To Asa Gray 21 February 1
Down Bromley Kent
My dear Gray
My last letter begged no favour, this one does; but it will really cost you very little trouble to answer to me. & it will be of very great service to me, owing to a remark made to me by Hooker, which I cannot credit, & which was suggested to him by one of my letters. He suggested my asking you, & I told him, I would not give the least hint what he thought. I generally believe Hooker implicitly, but he is sometimes, I think, & he confesses it, rather over critical & his ingenuity in discovering flaws seems to me admirable.—2 Here is my question—
“Do you think that good Botanists in drawing up a local Flora, whether small or large, or in making a Prodromus like De Candolles‘, would almost universally, but unintentionally & unconsciously, tend to record (i.e. marking with greek letters & giving short character) varieties in the large or in the small genera? Or would the tendency be to record the varieties about equally in genera of all sizes? Are you yourself conscious on reflexion, that you have attended to, & recorded more carefully the varieties in large, or small or very small genera?”3’
I know what fleeting & trifling things varieties very often are; but my query applies to such as have been thought worth marking & recording.—
If you could screw time to send me ever so brief an answer to this, pretty soon, it wd be a great service to me—
Yours most truly obliged | Ch. Darwin
P.S. | Do you know whether anyone has ever published any remarks on the geographical range of varieties of Plants in comparison with the species, to which they are supposed to belong. I have in vain tried to get some vague idea, & with the exception of a little information on this head given me by Mr Watson4 a paper on Land Shells in U. States,5 I have quite failed; but perhaps it would be difficult for you to give me even a brief an answer on this head, & if so I am not so unreasonable, I assure you, as to expect it.—6
If you are writing to England soon you cd. enclose other letters to me to forward.
Please observe the question is not whether there are more or fewer varieties in larger or smaller genera, but whether there is a stronger or weaker tendency in the minds of Botanists to record such in large or small genera.
Asks whether botanists tend to record varieties more carefully in large genera or small genera.
Wants information on the ranges of varieties of a species compared to the range of the species.