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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Hugh Falconer   5 [and 6] January [1863]1


Jan. 5th

My dear Falconer

I finished your Elephant paper last night2 and you must let me express my admiration at it. All the points strike me as admirably worked out, and very many most interesting. I was particularly struck with your remarks on the character of the ancient Mammalian Fauna of N. America; it agrees with all I fancied was the case, namely a temporary irruption of S. American forms into N. America, and conversely.3 I chuckled a little over the specimen of M. Andium “hesitating” between the two groups.4 I have been assured by Mr. Wallace that abundant Mastodon remains have been found at Timor, and that is rather close to Australia:5 I rejoice that you have smashed that case.6 It is indeed a grand paper. I will say nothing more about your allusions to me, except that they have pleased me quite as much in print as in M.S.7 You must have worked very hard; the labour must have been extreme, but I do hope that you will have health and strength to go on. You would laugh, if you could have seen how indignant all Owen’s lies and mean conduct about E. Columbi made me.8 I did not get to sleep till past 3 o’clock. How well you lash him; firmly and severely with unruffled temper, as if you were performing a simple duty.9 The case is come to such a pass, that I think every man of science is bound to show his feelings by some overt act, and I shall watch for a fitting opportunity.

Ever my dear Falconer | Yours most truly | Ch. Darwin

P.S. I have kept back for a day the enclosed owing to the arrival of your most interesting letter.10 I knew it was a mere chance whether you could inform on points required; but no one other person has so often responded to my miscellaneous queries.11 I believe I have now in my greenhouse L. trigynum, which came up from seed purchased as L. flavum, from which it is wholly different in foliage.12 I have just sent in paper on Dimorphism of Linum to the Linn. Soc.13 and so I do not doubt your memory is right about L. trigynum:14 the functional difference in the two forms of Linum is really wonderful. I assure you I quite long to see you and a few others in London: it is not so much the eczema which has taken off the epidermis a dozen times clean off; but I have been knocked up of late with extraordinary facility and when I shall be able to come up I know not.15 I particularly wish to hear about the wondrous Bird;16 the case has delighted me, because no group is so isolated as Birds. I much wish to hear when we meet which digits are developed; when examining birds two or three years ago, I distinctly remember writing to Lyell that some day a fossil bird would be found with end of wing cloven, i.e. the bastard wing and other part both well developed.17 Thanks for Von Martius returned by this post, which I was glad to see.18 Poor old Wagner always attacked me in a proper spirit and sent me two or three little brochures, and I thanked him cordially.19 The Germans seem much stirred up on the subject. I received by the same post almost a little volume on the Origin.20

I cannot work above a couple of hours daily and this plays the deuce with me.

Farewell my good old friend | C. D.

I put in another query, on remotest possibility of information; if I do not hear I shall understand you have none.21

P.S. 2nd. I have worked like a slave and been baffled like a slave in trying to make out the meaning of two very different sets of stamens in some Melastomaceae.22 I must tell you one fact. I counted 9000 seeds, one by one, from my artificially fertilised pods. There is something very odd but I am as yet beaten. Plants from two pollens grow at different rates!23 Now what I want to know is, whether in individuals of the same species, growing together, you have ever noticed any difference in the position of the pistil or in the size and colour of the stamens?


The year is established by the references to Falconer 1863a. The postscripts were added on 6 January, the day after the letter was begun.
Falconer 1863a. CD’s annotated copy of the number of the Natural History Review in which this paper appeared is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
In his paper, Falconer described fossil mammals associated with Elephas columbi in North and Central America (Falconer 1863a, pp. 61–3). He also noted the discovery of an elephant molar in French Guiana, as well as mastodon fossils in Honduras thought to be the same species as Mastodon giganteus of North America, and suggested that E. columbi, ‘the fossil Elephant of Georgia’, might have ranged ‘still further south than Mexico, into Guiana’ (Falconer 1863a, p. 60). See CD’s annotations to his copy of the paper; see also Origin, pp. 365–82, for CD’s discussion of his theory of the trans-tropical migration of temperate forms during a global glacial epoch.
CD refers to the footnote (Falconer 1863a, p. 100 n.) in which Falconer stated that in 1857, he had called attention to the ‘exceptional character’ of certain specimens of Mastodon andinum, which appeared to be ‘hesitating’ between the two subgenera Tetralophodon and Trilophodon, which were distinguished by the number of ridges on the molar crowns (Falconer 1857a, p. 313).
Alfred Russel Wallace had given CD information about Carl Friedrich Adolph Schneider, who claimed to have found teeth of Mastodon in Timor in the Malay Archipelago (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter from A. R. Wallace, 30 November 1861, and Schneider 1863). See also letter from A. R. Wallace, 14 January [1863] and n. 6.
On the basis of a single fossil molar tooth purchased from a native by Paul Edmund de Strzelecki during a geological expedition in Australia, Richard Owen proposed the species Mastodon australis (Owen 1844). Falconer argued that because of the lack of direct testimony as to its discovery, the specimen did not constitute evidence of an Australian species. He asked, if the fossil was indeed Australian, how ‘the Mastodon alone, of all the higher placental mammals’, had overcome ‘the barriers of marsupial isolation, characteristic of the great southern island’ (Falconer 1863a, p. 101). Falconer maintained that Owen’s M. australis was a specimen of M. andinum, a South American species (Falconer 1863a, pp. 96–101). See also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Hugh Falconer, 14 November [1862] and n. 13.
Falconer 1863a, pp. 77–81. While disputing the adequacy of natural selection to account for the origin of species, Falconer at the same time stated that CD, ‘beyond all his contemporaries’, had inspired ‘the philosophical investigation of the most backward and obscure branch of the Biological Sciences of his day’, and had laid ‘the foundations of a great edifice’ (ibid., p. 80). Falconer sent CD a manuscript portion of his paper on American fossil elephants in September 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Hugh Falconer, 24–7 September [1862], and letter to Hugh Falconer, 1 October [1862], and this volume, letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 January [1863]).
For CD’s comments on the charges made by Falconer against Owen, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 January [1863] and n. 1.
Falconer 1863a, pp. 43–9.
Letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 January [1863]; the enclosure has not been found.
In his letter to Falconer of 14 November [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10), CD asked whether Falconer knew of any cases of sexual dimorphism analogous to those described by CD in his paper, ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula; CD also asked Falconer for information on ‘sports’ or ‘bud-variations’ (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Hugh Falconer, 29 December [1862]).
Falconer had mentioned to CD the variability in the number of styles, and possible dimorphism, in the flax species Linum trigynum (see letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 January [1863]).
CD’s paper, ‘Two forms in species of Linum, was read before the Linnean Society on 5 February 1863.
See n. 12, above. Although CD made no reference to Linum trigynum in ‘Two forms in species of Linum, the dimorphic character of the flower was mentioned in Forms of flowers, p. 100.
See letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 January [1863]; CD visited London from 4 to 14 February 1863 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)).
CD refers to Archaeopteryx, a recently discovered fossil that Falconer had described to him (see letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 January [1863] and n. 7).
In 1859, CD wrote to Charles Lyell: ‘I believe that if ever fossil birds are found very low down in series, they will be seen to have a double or bifurcated wing’ (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to Charles Lyell, 11 October [1859]).
See letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 January [1863] and n. 14. No correspondence between CD and Johann Andreas Wagner has been found, nor are there any papers by Wagner in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
The reference is probably to Rolle 1863 (see letter to [F. E. Suchsland], [after 19 January 1863], and letter from Friedrich Rolle, 26 January 1863).
The enclosure has not been found.
In October 1861, CD began to investigate the occurrence of two different sets of stamens in the flowers of members of the Melastomataceae, believing that the family might exhibit a novel form of dimorphism (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 November [1861], and Correspondence vol. 10, letter to George Bentham, 3 February [1862]). Although he continued the research throughout 1862 and 1863, he reached no definite conclusion and did not publish on the subject (see Cross and self fertilisation, p. 298 n., and ML 2: 292–302).
CD’s notes on the Melastomataceae are in DAR 205.8; one of these notes records that of the seeds gathered in April and May 1862, CD counted 8911 (DAR 205.8: 30). See also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to John Scott, 11 December [1862].


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Martius, Karl Friedrich Philipp von. 1862. Denkrede auf Joh. Andreas Wagner. Gehalten in der öffentlichen Sitzung am 28. November 1862. Munich: [Könighlich-bayerische] Akademie [der Wissenschaften].

ML: More letters of Charles Darwin: a record of his work in a series of hitherto unpublished letters. Edited by Francis Darwin and Albert Charles Seward. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1903.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Rolle, Friedrich. 1863. Chs. Darwin’s Lehre von der Entstehung der Arten im Pflanzen- und Thierreich in ihrer Anwendung auf die Schöpfungsgeschichte. Frankfurt: J. C. Hermann.

Schneider, Carl Friedrich Adolph. 1863. Bijdrage tot de geologische kennis van Timor. Natuurkundig Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch Indië 25: 87–107

‘Two forms in species of Linum’: On the existence of two forms, and on their reciprocal sexual relation, in several species of the genus Linum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 5 February 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 69–83. [Collected papers 2: 93–105.]


His admiration for HF’s paper on American fossil elephant.

Notes "temporary irruption of S. American forms into N. America".

Rejoices that HF has "smashed" case of Mastodon on Timor.

Shares HF’s anger at Owen.

He is eager to hear about fossil bird [Archaeopteryx].

Comments on criticisms of species theory by [Johann Andreas?] Wagner.

Describes research on fertilisation of Melastomataceae.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Hugh Falconer
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 144: 29
Physical description
C 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3901,” accessed on 20 July 2024,

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