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Letter 2166

Darwin, C. R. to Huxley, T. H.

[before 12 Nov 1857]

    Summary Add

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    Glad THH has taken up aphid question versus Owen ["On the agamic reproduction and morphology of Aphis", Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond. 22 (1858): 193–236].

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    Fertilisation and inheritance discussed. Speculates that fertilisation may be a mixture rather than a fusion. Can understand in no other way why crossed forms tend to go back to ancestral forms.

Transcription

Moor Park, Farnham | Surrey

My dear Huxley

Your letter has been forwarded to me here, where I am profiting by a weeks rest & hydropathy. Your letter has interested & amused me much.— I am extremely glad you have taken up the Aphis question, but for Heaven sake do not come the mild Hindoo to Owen (whatever he may be): your Father confessor trembles for you.— I fancy Owen thinks much of this doctrine of his: I never from the first believed it; & I cannot but think that the same power is concerned in producing Aphides without fertilisation, & producing, for instance, nails on the amputated stump of a man's fingers, or the new tail of a Lizard.—

By the way I saw somewhere during the last week or so a statement, of a man rearing from the same set of eggs winged & wingless Aphides, which seemed new to me. Does not some Yankee say that the American viviparous Aphides are winged? I am particularly glad that you are ruminating on the act of fertilisation: it has long seemed to me the most wonderful & curious of physiological problems. I have often & often speculated for amusement on the subject, but quite fruitlessly. Do you not think that the conjugation of the Diatomaceæ will ultimately throw light on subject? But the other day I came to the conclusion that some day we shall have cases of young being produced from spermatozoa or pollen without an ovule. Approaching the subject from the side which attracts me most, viz inheritance, I have lately been inclined to speculate very crudely & indistinctly, that propagation by true fertilisation, will turn out to be a sort of mixture & not true fusion, of two distinct individuals, or rather of innumerable individuals, as each parent has its parents & ancestors:— I can understand on no other view the way in which crossed forms go back to so large an extent to ancestral forms.— But all this, of course, is infinitely crude.

I hope to be in London in course of this month, & there are two or three points, which, for my own sake, I want to discuss briefly with you.—

Ever my dear Huxley | Yours very truly | C. Darwin

There is a couple of very clever men here with a taste for natural Science I have just made them roar with laughter at your last Page.

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 2166.f1
    Dated by the references to CD's stay at Moor Park (see n. 2, below) and to T. H. Huxley 1857–8 (see n. 3, below).
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    f2 2166.f2
    CD travelled to Moor Park, near Farnham, Surrey, on 5 November 1857 and returned to Down on 12 November (‘Journal’; see Correspondence vol. 6, Appendix II).
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    f3 2166.f3
    T. H. Huxley 1857–8, the first part of which Huxley delivered before the Linnean Society on 5 November 1857. Huxley had first discussed parthenogenesis in the aphid in T. H. Huxley 1856–7, 12: 482, in which he had strongly criticised Richard Owen's interpretation of the phenomenon.
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    f4 2166.f4
    CD's admonition refers to the increasingly public feud between Huxley and Richard Owen. In T. H. Huxley 1857–8, pp. 212–18, Huxley attacked Owen's explanation in Owen 1849 of the phenomenon of parthenogenesis as resulting from the retention of a ‘spermatic force’ in subsequent generations of females, commenting that: ‘reference to an undefined “force,” of questionable existence, is simply “ignorance writ large” ’ (T. H. Huxley 1857–8, p. 216).
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    f5 2166.f5
    Burnett 1854, p. 63.
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    f6 2166.f6
    George Henry Kendrick Thwaites had first reported observing conjugation in the Diatomaceae at the 1847 meeting in Oxford of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. CD attended the meeting and conversed with Thwaites (see letter to G. H. K. Thwaites, 8 March 1856, and Correspondence vol. 5, letter to G. H. K. Thwaites, 10 December 1855).
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    f7 2166.f7
    CD developed his theory of inheritance, ‘pangenesis’, and set it out in Variation 2: 357–404.
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    f8 2166.f8
    CD was in London from 17 to 20 November 1857 (Emma Darwin's diary). On 19 November, he attended a meeting of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society, at which Huxley was also present (Royal Society Philosophical Club minutes).
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