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Letter 630

Darwin, C. R. to Strickland, H. E.

31 May [1842]

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    Comments on HES's Report ["Report of a committee … (on) nomenclature of zoology", Rep. BAAS 12 (1842): 105–21]. Suggests limit be put to changing names that are only partially erroneous to prevent those who detect the error from coining new names and attaching their own. HES's rule for "authority for a species" is difficult, though on the whole best. Suggests stating it boldly to prevent appropriation of species names by "tacker[s] of two old names together".

Transcription

May 31st

My dear Strickland

I am much obliged for the Report, which I have reread with interest & entire approval: I think it must do good & I am sure it would do great good, if followed.—

At p. 8, it occurs to me, to ask you whether you know of any name “glaringly false”, except geographical names, which when wholly & not merely partially wrong, I fully agree should be changed.— if you know any other cases, had you not better give an example?— if not, had not the limit of change be allowed exclusively to false geographical names?— An animal if called “alpinus” & afterwards found to inhabit a low as well as alpine country, ought not, I presume, to have its name changed.— an animal called “albus” & afterwards found to be white only in the female or young state ought not, I presume, to have its name changed.— All authors, if left quite to themselves without rule or examples, (as in above cases) will think errors of their own discovery“glaring” ones, & will think themselves justified in changing the name, coining another & attaching their own name (ex. grat. Swainson or G. R. Gray) after it.— I hope you will take this into consideration, & I feel sure, whatever you resolve, after all the attention you have paid to the subject, will have every chance of being right.—

I have been thinking over the rule, respecting the “authority for a species”, (p. 15.)— the case does appear most difficult.— I think the plan you suggest, on the whole the best, though no doubt occasionally involving a search for the authority, who couples the terms—but it sends the enquirer direct to the original description, habitat &c of the species, & this I apprehend is what the enquirer generally wants.— Would it not be advisable to give some such reasons for attaching (Lin) to Tyrannus crinitus; showing that thus an enquirer at once know where to search for original specific description habitat &c &c & secondly that genera being fewer in number than species are always more easily found in systematic works, & therefore that the omission of (Viell) is not very important even in abridged ones, as in Cuvier Règne Animale. I would, also, urge on you to put the rule boldly that the tacker of two old names together should not attach his name, as the authority; at present it is only left to be inferred that Sw. ought not to follow T. crinitus. — Do think of this, I am sure, those confounded authorities are the cause of much confusion in Zoolog. Nomenclature. Excuse this letter written in haste. I daresay it suggests nothing, but what you have already thought of.—

With my sincere wishes, that you may be recompensed for all the trouble you have taken, in hereafter seeing much good result from your labours.

believe me | Very truly yours | C. Darwin
Maer Hall | Newcastle under Lime

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 630.f1
    The corrected draft of Strickland et al. 1842 was circulated among naturalists for criticism before the final committee recommendation was presented to the British Association. For CD's comments on the initial draft see his letter to Strickland, 17 February 1842, n. 2. The report had been corrected in committee meetings at the Zoological Society on 28 April and at William Yarrell's house on 5 May. CD was present only at the first meeting.
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    f2 630.f2
    CD made comments on this corrected draft: A. Would it not be advisable to state [‘th’ del] distinctly, that the author who tacks the specific name given by one naturalist to the generic name of another, has no right whatever to append his name to [‘the’ del] his [over ‘this’] new binomial compound?— Should not a rule be given for the cases, where an author discovers a generic term has been previously used, or that a specific is grossly-geographically false, & gives another name, but does not alter the generic or specific description [above del ‘names’], whose name should be given? [over‘—’] I trust in Providence it is not requisite that the error-finder should have the same priviledge as the discoverer—or will it be right punishment for *the discoverer [above del ‘him’] to lose his right of Christening if he gives a [added] wrong name? C.D. (Cambridge University Museum of Zoology, Strickland collection, nomenclature papers I, p. 13v.). See also n. 5, below.
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    f3 630.f3
    William Swainson; George Robert Gray.
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    f4 630.f4
    Strickland had raised the awkward case of citing an authority for Tyrannus crinitus, first described by Linnaeus as Muscicapa crinita, then assigned to Tyrannus by the French ornithologist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot, and finally designated as T. crinitus by William Swainson. The report concluded that ‘Lin.’ should be cited as the authority in order to indicate the original species description.
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    f5 630.f5
    Section ‘h’ of the report, headed ‘Generic names derived from persons’, reads: ‘Words of this class have been very extensively used in botany, and therefore it would have been well to have excluded them wholly from zoology …’ CD has placed an ‘X’ before ‘and therefore …’ and noted ‘L. Jenyns objects to this clause’. (Cambridge University Museum of Zoology, Strickland collection, nomenclature papers I, p. 10).
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