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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. C. Watson   10 June 1856

Thames Ditton

June 10th/56

My dear Sir

I know not whether a few words in reference to Mr. Forbes’s views about former expanses of land, alluded to in your letter of 7th., will be worth your trouble in reading them. 1

The plants specially common to Ireland, S.W. England, W. France, Spain or Portugal, Azores,—or to two or more of these countries, & not general to Europe,—are precisely those, unadapted to bear continental climates.2 They thrive in mild, humid, equable climates; are killed by low temperatures, or wither under dry heat; some bearing neither. Whatever the present dissevered & isolated distribution of these plants may suggest about former connexions between their present localities, unless assumed to be by intermediate hilly islands, the constitution or nature of the species physiologically, seems to negative. I know not a tittle of evidence to show that the species in question are of older creation or existence on the earth, than any others in Britain or Europe.—

The idea of a connexion between Europe & America, (whether quite continuous, or partially interrupted,) in high latitudes, seems rather supported than negatived by botanical facts.3 True, a good many plants of N.W. Europe are unknown in America; & vice versa. But (as a mere surmise, not investigated) if we could reduce the Ural chain to a few islands (like Iceland, Faroe &c.), & wash away much of the land on both sides, we should have a parallel case: diag 1 2 3

North Sea North

West & East

Europe islands Asiaramme

Many species would be in common to 1 & 3. Many peculiar to 1 or 3. Many of the common, & some of the peculiar, would be found in the islands of 2.

Forbes was not under the trammels of a very strict Conscience. He would be more likely to find “facts” to suit a conjecture, than those calculated to test its soundness. I should deem any one unwise who adapted his theories to Forbes’s statements of facts, unless those facts were verified afresh, or corroborated by others of like nature.4

Very faithfully | Hewett C. Watson To | C. Darwin | Esq

CD annotations

crossed pencil
scored brown crayon; crossed pencil
Top of first page: ‘2’5 brown crayon


CD’s letter has not been found, but see the letter from H. C. Watson, 5 June 1856. Watson refers to Edward Forbes’s views set out in E. Forbes 1846.
These plants were called ‘The Atlantic type’ in Watson 1835, p. 86.
Watson listed the British species found in Europe and America in Watson 1835, pp. 91–114. CD discussed this subject in Natural selection, pp. 538–44.
After the publication of E. Forbes 1845 and 1846, Watson had launched a bitter attack on Forbes, claiming that he had appropriated Watson’s scheme for separating and describing the various elements of the British flora (see Correspondence vol. 3, letter from J. D. Hooker, [before 3 September 1846], n. 2).
CD numbered this series of Watson’s letters sequentially.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Forbes, Edward. 1845. On the distribution of endemic plants, more especially those of the British Islands, considered with regard to geological changes. Report of the 15th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Cambridge, Transactions of the sections, pp. 67–8.

Forbes, Edward. 1846. On the connexion between the distribution of the existing fauna and flora of the British Isles, and the geological changes which have affected their area, especially during the epoch of the Northern Drift. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, and of the Museum of Economic Geology in London 1: 336–432.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Watson, Hewett Cottrell. 1835. Remarks on the geographical distribution of British plants; chiefly in connection with latitude, elevation, and climate. London.


Evidence relevant to E. Forbes’s land-bridge theory.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hewett Cottrell Watson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Thames Ditton
Source of text
DAR 181: 33
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1898,” accessed on 10 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6