Letter icon
Letter 1879

Darwin, C. R. to Woodward, S. P.

27 May [1856]

Summary

Thanks for answer to query. “I see … that there is no hope of comparing the same genus at two different periods, and seeing whether the tendency to vary is greater at one period in such genus than at another period.”

Inclined to dispute SPW’s doctrine that islands are generally ancient. Doubts that they are remnants of continents.

Transcription

Down Bromley Kent

May 27th

My dear Sir

I am very much obliged to you for having taken the trouble to answer my query so fully.f1 I can now be at rest, for from what you say & from what little I remember Forbes said, my point is unanswerable. The case of Terebratula is to the point, as far as it goes, and is negative.— I have already attempted to get a solution through geographical distribution by Dr. Hooker’s means, & he finds that same genera which have very variable species in Europe, have other very variable species elsewhere. This seems the general rule, but with some few exceptions.— I see from the several reasons which you assign, that there is no hope of comparing the same genus at two different periods, & seeing whether the tendency to vary is greater at one period in such genus than at another period.— The variability of certain genera or groups of species strikes me as a very odd fact.—

I shall have no points, as far as I can remember, to suggest for your reconsideration, but only some on which I shall have to beg for a little further information.—f2 However I feel inclined very much to dispute your doctrine of islands being generally ancient in comparison, I presume, with continents. I imagine you think that islands are generally remnants of old continents, a doctrine which I feel strongly disposed to doubt— I believe them generally rising points, you, it seems, think them sinking points—f3

With many thanks | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

Endorsement: ‘/56’
C. C. Kohler (dealer) (1994)

true

Footnotes

f1
This letter is a response to the letter from S. P. Woodward, 2 May 1856, even though CD had written an additional letter in the interim (see letter to S. P. Woodward, 15 May [1856]).
f2
See letter to S. P. Woodward, [after 4 June 1856].
f3
Woodward expressed his belief that island faunas were generally older than those of continents in the letter from S. P. Woodward, 2 May 1856. He gave a fuller discussion in Woodward 1851–6, 3: 406 n. See also Woodward 1851–6 , 3: 381, where Woodward referred to insular flora and fauna as ‘the survivors, seemingly, of tribes which the sea has swallowed up.’ CD considered most oceanic islands to be volcanic in origin and unconnected with any continents.
Maximized viewPrint letter