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Letter 814

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

[7 Jan 1845]

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    Summary Add

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    Sends specimens of a Tertiary sandstone from Tierra del Fuego in which there are leaves; CD thought they were beech. What is JDH's opinion?

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    Asks whether JDH can make sense of a note on silicified wood.

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    Has read Vestiges [of creation (1844)]; "his geology strikes me as bad, & his zoology far worse".

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    Would like to see lists [of plants] from Society and Sandwich Islands.

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    Doubts JDH's information regarding imagination of mother affecting offspring.


Down Bromley Kent


My dear Hooker

I will send back the books, which have much interested me, on Thursday by our carrier & so by the Deliv: Comp: to you: I did not buy the numbers of Bot: Journ. because I had cut the leaves, but because, I was interested by several of the papers: I sent for the 15 & 20th Nos, but Bailliere has sent me the 19th instead of 20th, & as it wd have cost almost the price of another number to have sent it back & got it changed, I have thought you would excuse me sending two numbers of XIX, & as you must often have communication with Bailliere you cd without trouble change it for the XX;—so that, like a wise man, I have saved myself trouble,—by giving it to another.

Have you in your Library Capt: Porter's Voyage in the Essex (in the Pacific) I have long wished, but never been able, to see it? Would you oblige me, by looking at the two or three specimens, with the books, of a tertiary modern sandstone of T. del Fuego, in which there are leaves, & which I thought, when collecting them, were of the Beech: wd you give me your opinion on this? You can keep the specimens in perpetuity, or send them back again any time, you may have any other parcel.

Thirdly (& lastly, you will say, gracias a dios) wd you make sense for me out of the following note: “Mr Brown tells me, that the section (of silic: wood) in the direction of the medullary rays, has the discs in a double row, placed alternately & not opposite as in the common ([reverse question mark].)Araucaria, & therefore in this respect would, according to Nicol (?) be said to have the ([reverse question mark].)Araucarian structure.” I presume the word Araucarian is miswritten.

I do not know, whether you will think it worth while to refer to it, but Pœppig in his Reisen Band 1. p. 367. has a list of genera, from Cordillera by Concepcion & remarks on their Europæan-Alpine character, with relations to T. del Fuego, the Tropics, & Australia.—

I am glad to hear that you are going to Paris & hope that you may enjoy it; thank you much for your offer of enquiring about the price of the Annales.— With respect to Brown in Flinders, I shd not like to give more than 10s, as, though in itself so valuable, it is easily procurable.— I shall be curious to see Streletski's book, though how he is to tell that ancient eruptions happened on the same day, I cannot see or believe: your account of his views seems wild enough.—

I have, also, read the Vestiges, but have been somewhat less amused at it, than you appear to have been: the writing & arrangement are certainly admirable, but his geology strikes me as bad, & his zoology far worse. I shd be very much obliged, if at any future or leisure time, you wd tell me on what you ground your doubtful belief in imagination of a mother affecting her offspring. I have attended to the several statements scattered about, but do not believe in more than accidental coincidences. W. Hunter told my Father, then in a lying-in-Hospital, in many thousand cases, he had asked the mother, before her confinement whether anything had affected her imagination & recorded the answers, & absolutely not one case came right, though, when the child was anything remarkable, they afterwards made the cap to fit. Reproduction seems governed by such similar laws in the whole animal kingdom, that I am most loth (& shd require much better evidence, than the oaths of all sealers) to believe that in mammifers, there is so intimate a connection between the embryo & mother, that the latter's mind can affect the former, whereas in Fish this is impossible, & in Birds not probable.

I am delighted to hear that you are attacking the Pacific Flora; I am unwilling to trouble you, but I shd like just to glance over the lists of Society & Sandwich Isld, though I do not care much about it, as hereafter, I shall be able, thanks to all the Saints, to study the whole subject in your works.— Take care of yourself, though you have been a Doctor; it strikes me that you must be doing too much.— With respect to coral plants, I suppose you know that Henslow has described my Keeling Plants in the Annals.— Lesson in the Voyage of the Coquille, has some lists; as, also, I think has Lutke (his book if you do not know it, is in the Geograph: Soc:)

Thanks for your offer of collecting facts about coral-reefs, but I will not trouble you, as I shall never publish a second Edition.; but shd you meet anything about subsidence of the land in the Pacific, or about Elevation in out-of-the-way-Books, <I> shd be very much obliged if you wd note it.

Why do you speak, as if writing to you was a ‘task’ to me; it is a great pleasure, & I only shd be better pleased, if I thought my random observations could possibly be quarter of the interest to you, which you are pleased to say they are.— I am often frightened for you, when I think how hard you must be working: the time was, when I thought that speaking about too much work was a chimera—

Farewell. Ever yours | C. D.

N.B. I have enclosed my rough note from Pœppig, (if you can read it) which please to return: the translation may not be very accurate.

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 814.f1
    D. Porter 1823.
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    f2 814.f2
    CD presumably copied this information from notes taken following conversations with Robert Brown in 1837 (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter to J. S. Henslow, 18 [May 1837]), some of which still survive (DAR 42: 45). It refers to an anatomical test for identifying coniferous wood, proposed by William Nicol (1834). According to Nicol Araucaria is characterised by having pits or ‘discs’ in its cell-walls arranged alternately in double rows. CD's confusion results from the bad punctuation of the note; a comma after ‘opposite’ would make the meaning unambiguous. Brown's identification of the silicified wood was used in Journal of researches, p. 406, and South America, p. 202.
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    f3 814.f3
    Pöppig 1835, 1: 367–8.
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    f4 814.f4
    Strzelecki 1845. Paul Edmund de Strzelecki's claims were not as extreme as CD suggested: he asserts there were a series of distinct eruptions, each clearly distinguishable from the next (pp. 120–2, 150).
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    f5 814.f5
    CD's immediate reaction to the Vestiges ([Chambers] 1844) is reflected in the following note, which he kept with his material on divergence and classification (DAR 205.5: 108): Nov/:—/44/. After the “Vestiges of *Nat Hist [interl] Creation”, I see it will be necessary to advert to Quinary System, because he brings it to show that Lamarck's willing (& consequently my selection) must be erroneous— I had better rest my defence on few English, sound anatomical naturalists assenting & hardly any foreign.— Advert to this subject, after Chapter on classification, & then show, from our ignorance of comparative value of groups, source of error—
    [Chambers] 1844, pp. 231–2, favoured the quinarian system of classification because, among other things, he felt it showed Lamarck's theories were untenable. Regularities in animal structure, as revealed by the quinarian arrangement, were ‘totally irreconcilable with the idea of form going on to form merely as needs and wishes in the animals themselves dictated’ (p. 232). CD apparently believed that the quinarian system might be used by other naturalists to refute his theory of natural selection.
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    f6 814.f6
    William Hunter.
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    f7 814.f7
    Henslow 1838.
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    f8 814.f8
    Lesson and Garnot 1826–30. Lütke 1835–6.
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    f9 814.f9
    CD eventually revised Coral reefs for a second edition in 1874.
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