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Letter 3257

Darwin, C. R. to Fawcett, Henry

18 Sept [1861]

    Summary Add

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    Comments on MS of HF's address ["On the method of Mr Darwin in his treatise on the origin of species", Rep. BAAS (1861) pt 2: 141–3]. "How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service."

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    Describes his health.

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    The response to his views in Germany, Holland, and Russia.



September 18

My dear Mr. Fawcett,—

I wondered who had so kindly sent me the newspapers, which I was very glad to see; and now I have to thank you sincerely for allowing me to see your MS. It seems to me very good and sound; though I am certainly not an impartial judge. You will have done good service in calling the attention of scientific men to means and laws of philosophising. As far as I could judge by the papers, your opponents were unworthy of you. How miserably A. talked of my reputation, as if that had anything to do with it. … How profoundly ignorant B. must be of the very soul of observation! About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorise; and I well remember some one saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!

I have returned only lately from a two months' visit to Torquay, which did my health at the time good; but I am one of those miserable creatures who are never comfortable for twenty-four hours; and it is clear to me that I ought to be exterminated. I have been rather idle of late, or, speaking more strictly, working at some miscellaneous papers, which, however, have some direct bearing on the subject of species; yet I feel guilty at having neglected my larger book. But, to me, observing is much better sport than writing. I fear that I shall have wearied you with this long note.

Pray believe that I feel sincerely grateful that you have taken up the cudgels in defence of the line of argument in the ``Origin;'' you will have benefited the subject.

Many are so fearful of speaking out. A German naturalist came here the other day, and he tells me that there are many in Germany on our side; but that all seem fearful of speaking out, and waiting for some one to speak, and then many will follow. The naturalists seem as timid as young ladies should be, about their scientific reputation. There is much discussion on the subject on the Continent, even in quiet Holland, and I had a pamphlet from Moscow the other day by a man who sticks up famously for the imperfection of the ``Geological Record,'' but complains that I have sadly understated the variability of the old fossilised animals! But I must not run on.

With sincere thanks and respects, | Pray believe me, | Yours very sincerely, | Charles Darwin.

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 3257.f1
    Dated by the reference to the reports printed in the Manchester Examiner and Manchester Guardian (see n. 2, below).
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    f2 3257.f2
    The Manchester Examiner and the Manchester Guardian of 9 September 1861 both carried reports of the discussion that followed Fawcett's address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The British Association met in Manchester from 4 to 11 September 1861. There are copies of both reports in DAR 226.1: 92--3.
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    f3 3257.f3
    The title of Fawcett's paper, as it appeared in the abstract printed in the Report of the … British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Manchester, was `On the method of Mr. Darwin in his treatise on the origin of species' (Fawcett 1861). In the abstract, however, it was reported that Fawcett's original title was: `That the method of investigation pursued by Mr. Darwin, in his Treatise on the Origin of Species, is in strict accordance with the principles of logic.'
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    f4 3257.f4
    The report of the discussion given in the Manchester Guardian, 9 September 1861, p. 6, cites William Crawford Williamson as saying that `while he would not say that Mr. Darwin's book had caused him a loss of reputation, he was sure that it had not caused a gain.' Williamson was professor of natural history, anatomy, and physiology at Owens College, Manchester. See also ML 1: 195 n.
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    f5 3257.f5
    An editorial insertion that follows the mention of `B.' in the copy of the letter published in Stephen 1885 reads: `[who had said that Darwin should have published facts alone]'. In ML, where this letter is reprinted, Francis Darwin identified `B.' as Edwin Lankester (ML 1: 195 n.). The Manchester Guardian, 9 September 1861, p. 6, cites Lankester as having stated: `The facts brought forward in support of the hypothesis had a very different value indeed from that of the hypothesis.' Lankester was professor of natural history at New College, London.
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    f6 3257.f6
    For a discussion of the strictures concerning the use of theory in early Victorian science, see Morrell and Thackray 1981. Fawcett defended CD's use of hypothesis and induction (see letter from Henry Fawcett, 16 July [1861] and nn. 3 and 4).
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    f7 3257.f7
    The visitor from Germany has not been identified.
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    f8 3257.f8
    A Dutch translation of Origin by Tiberius Cornelius Winkler was published in 1860 (see letter from T. C. Winkler, 7 July 1861). For an account of the reception of Origin in Holland, see Bulhof 1974.
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    f9 3257.f9
    The pamphlet, ¨Uberg¨ange und Zwischenvariet¨aten, was by Hermann Adolfovich Trautschold of the Petrovsky Academy in Moscow. It was a privately printed reprint of a paper originally published in the Moscow University Bulletin (1860). The annotated copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection--CUL. Trautschold stated that for several years he had been aware of the existence of many varieties and transitional forms in the fossil species in Jurassic formations near Moscow but laid no value on the specimens until he read the German translation of Origin (Bronn trans. 1860). His paper describes a series of what he believed to be transitional varieties and species of ammonites. Beside a list of various transitional varieties (p. 5), CD wrote in pencil: `All these vars. seem to be found in same middle bed'. But next to a subsequent description of a series of forms transitional between Ammonites biplex and A. humphriesianus, CD wrote: `But here we have cases of vars. leading to a species in a lower bed.—'
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