To Charles Lyell 23 February 1
Down Bromley Kent
My dear Lyell
That is a splendid answer of the father of Judge Crompton.2 How curious that the Judge shd. have hit on exactly same points as yourself.— It shows me what a capital Layer you would have made,—how many unjust acts you would have made appear just! But how much grander a field has science been than the law,—though the latter might have made you Lord Kinnordy.3
I will, if there be another Edition, enlarge on gradation in eye & on all forms coming from one prototype, so as to try & make both less glaringly improbable.—
Hooker is going to answer Harvey (ie if Lindley will admit)4 & I am very glad of it;—you can see answer, when (as I am delighted to think) you will be here. Aspicarpa is a most interesting case, like the difference, on which I have enlarged a little, of difference in most important characters in the outer & inner florets of Compositous & Umbelliferous plants.— I think these facts are most important as showing how easily what naturalists call very important characters may be modified by correlation of growth.5 But I doubt whether they throw light on abrupt origin of new forms. At least I have tried long & hard with respect to such cases as Aspicarpa; & I could find only one apparent case in the Campanulaceæ.— With respect to animals, besides the case of monstrous Gold-fish with analogous fish in state of nature alluded to, I have wondrous case of monstrous eels, (examined by Agassiz) & apparently produced by darkness, but I cannot satisfy myself on case;6 nor does it appear certain that they breed.— On the whole I still feel excessively doubtful whether such abrupt changes have more than very rarely taken place.—
With respect to Bronn’s objection that it cannot be shown how life arises, & likewise to certain extent Asa Gray’s remark that natural selection is not a vera causa,—I was much interested by finding accidentally in Brewster’s life of Newton, that Leibnitz objected to the law of gravity, because Newton could not show what gravity itself is.7 As it has chanced I have used in letters this very same argument, little knowing that anyone had really thus objected to Law of Gravity.— Newton answers by saying that it is philosophy to make out the movements of a clock, though you do not know why the weight descends to ground.— Leibnitz further objected that the Law of Gravity was opposed to natural Religion!—8 Is this not curious? I really think I shall use these facts for some introductory remarks for my bigger book.—
I cannot conceive what Bronn can mean by his quotation about you:9 I do not remember even mentioning your name in my two brief notes to him.—
I have seen something about the Infusorial experiments in Paris: Quatrefage objected to their accuracy.—10 Some old experiments were several years ago tried in Germany with astonishing precautions (air all passed through sulphuric acid & caustic potash) & infusoria never appeared.—11
You ask, (I see) why we do not have monstrosities in higher animals; but when they live they are almost always sterile (even giants & dwarfs are generally sterile) & we do not know that Harvey’s monster would have bred.—12 There is, I believe, only one case on record even of a peloric flower being fertile & I cannot remember whether this reproduced itself.—
To recur to the Eye, I really think it wd. have been dishonest not to have faced the difficulty; & worse (as Talleyrand would have said) it would have been impolitic I think;13 for it would have been thrown in my teeth,—as H. Holland threw the bones of the ear;14 till Huxley shut him up by showing what a fine gradation occurred amongst living creatures.
Thank you much for your most pleasant letter | Yours affet | C. Darwin
I send a letter by Herbert Spencer which you can read or not as you think fit.— He puts to my mind, the philosophy of the argument better than almost anyone at close of letter.—15
I could make nothing of Dana’s idealistic notions about species;16 but then as Wollaston says I have not metaphysical Head. By the way I have thrown at Wollastons Head, a paper by Alex. Jordan who demonstrates metaphysically that all our cultivated races are god-created species.—17
Wollaston misrepresents accidentally to wonderful extent some passages in my Book: he reviewed without relooking at certain passages.18
Gradation in the eye.
Hooker intends to reply [to W. H. Harvey’s article in Gard. Chron. (1860): 145–6].
Discusses Aspicarpa with respect to correlation.
Comments on monstrous animals.
Discusses objections of Bronn and Asa Gray to natural selection. Cites parallel between natural selection and Newton’s concept of gravitation.
Mentions German experiments on spontaneous generation.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2707,” accessed on 23 July 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-2707