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Letter 1123

Darwin, C. R. to Hooker, J. D.

[5 Oct 1847]
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    Summary Add

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    Mystified by the origin of coal-plants.

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    Milne's Glen Roy theory is absurd but, oddly, it has staggered CD in favour of Agassiz's ice-lake theory.

Transcription

Down Farnborough Kent

Tuesday Even.

My dear Hooker

I have nothing particular to say, but as I have nothing particular to do, so I will at least thank you for telling me how your plans get on, which I am always very anxious to hear. Your great men seem to have all been bungling, but I trust that will be only a temporary inconvenience: you surely, however, will never be able to get away on the 20th of Novr I am very glad you have resolved against taking ship for a regular time off Borneo; it would be a miserable loss of time, & I daresay you would be hooked in to do regular Doctor's duty.— I shd think it must be a good thing for you, Government asking your advice about planting &c: I have no sort of opinion about Ascension; I remember being surprised how well Scotch fir seemed to do at St. Helena: you do not specify Larch: is not that a more southern fir? & certainly more valuable wood than Scotch fir.—

My plans are, to go to Shrewsbury on the 22d & return home on 4th of Novemb, stopping in London for the first Geolog. Meeting; I should probably have gone sooner, but we have a gang of relations coming here on the 9th— I do hope you will manage a visit here after the 4th, even if it be only for a Sunday; Falconer has promised to come for a Sunday, but he cannot spare more time. I can well understand how dreadfully busy you must be: if you cannot come here, you must let me come to you for a night; for I must have one more chat & one more quarrel with you over the coal. By the way I endeavoured to stir up Lyell, (who has been staying here some days with me) to theorise on the coal: his oolitic upright Equisetums are dreadful for my submarine flora; I shd die much easier if someone would solve the coal question; I sometimes think it could not have been formed at all— Old Sir Anthony Carlisle once said to me gravely that he supposed Megatherium & such cattle were just sent down from Heaven to see whether the earth would support them & I suppose the coal was rained down to puzzle mortals. You must work the coal well in India.—

I have had several long letters to write lately on Glen Roy, which has vexed me much— Mr Milne has been trying to prove the former existence of common lakes, which I feel sure is absurd, but his paper staggered me in favour of Agassiz ice-lake theory, so I wrote a letter to the Scotsman. Now R. Chamber, who was a follower of me, & then became a convert to Milne, has been there again, & now says he can prove the sea theory— The confounded subject has made me sick twice.—

Ever yours | C. Darwin

Pray give my kind remembrances to your sister: I am exceedingly glad that she is at last free of her cough.—

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 1123.f1
    The conjectured date is based on CD's reference to a visit from Charles Lyell, and on the assumption that CD had not yet heard Hooker's news about the official confirmation of his journey to India (letter to J. D. Hooker, [6 or 13 October 1847]).
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    f2 1123.f2
    The date first mentioned by Hooker for his departure on the expedition to India (letter to J. D. Hooker, [12 September 1847]). Hooker, in fact, left on 11 November.
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    f3 1123.f3
    The Admiralty, originally opposed to the Indian journey, had proposed that Hooker join an expedition to Borneo (see L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 216, 217). Hooker's decision not to ‘take ship’ at Borneo evidently stimulated him to request a personal interview with George Eden, Earl of Auckland, who was first lord of the Admiralty (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [6 or 13 October 1847]), at which a compromise was reached.
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    f4 1123.f4
    At a time when the Indian journey seemed unlikely to meet with the Admiralty's approval, Hooker considered an expedition to Ascension Island, since Kew Gardens had undertaken a government project to replant the island with trees (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 217).
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    f5 1123.f5
    CD did not attend the Geological Society council meeting on 3 November (Council Minute Books, Geological Society Archives) as he was unable to return to Down until 5 November (letter to J. D. Hooker, [6 November 1847]).
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    f6 1123.f6
    For CD's arguments with Hooker about the origin of coal, see letters to J. D. Hooker, [6 May 1847] and [12 May 1847].
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    f7 1123.f7
    Equisetum grows chiefly in swamps. Charles Lyell addressed the question of the origin of coal in C. Lyell 1847, p. 278. He believed the plants to be of fresh-water origin.
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    f8 1123.f8
    Anthony Carlisle, chairman of the board of curators of the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1836, had supervised the acceptance of CD's fossil Mammalia into the college's collection (Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Richard Owen, 19 December [1836]).
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