From Hugh Falconer to William Sharpey 25 October 1864
Dép. Tarn [et] Garonne | Montauban
25th Oct. 1864.
My dear Sharpey
Busk and myself have made every effort to be back in London by the 27th. inst.1 but we have been persecuted by mishaps—through the breakdown of trains, diligences, &c., so that we have been sadly put out in our reckoning—and have lost some of the main objects that brought us round by this part of France—none of which were idle or unimportant.2
Busk started yesterday for Paris from Briunquel3 to make sure of being present at the meeting of the R. Council on Thursday.4 He will tell you that there were strong reasons for my remaining behind him. But as I seconded the proposal of Mr. Darwin for the Copley Medal, in default of my presence at the first meeting, I beg that you will express my great regrets to the President and Council5 at not being there— and that I am very reluctantly detained. I shall certainly be in London (D.V.) by the second meeting on the 3d proxo. Meanwhile I solicit the favour of being heard, through you, respecting the grounds upon which I seconded Mr. Darwin’s nomination for the Copley Medal.
Referring to the classified list—which I drew up6—of Mr. Darwin’s scientific labours, ranging through the wide field of 1. Geology; 2. Physical Geography; 3 Zoology; 4. Physiological Botany; 5 Genetic Biology;7 and to the power with which he has investigated whatever subject he has taken up, “Nullum tetegit quod non ornavit”8 I am of opinion that Mr. Darwin is not only one of the most eminent naturalists of his day, but that hereafter he will be regarded as one of the Great Naturalists of all Countries and of all time. His early work on the structure and distribution of Coral reefs9 constitutes an era in the investigation of the subject. As a monographic labour it may be compared with Dr. Wells Essay upon Dew,10 as original, exhaustive and complete—containing the closest observation with large and important generalizations.
Among the Zoologists, his monographs upon the Balanidæ and Lepadidæ, Fossil and Recent in the Palæontographical and Ray Societies’ Publications11 are held to be models of their kind.
In Physiological Botany, his recent researches, upon the Dimorphism of the Genital organs in certain plants, embodied in his papers in the Linnean Journal, on Primula Linum and Lythrum,12 are of the highest order of importance. They open a new mine of observation, upon a field which had been barely struck upon before. The same remark applies to his researches on the structure and various adaptations of the Orchideous flower, to a definite object connected with impregnation of the plants through the agency of insects with foreign pollen.13 There has not yet been time for their due influence being felt in the advancement of the science. But in either subject, they constitute and advance per saltum. I need not dwell upon the value of his Geological Researches, which won for him one of the earlier awards of the “Wollaston Medal”—from the Geological Society—the best of judges on the point.14
And lastly Mr. Darwin’s great essay on the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. This solemn and mysterious subject had been either so lightly or so grotesquely treated before, that it was hardly regarded as being within the bounds of legitimate philosophical investigation. Mr. Darwin after 20 years of the closest study and research, published his views, and it is sufficient to say that they instantly fixed the attention of mankind throughout the civilized world. That the efforts of a single mind should have arrived at success on a subject of such vast scope, and encompassed with such difficulties was more than could have been reasonably expected—and I am far from thinking that Charles Darwin has made out all his case. But he has treated it with such power and in such a philosophical and truth-seeking spirit and illustrated it with such a vast amount of original and collated observation, as fairly to have brought the subject within the bounds of rational scientific research. I consider this great essay on Genetic Biology to constitute a strong additional claim on behalf of Mr. Darwin for the Copley Medal.
In forming an estimate of the value and extent of Mr. Darwin’s researches, due regard ought to be had to the circumstances under which they have been carried out—a pressure of unremitting disease—which has latterly left him not more than one or two hours of the day which he could call his own.15
Yours sincerely | H. Falconer
Dr. Sharpey, F.R.S.
Describes CD’s qualifications for Copley Medal.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4644,” accessed on 21 October 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-4644