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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hugh Falconer   24 August [1863]1

21 Park Crescent N.W.

24 Augt.

My Dear Darwin

I learn from your Brother that you are up to the eyes in tendrils2—and I think you were disposed to be rather angry with me about my raid, in the Spring.3 But I am not going to let myself be dropt out of your acquaintance—on either account.

About this time last year, I sent you the M.S. of remarks on the persistence of specific characters in the Elephants—founded upon mammoth molar anterior to the Boulder clay.4

I have now got another still stranger case—out of the Pliocene Fauna of the “Forest Bed” of the Norfolk Coast—namely a genus described by Owen as extinct—yet the form in reality an existing species frequenting rivers in Russia.5 It is an insectivore   The fact was made out by Lartet—who was lately over on a visit to me,6 and he communicated it to Owen. I carefully compared, the old & the new specimens. In my opinion they are of the same species—unchanged—absolutely identical.

Has Suess sent you his brochure—“Über die Verschiedenheit &c”.?7 He there formulates Heer and me for the following generalization p. 25.8

“That the time during which a new species is formed, is (as a rule) very short in comparison with the time during which it persistently presents the same peculiar specific characters”.

The “Forest-Bed” Species gives wonderful Countenance to this heretical generalization. But your fertility of resource, in the way of explanation, will I have no doubt, make light work in demolishing it.9

My Dear Darwin | Yours Ever Truly | H Falconer

P.S. Lartet has not yet published his rectification.10 I have therefore only mentioned the case to you in a general way. But if you desire it I will send you all particulars—for demolition hereafter.

CD annotations

1.1 I learn … clay. 2.3] crossed ink
Top of letter: ‘2111 brown crayon

Footnotes

The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Hugh Falconer, 29 August 1863.
Erasmus Alvey Darwin. CD made numerous observations on the movements of plant tendrils during the summer of 1863 (see letters to J. D. Hooker, 25 [June 1863] and nn. 2 and 3, 1 July [1863], 14 July [1863], 3 August [1863], and 12–13 August [1863], and letters to Asa Gray, 26 June [1863], and 4 August [1863] and n. 18).
Falconer refers to his letter concerning Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a) in the Athenæum, 4 April 1863, pp. 459–60 (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [17 April 1863] and n. 3, and letter to Charles Lyell, 18 April [1863]).
Falconer sent CD a draft of a portion of Falconer 1863a with his letter of 24–7 September [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10). See also letter to Hugh Falconer, 1 October [1862] (ibid.), and this volume, letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 January [1863] and nn. 15 and 16.
The reference is to Richard Owen. The fossil species referred to has not been identified (see n. 9, below). The ‘Forest Bed’ of the Norfolk coast is described in C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 212–16.
Edouard Lartet was a French lawyer who, since the 1850s, had devoted his time to palaeontological research (DSB).
Falconer refers to the Austrian palaeontologist Eduard Suess and to Suess 1863.
Falconer refers to the Swiss palaeobotanist, Oswald Heer. Falconer’s copy of Suess’s ‘Über die Verschiedenheit und die Aufeinanderfolge der tertiären Landfaunen in der Niederung von Wien’ (‘On the diversity and the succession of Tertiary land faunas in the lowland of Vienna’: Suess 1863) may have been a preprint copy; it was published in part 1 of volume 47 of Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, pp. 306–31. The paragraph to which Falconer refers is on page 330. On Heer’s theory of species change and its reception, see following letter and n. 5.
In Falconer 1863a, p. 80, Falconer had put forward the evidence of the persistence of specific characters in fossil elephants as an argument against natural selection. CD responded to this point, after reading the argument in draft (see n. 4, above), by noting that the proboscideans were verging on extinction, and that it was the flourishing members of each order that generally changed and gave rise to new species. CD also wrote that he did not believe that there was ‘some unknown law of evolution’ by which species necessarily changed (Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Hugh Falconer, 1 October [1862]).
Lartet does not appear to have published a ‘rectification’ concerning the Pliocene fossil insectivore.
The number of CD’s portfolio of notes on palaeontology and extinction.

Summary

Sends information about Pliocene fauna of the "Forest Bed" of the Norfolk coast.

A genus described as extinct by Owen is found by E. A. I. H. Lartet to exist in Russia.

Edouard Suess attributes to Oswald Heer and HF the generalisation "That the time during which a new species is formed, is (as a rule) very short in comparison with the time during which it persistently presents the same peculiar specific characters". [Edouard Suess, "Über die Verschiedenheit und die Aufeinanderfolge der tertiären Landfaunen in der Niederung von Wien", Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien (Math-naturw. Klasse) 47 (1863): 306–31.] [See 4277.]

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-4273A
From
Hugh Falconer
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
unstated
Source of text
DAR 164: 16
Physical description
3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4273A,” accessed on 23 August 2019, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-4273A

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11

letter