahl der LebensWeise" (loc. cit., page 112).) makes me doubt whether B. understands what I mean by Natural Selection, as I have told him. He says (if I understand him) that you ought to be on the same side with me.

P.S. Sunday afternoon. --I have kept back this to thank you for your letter, with much news, received this morning. My conscience is uneasy at the time you waste in amusing and interesting me. I was very curious to hear about Phillips. The review in the "Annals" is, as I was convinced, by Wollaston, for I have had a very cordial letter from him this morning. (95/3. A bibliographical Notice "On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection; or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." ("Annals and Mag." Volume V., pages 132-43, 1860). The notice is not signed. Referring to the article, in a letter to Lyell, February 15th, 1860, Darwin writes: "I am perfectly convinced...that the review in the "Annals" is by Wollaston; no one else in the world would have used so many parentheses" ("Life and Letters," II., page 284).)

I send by this post an attack in the "Gardeners' Chronicle" by Harvey (a first-rate botanist, as you probably know). (95/4. In the "Gardeners' Chronicle" of February 18th, 1860, W.H. Harvey described a case of monstrosity in Begonia frigida, which he argued was hostile to the theory of Natural Selection. The passage about Harvey's attack was published in the "Life and Letters," II., page 275.) It seems to me rather strange; he assumes the permanence of monsters, whereas monsters are generally sterile, and not often inheritable. But grant his case, it comes [to this], that I have been too cautious in not admitting great and sudden variations. Here again comes in the mischief of my abstract. In fuller MS. I have discussed the parallel case of a normal fish like a monstrous gold-fish.

I end my discussion by doubting, because all cases of monstrosities which resemble normal structures which I could find were not in allied groups. Trees like Aspicarpa (95/5. Aspicarpa, an American genus of Malpighiaceae, is quoted in the "Origin" (Edition VI., page 367) as an illustration of Linnaeus' aphorism that the characters do not give the genus, but the genus gives the characters. During several years' cultivation in France

Aspicarpa produced only degraded flowers, which differed in many of the most important points of structure from the proper type of the order; but it was recognised by M. Richard that the genus should be retained among the Malpighiaceae. "This case," adds Darwin, "well illustrates the spirit of our classification."), with flowers of two kinds (in the "Origin"), led me also to speculate on the same subject; but I could find only one doubtfully analogous case of species having flowers like the degraded or monstrous flowers. Harvey does not see that if only a few (as he supposes) of the seedlings inherited being monstrosities, Natural Selection would be necessary to select and preserve them. You had better return the "Gardeners' Chronicle," etc., to my brother's. The case of Begonia (95/6. Harvey's criticism was answered by Sir J.D. Hooker in the following number of the "Gardeners' Chronicle" (February 25th, 1860, page 170).) in itself is very curious; I am tempted to answer the notice, but I will refrain, for there would be no end to answers.

With respect to your objection of a multitude of still living simple forms, I have not discussed it anywhere in the "Origin," though I have often thought it over. What you say about progress being only occasional and retrogression not uncommon, I agree to; only that in the animal kingdom I greatly doubt about retrogression being common. I have always put it to myself--What advantage can we see in an infusory animal, or an intestinal worm, or coral polypus, or earthworm being highly developed? If no advantage, they would not become highly developed: not but what all these animals have very complex structures (except infusoria), and they may well be higher than the animals which occupied similar places in the economy of nature before the Silurian epoch. There is a blind snake with the appearances and, in some respects, habits of earthworms; but this blind snake does not tend, as far as we can see, to replace and drive out worms. I think I must in a future edition discuss a few more such points, and will introduce this and H.C. Watson's objection about the infinite number of species and the general rise in organisation. But there is a directly opposite objection to yours which is very difficult to answer--viz. how at the first start of life, when there were only the simplest organisms, how did any complication of organisation profit them? I can only answer that we have not facts enough to guide any speculation on the subject.

With respect to Lepidosiren, Ganoid fishes, perhaps Ornithorhynchus, I suspect, as stated in the "Origin," (95/7. "Origin of Species" (Edition VI.), page 83.), that they have been preserved, from inhabiting fresh-water and isolated parts of the world, in which there has been less competition and less rapid progress in Natural Selection, owing to the fewness of individuals which can inhabit small areas; and where there are few individuals variation at most must be slower. There are several allusions to this notion in the "Origin," as under Amblyopsis, the blind cave-fish (95/8. "Origin," page 112.), and under Heer (95/9. "Origin," page 83.)

about Madeira plants resembling the fossil and extinct plants of Europe.

LETTER 96. TO JAMES LAMONT. Down, March 5th [1860?].

I am much obliged for your long and interesting letter. You have indeed good right to speak confidently about the habits of wild birds and animals; for I should think no one beside yourself has ever sported in Spitzbergen and Southern Africa. It is very curious and interesting that you should have arrived at the conclusion that so-called "Natural Selection" had been efficient in giving their peculiar colours to our grouse. I shall probably use your authority on the similar habits of our grouse and the Norwegian species.

I am particularly obliged for your very curious fact of the effect produced by the introduction of the lowland grouse on the wildness of the grouse in your neighbourhood. It is a very striking instance of what crossing will do in affecting the character of a breed. Have you ever seen it stated in any sporting work that game has become wilder in this country? I wish I could get any sort of proof of the fact, for your explanation seems to me equally ingenious and probable. I have myself witnessed in South America a nearly parallel [case] with that which you mention in regard to the reindeer in Spitzbergen, with the Cervus campestris of La Plata. It feared neither man nor the sound of shot of a rifle, but was terrified at the sight of a man on horseback; every one in that country always riding. As you are so great a sportsman, perhaps you will kindly look to one very trifling point for me, as my neighbours here think it too absurd to notice --namely, whether the feet of birds are dirty, whether a few grains of dirt do not adhere occasionally to their feet. I especially want to know how this is in the case of birds like herons and waders, which stalk in the mud. You will guess that this relates to dispersal of seeds, which is one of my greatest difficulties. My health is very indifferent, and I am seldom able to attend the scientific meetings, but I sincerely hope that I may some time have the pleasure of meeting you.

Pray accept my cordial thanks for your very kind letter.

LETTER 97. TO G.H.K. THWAITES. Down, March 21st [1860].

I thank you very sincerely for your letter, and am much pleased that you go a little way with me. You will think it presumptuous, but I am well convinced from my own mental experience that if you keep the subject at all before your mind you will ultimately go further. The present volume is a mere abstract, and there are great omissions. One main one, which I have rectified in the foreign editions, is an explanation (which has satisfied Lyell, who made the same objection with you) why many forms do not progress or advance (and I quite agree about some retrograding). I have also a MS. discussion on beauty; but do you really suppose that for instance Diatomaceae were created beautiful that man, after millions of generations, should admire them through the microscope? (97/1. Thwaites (1811-82) published several papers on the Diatomaceae ("On Conjugation in the Diatomaceae," "Ann. and Mag. Nat. Hist." Volume XX., 1847, pages 9-11, 3434; "Further Observations on the Diatomaceae," loc. cit., 1848, page 161). See "Life and Letters" II., page 292.) I should attribute most of such structures to quite unknown laws of growth; and mere repetition of parts is to our eyes one main element of beauty. When any structure is of use (and I can show what curiously minute particulars are often of highest use), I can see with my prejudiced eyes no limit to the perfection of the coadaptations which could be effected by Natural Selection. I rather doubt whether you see how far, as it seems to me, the argument for homology and embryology may be carried. I do not look at this as mere analogy. I would as soon believe that fossil shells were mere mockeries of real shells as that the same bones in the foot of a dog and wing of a bat, or the similar embryo of mammal and bird, had not a direct signification, and that the signification can be unity of descent or nothing. But I venture to repeat how much pleased I am that you go some little way with me. I find a number of naturalists do the same, and as their halting-places are various, and I must think arbitrary, I believe they will all go further. As for changing at once one's opinion, I would not value the opinion of a man who could do so; it must be a slow process. (97/2. Darwin wrote to Woodward in regard to the "Origin": "It may be a vain and silly thing to say, but I believe my book must be read twice carefully to be fully understood. You will perhaps think it by no means worth the labour.") Thank you for telling me about the Lantana (97/3. An exotic species of Lantana (Verbenaceae) grows vigorously in Ceylon, and is described as frequently making its appearance after the firing of the low-country forests (see H.H.W. Pearson, "The Botany of the Ceylon Patanas," "Journal Linn. Soc." Volume XXXIV., page 317, 1899). No doubt Thwaites' letter to Darwin referred to the spreading of the introduced Lantana, comparable to that of the cardoon in La Plata and of other plants mentioned by Darwin in the "Origin of Species" (Edition VI., page 51).), and I should at any time be most grateful for any information which you think would be of use to me. I hope that you will publish a list of all naturalised plants in Ceylon, as far as known, carefully distinguishing those confined to cultivated soils alone. I feel sure that this most important subject has been greatly undervalued.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment