To John Richardson [24 July 1837]1
My dear Sir
Will you excuse me troubling you with some questions, which I am very anxious to get answered, and do not know what work to refer to.— How far north do woods of any extent occur? Did I understand you to say that forest trees grew over ground, which at the depth of a few feet was perpetually frozen?—2 I suppose this as much as to say, that there may exist extensive woods, where the mean annual temperature is the below the freezing point.— What trees grow in such cold climates, & do they attain any size? Do plains covered with bushes, occur in any part of the extreme north. My object in these questions, is to be enabled to compare the mere quantity of vegetation, in parts of South America, where large animals formerly did live, and likewise in Africa where large animals are now living, with the quantity growing in climates far north, and extremely cold.3
If you would have the kindness to answer me briefly these questions, I should be greatly obliged, but I really I ought to apologise for asking you to take so much trouble.
In what part of your works could I find (if at all introduced) the account of the frozen sandstone: you were going to look for me, when I was at your house, but something interrupted us.—4 My government petition for assistance is in statu quo, and I think it will thus remain, for a long time. It was presented to the Chancellor of the Exchequer who did not receive it unfavourably, but said until Parliament met, he could give no answer.—5 I am working away at my journal,6 but get on very slowly:—building a pyramid is an insignificant task to writing a book; I had no idea what a hard working wretch an author, even on the humblest scale, mu〈st〉 be.—
Pray present my be〈st〉 respects to Mrs. Richardson,7 an〈d〉 | Believe me dear Sir | Yours most truly | Chas. Darwin
36 Grt Marlborough Stt.—
Can you give me any idea, how far from shore the sea becomes converted into a mass resting on the bottom of ice on any very shallow coast? Do you suppose such a mass ever extends any number of miles to seaward?— Do you suppose in such case, that the ice during the winter becomes cooled down many degrees below the freezing point? If such is the case the mean annual temperature, of the stratum a few feet beneath the bottom of the sea near to such a frozen coast, may possibly fall below the freezing point; although during summer the ice might break away; precisely in the same manner as the ground a few feet deep is constantly frozen, though during each summer the surface is thawed.—8 Will you have the kindness to consider this question & tell me what you think.
Questions about woods in cold, northern climates; about JR’s reference to frozen sandstone; about how far out from the shore the sea may become frozen.
His petition for assistance from the government is in statu quo; he is working at his Journal [of researches].
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 366F,” accessed on 20 January 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-366F