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Letter 916

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

14 Sept 1845
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    Summary Add

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    Thanks for Journal of researches.

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    Puzzled over pea flower from Cape Tres Montes.

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    Thinks species a fair and most profitable subject for discussion, but has no formed opinion of his own.

Transcription

West Park Kew

Septr. 14. | 1845.

My dear Darwin

I am indeed pleased with the last Edition of the Journal, which you have so kindly sent me; both outside & inside are engaging. How doubly interesting you have made it to the common reader! I was so taken with the account of the poor Fuegians that I sat up I cannot say how long, till you bade farewell to Woollya & I went to bed quite melancholy at the fate of poor Fuegia Basket, doubtless too truly told in the cruel footnote at p. 229.

You have puzzled me beyond measure with one of your plants, it is a beautiful pea-flower from Cape Tres Montes, the only one of the kind from there; (another handsome pea-flower Lathyrus pubescens, is from Chonos Archip.) this is nothing more nor less than Lathyrus maritimus, a rare English plant found on all the N.W. coast of Europe, from the Channell to Archangel, Iceland, Shetlands Greenland & always littoral, in Asia it nowhere appears on this side the Okhotsk Mts, i.e. at Kamschatka, it being replaced throughout Siberia & Russia (barring Archangel) by a similar but very distinct species. In America it commences at Oregon, runs up to Kotzebues sound inhabits the shores of all the great lakes & banks of the great rivers across the continent & on the E. coast is found from Labrador to N. York: behold its range! now what on earth brought it to Cape Tres-Montes of all places the only one South of 40o N.?. It is not a pot-herb, & the idea of its introduction by man is almost untenable. Our Chilian collections are so extensive, that I am sure it is nowhere in S. Am. but Tres Montes. Your specimens are good: read me this riddle. Its Geog. distrib. in the North cost me many hours hunting & comparing specimens as it has brethren apt to be mistaken for it in the N., but nothing like it in South. The “Anne Pink” cannot have brought it?, as Cook did the coral to Endeavour River (have you heard of that?)

Are you sure that it is established “that plants propagated by buds, all partake of a common duration of life.—? v. p 203 of Journal.

An now for species. To begin, I do think it a most fair & most profitable subject for discussion, I have no formed opinion of my own on the subject, I argue for immutability, till I see cause to take a fixed post. A knowledge of Botany alone will never clear up the question & alas I can bring nothing else to bear upon it, my Geology is nil: & thus you see I am ever ready to make it subservient to Botany instead of Botany to it, as must be the true relation. Do not think I meant to insinuate that you could not be a judge from not having worked out species, for your having collected with judgement is working out species: what I meant I still maintain, that to be able to handle the subject at all, one must have handled hundreds of species with a view to distinguishing them & that over a great part,—or brought from a great many parts,—of the globe. These elements your toils have fulfilled & well, Mr Gerard is neither a specific naturalist, nor a collector, nor a traveller, what the —— is he then? nothing but a distorter of facts; or what is as bad; a compiler without judgement. His work always has its value though, as a collection of instances which you will make better use of I doubt not.

I am sure your Geology is most moderate, & I would safely subscribe to the Patagonian plains being once under water & to the “Strait of Darwin” up by the river St Cruz. Your evidence to my unskilled eyes at any rate is positive, Forbes' is theory, but untill I

I am happy to think that this letter won't cost you much thinking.

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 916.f1
    Journal of researches 2d ed., p. 228 n., in which CD records that Fuegia Basket was last seen on board a sealing ship. CD continues: ‘She lived (I fear the term probably bears a double interpretation) some days on board.’
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    f2 916.f2
    J. D. Hooker 1844–7, pp. 260–1.
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    f3 916.f3
    The Anna Pink was one of a squadron commanded by George Anson, sent by Britain in 1740 to attack Spain's South American possessions; she anchored off Cape Tres Montes for some two months (Anson 1748, pp. 138–55). James Cook took the Endeavour to an estuary in New South Wales for repairs after running against reefs in the Pacific Ocean. He found a giant coral boulder embedded in the hull, which had fortuitously prevented water from entering the ship (Hawkesworth 1773, 3: 559).
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    f4 916.f4
    Journal of researches 2d ed., pp. 202–3. In the first edition (1839) CD had linked this idea to the possibility of a fixed life span for species, thus explaining at least some extinctions (Journal of researches, pp. 212, 262). The suggestion did not appear in the second edition.
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    f5 916.f5
    At this time Hooker was preparing the introductory pages to the second part of J. D. Hooker 1844–7 (pp. 209–23), which appeared some time before 7 October 1845 (Wiltshear 1913, p. 357). The introduction assumes that species are immutable.
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    f6 916.f6
    This letter breaks off here; the final paragraph was written above the salutation.
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