From Benjamin Dann Walsh 1 March 1865
Rock Island, Illinois U.S.
March 1. 1865
My dear Mr. Darwin,
Your letter of Dec. 4 enclosing your photograph came duly to hand & by the same mail your second letter enclosing Westwood’s photograph.1 I am under great obligations to you for both. Westwood I never saw, but I have a very distinct recollection of your countenance when you were at Christ’s, & if you were to shave clean & put on a wig, I should say you are but very little changed since then.2 Immediately on the receipt of your letters, I wrote to several of my Eastern Correspondents on Westwood’s affair of the Portraits,3 & as soon as I received answers, I took occasion to write to him & communicate the results. I suppose it will probably be some little time yet before I receive a reply. There is a good portrait of Say4 in existence, of which he can have a copy taken, if he desires it. Of Harris there is nothing but a photograph extant, which I rather wonder at, considering that the New England naturalists set great store by him & are apt to get wrathy if one picks any holes in his jacket.5
I received your very interesting Paper on Trimorphism in Lythrum salicaria &c,6 & read it several times with renewed attention. I was much struck with one fact, which I should not have anticipated, viz. that in the same genus some species are trimorphic, some dimorphic & some monomorphic.7 Hence we may infer analogically that in Cynips some species may be dimorphic, & some monomorphic,8 though in Apis, Vespa & Bombus all the known species are dimorphic. I think there is some great mystery concealed in this matter, which time & patient observation & experiment will be certain to elucidate. I wish, if you have one, you would send me a copy of your Paper on Primula. 9 I saw long ago an abstract with very full extracts of your Linum paper in Silliman’s Journal.10 I quite agree with you in your note (p. 101)11 on the irrelevancy of von Mohl’s arguments.12 How can men be so muddle-headed? Has Leersia oryzoides ever been observed in a state of nature?13 If not, I do not think that we can argue conclusively from the habits of a tame organism to the habits of a wild organism. At this rate, because birds of prey will not procreate in confinement, we might infer that they never procreate in a state of nature, & consequently that eagles, like donkeys, must be immortal.
I sent you a month or two ago a Paper of mine on “Phytophagic Species”, & by this mail I send you another on “Willow-galls”.14 You will begin to think that I spawn a pamphlet bi-monthly. But with me the winter is the time for writing, & in the summer I am out in the woods reading the great Book of Nature. There is one matter in this last pamphlet which I should like your opinion on, i.e. Wagner’s procreative larvæ (pp. 571–4 & 641–4).15 The more I turn the thing over in my mind, the more I don’t believe a word of it. And yet I find that Sieboldt has to a certain extent endorsed the theory, by translating from the Danish a Paper on the subject.16 All these men seem to me to have confounded two very different things, 1st the case of alternate generation where A produces B, & B produces A & so on ad infinitum & 2nd the (supposed) case of Cecidomyia, where, in the same species, A (the larva) sometimes produces A (the larva) & then dies, & sometimes produces nothing at all but becomes gradually developed into the imago B, which reproduces A & so on. Is there anything analogous to this in the known metagenetic transformations?17 It strikes me like the theory of the schoolboy that sometimes the earth travelled round the sun & sometimes the sun travelled round the earth. But out here in the backwoods we know but very little on these great modern discoveries. I wish you would enlighten me.
I am delighted to find that you approve of the way in which I handled Agassiz.18 I am told there is a notice of that Chapter in the London “Reader” of Dec 31, but have not seen the article.19 Thank you for getting my Cynipidous theory noticed in the Nat. Hist. Review.20 There has also appeared a short notice of that Paper in the Stettin “Zeitung”, or whatever the German title of their Natural History Journal may be;21 so it will get tolerably well ventilated, at all events, which is all I wish or expect. Magna est veritas et prævalebit,22 as you by this time see with your great Theory. I told young Agassiz, who argued against your theory because so many naturalists disbelieved it,23 that the wonder was, not that so many disbelieved but that in six years from the date of its promulgation so many believed; & I asked him how many naturalists believed in Cuvier’s great theory six years after that was promulgated?24
Since I last wrote, I have read carefully through Agassiz’s “Classification”, which one of the New England Naturalists told me contained a most unanswerable refutation of Darwinism,25 though he allowed that the argument in the “Methods of Study” was a complete failure.26 The book bears neither title-page nor date, & so far from finding any refutation of your theory in it, I actually feel uncertain whether it was written & printed before or after your book was published. The line of argument is precisely the same as that in the “Methods of Study”, & one book is nothing but an abridged re-hash of the other. I was astonished to find that he believes that the same identical species can be & has been created twice over in two separate localities & in two separate geological epochs. Does any other naturalist believe this absurdity? I should have thought that in that case the theory of Chances might have taught him, that we should be as likely to find recent species in the Devonian as in the Pliocene strata, & that we might expect to meet with as many European species in Australia as in North America. He gives me the impression all the time of a dishonest lawyer pettifogging a hard case. Sometimes he won’t have it that there are any identical species in successive geological epochs— this was what he asserted roundly in a Lecture which he delivered last year in Rock Island,27 & what he asserts by implication in the “Methods of Study” & sometimes he says that there are identical species in two distinct geological epochs, but that there was a separate creation for each batch. This reminds one of the Western lawyer, whose client was sued for a kettle which he had borrowed & returned with a large crack in it, & who put in three pleas:—1st. that his client had never borrowed the kettle, 2nd. that it was already cracked when he borrowed it, & 3rd. that it was perfectly sound when he returned it.
I was also much amused to find how he & I, from exactly the same premises, arrive at very opposite conclusions. Because animals have every mental faculty that Man has, only developed in a less degree, I draw the conclusion that neither men nor animals have any souls, & he draws the conclusion that both men & animals have got souls, which can & will exist in a future elysium independently of their bodies.28 In that case, if we calculate up all the animals that have ever existed since the old Paleozoic times, the Agassizian elysium will have to be a pretty large one to hold all their souls. His idea of the soul of a Naturalist studying the souls of his favorite groups of animals—I suppose Agassiz will devote himself to the souls of Turtles & Fish—reminded me of a French parody of Virgil, which represented the soul of a Coachman in the Elysian shades busily cleaning the soul of a Coach with the soul of a brush.29
I have no possible chance out in this uncivilized region to get a sight of Bates’s Paper on mimetic Lepidoptera;30 when you see him, I wish you would tell him from me that I should be much obliged by anything from his pen. I have seen a review of his Book on the Amazonian insects in Silliman’s Journal a year or two ago,31 & was much interested in it.
I do not think that species of Bombus or of any other genus would copulate differently from their congeners; this would be a violation of what I have called the “Unity of Habits” in the same genus.32 But I have recently verified in a great many species of Bombus the well-known fact, that the ♂ reproductive organs are invariable & differ remarkably in each, just as they do in the Dragon-flies, some being simple curved hooks, & in others the hooks being armed with one or more internal teeth, the thing aimed at being evidently to keep fast hold of the anus of the ♀ by the forceps. My idea is, that a slight variation in the shape of this forceps might be better suited to encite the passions of the ♀ & so be an advantage to the ♂. No ♀ Bombus can ever be ravished, nor indeed can any other ♀ insect that I know of. Before copulation can take place, the ♀ must direct her anus upwards, just as a ♀ cat does when she is rutting. But enough of this.
I have recently been working on a large Collection of Insects from the Rocky Mountains & have partially verified a fact which has been asserted by our best N.A. Coleopterist, Dr. J. L. LeConte, viz. that a very large number of genera of Coleoptera, which in the Atlantic States are uniformly winged, contain many wingless species on the Pacific seaboard, or rather in the whole region of country west of the Great American Desert which borders the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains.33 Taken in connection with Woollaston’s facts on the prevalence of apterous types in Coleoptera on the Madeira Islands,34 & the further fact, which I have quoted on LeConte’s authority in my “N. E. Naturalists” Paper, that the Coleopterous Faunas in California &c are exceedingly limited in that geographical extent,35 does not this seem to indicate that at no very remote period, geologically speaking, this whole region of country was an Archipelago, like the Pacific Islands for example? I am going to get LeConte to enquire of Schaum & LaCordaire36 & other European Coleopterists, whether Woollaston’s facts, which I learnt from your book, are met with in other groups of Islands whose coleopterous fauna has been studied.37 It is most remarkable how apterous genera, such as Eleodes the American representative of Blaps, which are scarcely at all represented on this side of the Great Desert, swarm both in individuals & in species when you get on the other side of it. Every body has noticed this. Even families which almost everywhere else are uniformly winged, contain here certain anomalous genera which are not only wingless but have the elytra soldered together. In the long-horned beetles, there is Say’s genus Moneilema, which looks for all the world like an Eleodes, & I believe that LeConte’s genus Amphizoa is nothing but the American representative of your Hydradephagous genus Pelobius with its elytra connate & its wings gone. Lacordaire refers it to Dytiscidæ; Schaum to Carabidæ; & LeConte makes it the type of a new family.38 Its habits are at present unknown; but I feel confident that it is aquatic from the details of its structure.
Ever yours very truly | Benj. D. Walsh
P.S. I was glad to see the other day that you have the R.S. medal.39
Sends his paper on "Willow-galls" [Proc. Entomol. Soc. Philadelphia 3 (1864): 543–644].
Lengthy criticism of Agassiz’s views on species as stated in his Essay on classification .
Interested by CD’s trimorphism in Lythrum. Thinks some great mystery may lie in the fact that in some genera, some species are tri-, some di-, and some monomorphic, and in other genera, Apis, Vespa, Bombus, all the known species are dimorphic.