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Letter 1693

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

5 June [1855]
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    Summary Add

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    Seeds: worried they will turn into another barnacle job.

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    Studies plants colonising abandoned field.

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    Experiment on plant sleep movements.

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    CD objects to "Atlantis" because no evidence; does not affect species theory.

Transcription

Down. Farnborough Kent

June 5th

My dear Hooker

Very many thanks for your seeds & Saxifrage, & such a splendid lot: Lawson had not one kind! Thanks, also, for your little note with all the terrible wishes about the seeds, in which I almost join for I begin to think they are immortal & that the seed job will be another Barnacle job; for I thought the first lot were all dead; & now after 56 days, 6 out of the 7 kinds have come up, though only a few of each.— It was a very good, (though I thought useless at the time) suggestion; to try cabbage, broccoli & cawlifower, the two latter having everyone died after 22 days, wheras cabbage itself has germinated well. Having no one to talk to, I must just tell you, what seems to me curious, that the young plants of Tussilago farfara came out of their seeds in the salt-water, & have now kept alive nine days some floating & some at bottom of sea water, & when planted they grow well.— If I keep them long enough, they will, shd you not think? turn into alga, just like the reverse case of the alga which turned into your (doubly confounded) Kerguelen Land Cabbage, according to the Vestiges.— Your lot of seeds have done very badly; partly perhaps owing to their being several of them Greenhouse plants; & partly owing to the seeds being bad; & they are dreadfully slow germinators, which is a great evil, & which no doubt you selected on purpose to vex me.— Miss Thorley & I are doing a little Botanical work (!) for our amusement, & it does amuse me very much, viz making a collection of all the plants, which grow in a field, which has been allowed to run waste for 15 years, but which before was cultivated from time immemorial; & we are also collecting all the plants in an adjoining & similar but cultivated field; just for the fun of seeing what plants have arrived or dyed out. Hereafter we shall want a bit of help in naming puzzlers.— How dreadfully difficult it is to name plants.

What a remarkably nice & kind letter Dr A. Gray has sent me in answer to my troublesome queries: I retained your copy of his Manual till I heard from him, & when I have answered his letter, I will return it to you.—

I thank you much for Hedysarum: I do hope it is not very precious, for as I told you it is for probably a most foolish purpose: I read somewhere that no plant closes its leaves so promptly in darkness, & I want to cover it up daily for 12 hour, & see if I can teach it to close by itself, or more easily than at first in darkness. I am rather puzzled about its transmission: from not knowing how tender it is; if not very tender, the best way wd be to send it, in Basket addressed simply to “C. Darwin care of G. Snow, Nag's Head Borough” to be sent so as to arrive before 12 on Thursday, or on Wednesday Evening. But if tender, perhaps, it had better be sent to my Brothers “|57 Queen Queen Anne St Cavendish Sqr on 21st or 22d for I hope to be up for next Club, if I am well enough, which has been far from case of late, & everything overwhelms me & I hate doing everything almost, except indeed, as you see, writing to you.—

How I do wish I cd see you oftener, what good it wd do me in my work. But busy as you are, I beg you with most perfect truth on no account to trouble yourself in writing often to me, because I write to you.

Good Bye | C. Darwin

I cannot make exactly out why you wd prefer continental transmission, as I think you do, to carriage by sea: with your general views, I shd have thought you wd have been pleased at as many means of transmission as possible.— For my own pet theoretical notions, it is quite indifferent whether they are transmitted by sea or land, as long as some, tolerably probable way is shown. But it shocks my philosophy to create land, without some other & independent evidence. Whenever we meet, by a very few words I shd I think more clearly understand your views.

Thank you for forwarding A. Gray.— Would his list of Habitats be of any the least use to you? if so I wd copy it, but I suppose that there is nothing new in it to you, though very much to me.— His letter does strike me as most uncommonly kind.—

I have just made out my first Grass, hurrah! hurrah! I must confess that Fortune favours the bold, for as good luck wd have it, it was the easy Anthoxanthum odoratum: nevertheless it is a great discovery; I never expected to make out a grass in all my life. So Hurrah. It has done my stomach surprising good.—

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 1693.f1
    Peter Lawson & Sons, nurserymen (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 April [1855], n. 3).
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    f2 1693.f2
    There is a copy of Lawson's 1851 catalogue of seeds in the Darwin Library–CUL. CD's jocular reference is to a passage in Explanations: a sequel to ‘Vestiges of the natural history of creation’ ([Chambers 1845], p. 115): Among the questions proposed by the Academy of Sciences at Haarlem, in 1839, was one upon the following subject— “According to some botanists, Algæ of a very simple structure, placed under favourable circumstances, develop and change into different plants, belonging to genera much more elevated in the scale of organic being; …” I would ask if this is a point as yet settled in the negative. The original of our cabbage is well known to be a trailing sea-side plant, entirely different from the cabbage in appearance. Hooker's account of the cabbage in J. D. Hooker 1844–7 had been reprinted in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal in 1846 with similar editorial comments attached (see Correspondence vol. 3, letter from J. D. Hooker, 1 February 1846 and n. 8).
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    f3 1693.f3
    See letters to J. D. Hooker, 7 April [1855] and 13 April [1855].
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    f4 1693.f4
    Governess of the Darwin children.
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    f5 1693.f5
    Asa Gray's letter of 22 May had been sent to Kew and forwarded to CD by Hooker (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 10 June [1855]).
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    f6 1693.f6
    George Snow's carrier service between Down village and London ran only on Thursdays.
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    f7 1693.f7
    CD refers to his project to identify the different species of grass growing in the neighbourhood of Down.
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