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Darwin Correspondence Project

Darwin in letters, 1862: A multiplicity of experiments

As the sheer volume of his correspondence indicates, 1862 was a particularly productive year for Darwin. This was not only the case in his published output (two botanical papers and a book on the pollination mechanisms of orchids), but more particularly in the extent and breadth of the botanical experiments he carried out. While many of these remained unpublished for several years, they formed the foundation of numerous later publications. The promotion of his theory of natural selection also continued: Darwin’s own works expanded on it, Thomas Henry Huxley gave lectures about it, and Henry Walter Bates invoked it to explain mimicry in butterflies. Moreover, his work was coming to be referred to routinely. In November, Joseph Dalton Hooker told him: ‘you are alluded to in no less than 3 of the papers in Linn. Trans!— I do not think you are conceited, but really I do think you have a good right to be so’ (letter from J. D. Hooker, [15 and] 20 November [1862]).

I have not the least doubt that I have erred most seriously on many points; but now so many … really good judges concur in the main with me, that I do not fear that some such view will ultimately prevail

Still taking a keen interest in the progress of his views through Europe, Darwin negotiated, in addition to a second German edition of Origin, a German translation of Orchids, and impatiently awaited the publication of Origin in French. His work on variation in domestic animals and plants, the first part of the expanded version of Origin promised in the preface to that book, had been interrupted for months while he worked on ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’ and Orchids; it suffered a further setback when illness struck the family over the summer. But towards the end of the year, Darwin was able once more to turn his attention to Variation.

Huxley, species, and sterility

The year began with a New Year’s greeting from Huxley, triumphant over the response to his recent Edinburgh lectures (his audience applauded, sections of the Scottish press hissed). Huxley, while advocating Darwin’s theory, had again espoused the view that its final proof awaited the production, by selection from a common stock, of forms that differed from one another to such an extent that they would not interbreed—the experimental production of new ‘physiological’ species. Darwin attempted to dissuade him from this view (letter to T. H. Huxley, 14 [January 1862]): 'no doubt you are right that here is great hiatus in argument; yet I think you overrate it— you never allude to the excellent evidence of varieties of Verbascum & Nicotiana being partially sterile together. He failed. Huxley replied (letter from T. H. Huxley, 20 January 1862): 'I entertain no doubt that twenty years experiments on pigeons conducted by a skilled physiologist … would give us physiological species sterile inter se from a common stock—(& in this if I mistake not I go further than you do yourself) and … when these experiments have been performed I shall consider your views to have a complete physical basis'

The issue arose again when, through November and December, Huxley delivered a series of lectures to working men that reviewed Darwin’s theory, and sent copies to Darwin. Darwin read them and pronounced them ‘simply perfect’, but continued (letter to T. H. Huxley, 18 December [1862]): 'you say the answer to varieties when crossed being at all sterile is “absolutely negative”. Do you mean to say that Gärtner lied … when he showed that this was the case with Verbascum & with Maize … does Kölreuter lie when he speaks about the vars. of Tobacco.'

At the end of the year, Darwin seemed resigned to their difference of opinion, but complained (letter to T. H. Huxley, 28 December [1862]): 'To get the degree of sterility you expect in recently formed varieties seems to me simply hopeless. It seems to me almost like those naturalists who declare they will never believe that one species turns into another till they see every stage in process.'

he is no common man

This correspondence with Huxley made Darwin keener than ever to repeat the experiments by which Karl Friedrich von Gärtner had demonstrated a degree of sterility between varieties of Verbascum. When John Scott, foreman of the propagating department at the Edinburgh Botanic Garden, began writing long, intelligent, and informative letters, Darwin, impressed, gave him the commission (see letter to John Scott, 11 December [1862]). Darwin was altogether taken with this young protégé, telling Hooker: ‘he is no common man’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 12 [December 1862]).

Two sexual forms: Primula and Linum

Darwin’s views on the phenomenon of sterility were affected by, and in turn stimulated, his work on dimorphic plants, which had begun in 1861 with his study of Primula and escalated throughout 1862 as he searched for other cases of dimorphism. Towards the end of the year, he wrote to Hooker (letter to J. D. Hooker, 12 [December 1862]): ‘my notions on hybridity are becoming considerably altered by my dimorphic work: I am now strongly inclined to believe that sterility is at first a selected quality to keep incipient species distinct.’ In his private notes, he conducted a lengthy dialogue on the subject (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI). His paper, ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’, was read before the Linnean Society of London in November 1861, and was published in the society’s journal in March 1862.

The paper described the two forms of Primula flower, short-styled and long-styled, and demonstrated that, although each form possessed both male and female organs, the plants were only fully fertile when crossed with another plant of the reciprocal form. Darwin concluded that the two forms existed to ‘favour the intercrossing of distinct individuals’ (‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’, p. 92 (Collected papers 2: 59)). Darwin later recalled: ‘no little discovery of mine ever gave me so much pleasure as the making out the meaning of heterostyled flowers’ (Autobiography, p. 134).

On completion of his Primula paper, Darwin repeated his crosses through a second generation, both to test his previous year’s results, and to observe the effects of repeated crossing with own-form pollen. He also began systematically to search for other dimorphic species, looking through botanical books for indications that a species had more than one flower form, and writing to botanists asking for information, specimens, and assistance with experiments. In January, he wrote to Asa Gray thanking him for some ‘new cases of Dimorphism’, and added, ‘new cases are tumbling in almost daily’ (letter to Asa Gray, 22 January [1862]). In a postscript, he mentioned his work on ‘one of the Melastomas’ and his suspicion that ‘the two sets of anthers’ had ‘different functions’. He continued to write to Gray throughout the year about his quest for dimorphism in the Melastomataceae, Gray obligingly sending specimens and getting one of his students to make observations on American species.

Hooker and George Bentham at Kew were also tapped for their knowledge. Darwin, initially hopeful, became increasingly frustrated, telling Hooker (letter to J. D. Hooker, 7 March [1862]): ‘I am nearly sure that daylight is coming with respect to the melastomas’. He spent much of his valuable time on the problem: ‘the labour is great’, he told Gray (letter to Asa Gray, 10–20 June [1862]), ‘I have lately counted one by one 6700 seeds of Monochætum!!’ By October, Darwin was flagging and declared to Gray: ‘I am utterly routed, beaten, “whipped” by those odious Melastomatads; yet I feel sure there is something very curious to be made out about them.’ Darwin persisted with his experiments through the following year, but the Melastomataceae remained a blind alley, and no publication ever resulted from his ‘enormous labour over them’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 [October 1862]; see ML 2: 292–3).

Other species proved more profitable subjects for investigation, and Darwin was soon filling portfolios with notes on his observations and experiments. Moreover, as his work progressed, he began to appreciate the vast extent of the subject, telling Oliver: ‘I can see at least 3 classes of dimorphism’ (letter to Daniel Oliver, 12 [April 1862]), and experimenting to test his hypotheses about their different purposes. The number of his experiments was staggering, but by no means all were successful. He told one correspondent: ‘I am contented if I get any result once out of four or five sets of experiments’ (letter to M. T. Masters, 24 July [1862]). The materials that Darwin amassed on heterostyly in this year formed the foundations of several later papers, and also of his books Forms of flowers and Cross and self fertilisation.

One set of experiments led directly to publication. Many years earlier, Darwin had observed dimorphism in Linum flavum,but had ‘at first thought it was merely a case of unmeaning variability’ (Autobiography,p. 128). However, having made out the Primula case he determined to experiment on Linum in 1862. Soon he was enthralled, especially by the extent of the sterility of own-form crosses. He told Gray: ‘Taking sexual power as the criterion of difference the two forms of this one species may be said to be generically distinct’ (letter to Asa Gray, 14 July [1862]). The case was so good that he regretted having ‘wasted time’ in repeating his Primula crosses, and determined to publish on Linum ‘at once’ (letter to John Scott, 11 December [1862]), writing up his experiments in December as a paper for the Linnean Society.

And three sexual forms in Lythrum and Catasetum

One of the multi-volume treatises through which Darwin groaningly trawled seeking cases of dimorphism, produced another profitable subject for investigation—Lythrum, the purple loosestrife. By the summer, Darwin was experimenting. ‘To day I have been looking at Lythrum & have seen the three forms … I shd. like to make out this wonderfully complex case—’ (letter to Daniel Oliver, 29 [July 1862]). The three forms had different lengths of styles and stamens and differently coloured and sized pollen grains; only an elaborate system of cross-pollination between the different forms produced fertile seed. The case clearly excited Darwin, who exclaimed to Gray (letter to Asa Gray, 9 August [1862]), ‘I am almost stark staring mad over Lythrum’, and requested, ‘For the love of Heaven’, that Gray have a look at some American species, and send him ‘Seed! Seed! Seed!’ There was reason in his madness, he explained, as, for those who already believed in species change, the facts would ‘modify … whole view of Hybridity’—more evidence with which to sway Huxley.

By October, Darwin had decided that the case warranted a paper for the Linnean Society (letter to J. D. Hooker, 6 October [1862]). However, it was not until 1864 that the Linnean Society heard about Lythrum; in 1862, it was one of the society’s own specimens of the orchid Catasetum tridentatum,that Darwin described before the ‘placid Linnæans’. This remarkable specimen produced flowers that were believed to constitute three distinct genera. Darwin explained that the three flowers represented the three sexual forms (male, female, and hermaphrodite) of a single species, differing so much from one another as to have been classified in different genera. The paper, read in April, was largely an extract from the book on orchids and their ‘remarkable contrivances’ that he had been preparing since the previous summer.


Darwin had enjoyed observing the orchids: he described the work to Gray as a ‘hobby-horse’ that had given him ‘great pleasure to ride’ (letter to Asa Gray, 22 January [1862]). But he worried about the resulting book—whether it had been worth the effort, whether people would buy it. When he submitted the manuscript to his publisher, John Murray, he boasted: ‘I can say with confidence that the M.S. contains many new & very curious facts & conclusions’, but added: ‘I know not in the least, whether the Book will sell’ (letter to John Murray, 9 [February 1862]). To his son, William, his language was more blunt (letter to W. E. Darwin, 14 February [1862]): ‘whether my little Book has been worth writing, I know no more than the man in the moon’. But even after the book had gone to press, Darwin could not leave the subject alone: he continued to seek out specimens of the orchids that puzzled him, and was thrilled by Gray’s observations of North American species. Extending his examination of pollination mechanisms to other orders of plants, he declared: ‘insects (in relation to the marriage of distinct flowers) govern the structure of almost every flower’ (letter to Daniel Oliver, 8 June [1862]).

I never before felt half so doubtful about anything I published

Darwin was careful to send out presentation copies of Orchids to eminent botanists in Britain and abroad, and to all those who had helped him (or might in the future) by providing specimens, information, or by doing experiments. As he had done for his Primula paper, he drew up a list of individuals and societies to whom the book should be sent (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendixes III and IV) and nervously awaited their reaction. ‘I never before felt half so doubtful about anything I published’, he told Hooker (letter to J. D. Hooker, 15 [May 1862]). But he did not have long to wait. ‘It is a very extraordinary book!’, wrote Daniel Oliver on 14 May, and George Bentham pronounced it ‘most valuable’ (letter from George Bentham, 15 May 1862). Orchids was published on 15 May, and by June, there had been enough positive reviews for a relieved Darwin to tell Hooker that, after cursing his ‘folly’ in writing the book, it was, after all, ‘a success’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 [June 1862]).

a flank-movement on the enemy

The success of Orchids was important: it was a follow-up to Origin in the sense that it was Darwin’s first detailed exposition of the power of natural selection. He made the point to Hooker (letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 March [1862]): ‘I have found the study of orchids eminently useful in showing me how nearly all parts of the flower are coadapted for fertilisation by insects, & therefore the result of n. selection’. The book was intended to be, as Gray put it, a ‘“flank-movement” on the enemy’—a way of inducing sceptics to accept the truth of natural selection through the back door (letter to Asa Gray, 23[–4] July [1862]). Moreover, it apparently worked. Gray told Darwin that George Bentham’s presidential address to the Linnean Society on 24 May, in which he held up Darwin’s work on orchids as an exemplar of the biological method, demonstrated that Orchids had ‘nearly overcome his opposition to the Origin ’ (letter from Asa Gray, 2–3 July 1862).

Henry Walter Bates

Natural selection was also to receive support from another quarter. Henry Walter Bates, not long returned after many years in the Amazon, had invoked natural selection as the mechanism to account for the mimicry he had observed among South American butterflies. The paper in which he did so, read before the Linnean Society in November 1861, was lengthened and published in 1862. Darwin, already well-disposed towards Bates, became increasingly convinced of his worth and talent as the year progressed. Bates sent him in manuscript the first chapters of a book on his experiences in the Amazon, which Darwin declared ‘excellent—style perfect—description first-rate’ with ‘good dashes of original reflexions’ (letter to H. W. Bates, 13 January [1862]). He warmly recommended Bates and his book to Murray, who swiftly agreed to publish the work.

Hooker had met Bates and was ‘much struck’ with him. Early in the year, the two engaged in a lengthy correspondence about the relative effects on species of natural selection and the direct action of external conditions. Hooker sent Darwin a few of their letters; Darwin remarked (letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 [March 1862]): ‘It is really curiously satisfactory to me to see so able a man as Bates (& yourself) believing more fully in nat. selection, than I think I even do myself.’ The three were able to discuss the subject face to face when Bates and Hooker spent Easter at Down House.

When Bates’s paper on mimetic butterflies was published towards the end of the year, Darwin praised it unreservedly: ‘It is one of the most remarkable & admirable papers I ever read in my life’ (letter to H. W. Bates, 20 November [1862]). He discussed it with Hooker, saying: ‘To my mind the act of segregation of varieties into species was never so plainly brought forward’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 [November 1862]), and the two friends ended the year with an in-depth discussion of the topics that Hooker had been attempting to thrash out with Bates in the spring—what was the role of external conditions in the variation and production of species? what the role of natural selection? Hooker’s peremptory criticism that in Origin Darwin had not conveyed with sufficient force how ‘N.S. is as powerless as physical causes to make a variation’ and that ‘the law that “like shall not produce like” is at the bottom of all’ (letter from J. D. Hooker, 26 November 1862) drew from Darwin a detailed explanation of his views on the nature of variation, and on how it might be affected by crossing, physical conditions, and natural selection (letter to J. D. Hooker, [after 26] November [1862]).

Translations and reviews: getting heard abroad

As well as taking pains that those already familiar with his ideas should clearly understand them, Darwin was also concerned that they should reach a wider audience, and he agreed to write an anonymous review of Bates’s paper for the Natural History Review (see letter to John Lubbock, 16 [December 1862]). Aware of the status of his views in Europe—he told the Swiss zoologist, Edouard Claparède that they were ‘more unpopular in France even than in England’, though, in Germany, naturalists were beginning ‘with some rapidity to adopt them’ (letter to Edouard Claparède, [c.16 April 1862])—he continued to interest himself in the preparation of translations of his books. When Charles Edouard Brown-Séquard informed him that he intended to write a review of Origin for a French periodical, Darwin replied, ‘at present I am the more glad of any notice in France, as a French Translation will appear very soon’ (letter to C. E. Brown-Séquard, 2 January [1862]).

The translation was being prepared by Clémence Royer, a young Frenchwoman then living in Lausanne, Switzerland. She finished it in March, but, owing to printing delays, Darwin did not see a copy until June. Royer had included a long preface in which she praised Darwin’s ideas as supplying an alternative to religious revelation, and had laden the text with explanatory notes. On receipt of the work, Darwin told Gray that he thought Royer must be ‘one of the cleverest & oddest women in Europe’; in her additions, she had made ‘some very curious & good hits’. A month later, he was expressing his regret that Royer had not ‘known more of Natural History’ (letter to Armand de Quatrefages, 11 July [1862]). She had had assistance with the scientific details of Origin from Edouard Claparède and he too had cause for regret. In response to Darwin’s thanks for the help he had given Royer, Claparède wrote an exasperated letter to Darwin detailing Royer’s stubborn resistance to his suggestions and his unsuccessful attempts to remove or modify her commentary. He advised Darwin that when his larger work on species was completed, he should seek a different translator (see letter from Edouard Claparède, 6 September 1862).

In Germany, the first edition of Heinrich Georg Bronn’s translation of Origin was nearly sold out. When Bronn wrote to Darwin in March telling him of the need for a second edition (letter from H. G. Bronn, [before 11 March 1862]), Darwin asked him to use the latest English edition, the third, for his translation, and to incorporate further additions that he would send (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VIII). Bronn complied willingly. Not only that—having read Orchids at Darwin’s request to judge of its suitability for a German audience, he began translating it himself. He worked hard and with astonishing speed. With both tasks completed, Bronn died suddenly from a heart attack (see letter from E. Schweizerbart’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 11 July 1862). Yet Darwin was now finding no shortage of supporters in Germany. In September, Friedrich Rolle sent him the first part of his popular exposition of Darwin’s theory (Rolle 1863; see letter to Friedrich Rolle, 17 October [1862]), and in November he received a copy of a book by the German materialist Ludwig Büchner (Büchner 1862) which included a reprint of his positive review of Origin (see letter to Ludwig Büchner, 17 November [1862]).

Among the foreign scientists whom Darwin hoped to interest in his work was the widely respected Swiss botanical taxonomist, Alphonse de Candolle, from whom he received a long and thoughtful reply to the gift of Orchids that expressed admiration but stopped short of endorsing natural selection (letter from Alphonse de Candolle, 13 June 1862). Darwin also sent presentation copies of his botanical studies to Charles Naudin, a botanist at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, whose experiments on hybridisation were receiving considerable attention (see letter from C. V. Naudin, 26 June 1862). Darwin was dismissive of Naudin’s methods, and his claims (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 [June 1862]), but still sought to enlist his help in understanding hybridity (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 December [1862]).

War abroad. Anxiety at home

As usual, Asa Gray took care that Americans should know of Darwin’s latest production. He requested the proof-sheets of Orchids in order to write an early review: Darwin began to send them in April. Gray was impressed, exclaiming ‘What a skill & genius you have for these researches’ (letter from Asa Gray, 18 May 1862). In thanking Gray for his positive comments, Darwin expressed surprise that Gray ‘shd. have strength of mind to care for science, amidst the awful events daily occurring’ in America. Even after the news, which arrived in London early in January, that the Trent affair had been resolved (averting the danger of war between Britain and the Union states), the Civil War was still a subject of concern in Britain.

Darwin followed events in The Times,though at one point cursing how ‘detestably’ the paper’s special correspondent wrote on the subject, with ‘not a shade of feeling against slavery’ (letter to Asa Gray, 16 October [1862]). It was primarily Darwin’s loathing for slavery that made him more open-minded about the Northern cause than were many other English observers, and it was his open-mindedness that permitted discussion of the subject with Gray to continue. In contrast, Hooker, who deplored Gray’s national pride and anger at the British for their support of the American South, now avoided politics in his correspondence with Gray. Darwin, though far from relishing the conflict—a ‘fearful evil to the whole world’ (letter to Asa Gray, 16 October [1862])—appreciated how well Gray’s letters about the war brought the distant events to life (see letter to Asa Gray, 26[–7] November [1862]).

When Darwin wrote to Gray in July that he and Emma had ‘come to wish for Peace at any price’ (letter to Asa Gray, 23[–4] July [1862]), the couple were in the midst of a crisis much closer to home and heart. Their son Leonard was seriously ill. He had been sent home from school in June with scarlet fever. Although at first it seemed a mild attack, there were complications, ‘enlarged glands of neck, injured kidneys … dreadful erysipelas of the head & face’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 July [1862]). Darwin believed that it was only the administration of ‘Port-wine every 3/4 hour, night & day’ that saved the boy (letter to M. T. Masters, 24 July [1862]). By August, although Lenny was convalescent, the doctors warned that all possibility of further infection must be avoided, leaving Darwin and Emma ‘perplexed to death what to do’ (letter to W. E. Darwin, [2–3 August 1862]). They determined on a seaside holiday in Bournemouth, setting off in mid-August. However, Leonard had a relapse and Emma caught the infection herself, forcing them to remain for the rest of August in Southampton, where they had stopped to visit Darwin’s eldest son, William.

September found the invalids improved, and the whole family, divided into two households, established in Bournemouth. Here, Darwin felt the usual frustration at being separated from his work, and, moreover, the area did not at first seem to hold much of potential scientific interest. He told Hooker (letter to J. D. Hooker, 11 September [1862]): ‘This is a nice, but most barren country & I can find nothing to look at’. However, a few days later, he had found something with which to amuse himself and pass the time—the insectivorous plant, Drosera. As he had at Eastborne in the summer of 1860 (see Correspondence vol. 8), Darwin became ‘wonderfully interested’ in the plant’s sensitive reactions. On this occasion he began investigating the effects on their reactivity of various poisons, narcotics, and anaesthetics known to affect the nervous systems of animals. The results were exciting: he told both his cousin, William Darwin Fox, and Hooker of his growing conviction that Drosera ‘must have diffused matter … closely analogous to the nervous matter of animals’ (letter to W. D. Fox, 20 [September 1862]; letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 September [1862]).

I am involved in a multiplicity of experiments

Darwin sent an abstract of his results to Hooker, asking for his opinion as an aid in deciding ‘some future year’ whether and how to go on with the subject; at present, there was more pressing work to be done. And, although Darwin did some further experiments with sensitive and insectivorous plants in October, following his return to Down, the work had to be laid aside when he resumed work on his long-promised book about variation in domestic animals and plants—the first part of his planned magnum opus. In May, he had lamented to Hooker (letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 May [1862]): ‘what will become of my book on Variation: I am involved in a multiplicity of experiments’, and, although he admitted finding experiments ‘much better fun’ than species (letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 February [1862]), he responded to the regular enquiries he received about the progress of his larger work by returning in October to the long-neglected collation of notes, and drafting of the manuscript.

Although Darwin’s unreliable health at times interfered with his work, it also provided a protection from other potential interruptions. In June, he was diagnosed as suffering from eczema (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 [June 1862]), and resolved, in consequence, on growing a ‘long beard’ (letter from Mary Butler, [before 25 December 1862]). An ‘accursed attack’ of the condition prevented him from attending the Cambridge meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at the beginning of October. He missed Richard Owen, one of his ‘chief enemies’ (letter to Asa Gray, 23[–4] July [1862]), challenging his views on transmutation in a paper on the aye-aye. However, Huxley described the event, detailing how Owen was seen in the ensuing discussion to be ‘lying & shuffling’, coming across as an ‘innocent old sheep—being worried by … particularly active young wolves’ (letter from T. H. Huxley, 9 October 1862).

Darwin had managed to appear in person at the Linnean Society to read his Catasetum paper, but regretted it, as he was confined to bed the next day; he feared he would have to ‘give up trying to read any paper or speak’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 [April 1862]). A visit in October from three members of the old Beagle crew, Bartholomew James Sulivan, John Clements Wickham, and Arthur Mellersh, to prepare for which he had taken ‘every possible precaution’, still resulted in ‘violent shaking & vomiting till the early morning’. In view of this, he prescribed strict conditions for a meeting with John Lubbock: ‘if you could … let me go away for an hour after dinner & retire to my room at 9 o clock I do not think it would hurt me’ (letter to John Lubbock, 23 October [1862]). However, his confidence was ill-founded. He told Hugh Falconer, who wondered when he might see Darwin again: ‘Even talking of an evening for less than two hours has twice recently brought on such violent vomiting and trembling; that I dread coming up to London’ (letter to Hugh Falconer, 14 November [1862]).

Children are one’s greatest happiness, but often & often a still greater misery

Darwin thought his children had inherited his ‘poor constitution’ (see letter to J. B. Innes, 24 February [1862]) and with some cause. Not only was Leonard seriously ill in 1862, but Horace too, suffering from some strange nervous malady that caused ‘hysterical sobbing’ and ‘semi-convulsive movements’. At the height of his anxiety, Darwin made an emotional outburst to Asa Gray (letter to Asa Gray, 23[–4] July [1862]): 'Children are one’s greatest happiness, but often & often a still greater misery. A man of science ought to have none, … then there would be nothing in this wide world worth caring for & a man might … work away like a Trojan.'

By August he was telling Gray: ‘We are a wretched family & ought to be exterminated’ (letter to Gray, 21 August [1862]), and in September, with everybody’s health improving, he told Fox: ‘I have never passed so miserable a nine months’ (letter to W. D. Fox, 12 September [1862]).

A family affair

When he was not worrying about their health, Darwin enlisted his children to help with his botanical observations. George earned his father’s commendation for his ‘splendid work in watching Orchids’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 [June 1862]). William, now established in his career as a banker in Southampton, received further encouragement to use his free time to ‘work a little at Botany’, with Darwin assuring him that such work would make his life ‘much happier’ (letter to W. E. Darwin, 14 February [1862]). Darwin told William of his work on Lythrum,and, having ascertained that the plant grew in the vicinity of William’s home, asked him to carry out some observations. William, with the help of his brothers George and Francis, who were staying with him, enthusiastically set to work (see letter to W. E. Darwin, [2–3 August 1862], and letter from W. E. Darwin, 5 August 1862).

Botany is a new subject to me

Darwin was certainly making a reputation for himself as a botanist. Hooker, whose opinion ‘on any scientific subject’ Darwin valued more than that of ‘any one else in the world’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 [October 1862]), told him (letter from J. D. Hooker, 28 June 1862): ‘you are out of sight the best Physiological observer & experimenter that Botany ever saw’. Gray wrote of his gratitude to Darwin for having ‘given new eyes to botanists, and inaugurated a new era in the science’ (A. Gray 1862b, p. 429). Oliver joined in the chorus, telling him: ‘Your late publications must surely give quite a new & most promising direction to our studies’ (letter from Daniel Oliver, 14 May 1862). Darwin was thrilled by the applause, but still anxious about his audacity in daring to publish on botany. Even at the start of their correspondence he told John Scott: ‘Botany is a new subject to me’ (letter to John Scott, 12 November [1862]), but, impressed by his young correspondent’s botanical knowledge, he later confessed: ‘in fact I know only odds & ends of botany & you know far more’ (letter to John Scott, 19 November [1862]).

I give up & abominate Glen Roy & all its belongings

As a geologist, Darwin’s reputation was long established, and though no longer active in the field himself, his opinions on geological matters were still greatly valued by those who were. Thomas Francis Jamieson, whose work on the so-called ‘parallel roads’ of Glen Roy had forced Darwin to abandon his own theory on their formation, prepared his paper on the subject for publication. Although Darwin was glad that Glen Roy was ‘settled’ (letter to Charles Lyell, 22 August [1862]), he could not help once more expressing his disgust at his own mistake (letter to Charles Lyell, 14 October [1862]): ‘now & for ever more I give up & abominate Glen Roy & all its belongings’. Nevertheless, Darwin agreed to referee Jamieson’s paper for the Geological Society (see letter to A. C. Ramsay, 14 December [1862]).

Friends and enemies

Others were anxious for Darwin’s geological approval. Andrew Crombie Ramsay, the new president of the Geological Society, sent Darwin a paper that argued that a number of lake basins in Europe and North America had been formed by the gouging action of glaciers; the paper had been attacked by members of the council of the Geological Society, and there was opposition to its publication. Ramsay wanted Darwin’s opinion (see letter from A. C. Ramsay, 26 August 1862). Darwin gave it (letter to A. C. Ramsay, 5 September [1862]): ‘As far as I can judge your theory must be right to a large extent, possibly wholly’. Discussing the matter with Hooker, he exclaimed (letter to J. D. Hooker, 21 [September 1862]): ‘What presumption, … in the Council of Geolog. Soc y.: that it hesitated to publish the paper.’ Lyell, however, rejected Ramsay’s notions, prompting Darwin to admit that perhaps Ramsay pushed his theory too far (see letter to Charles Lyell, 14 October [1862]). Moreover, when the physicist John Tyndall, fresh from a summer in the Alps with Huxley, publicised his view, inspired by Ramsay’s work, that the extent of glacial action in Switzerland was so great as to have caused almost all the features of the present landscape, Darwin enjoined Hooker: ‘For Heaven sake instill a word of caution into Tyndall’s ears’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 10–12 November [1862]).

Another of Darwin’s circle was in Switzerland in the summer: John Lubbock briefly met up with Tyndall and Huxley in August while there to examine the newly discovered prehistoric lake-dwellings (see letter from John Lubbock, 23 August 1862). Lubbock was a mine of information on the new archaeological discoveries then flooding in: earlier in the year he had been to view the prehistoric sites near Amiens (see letter from John Lubbock, 15 May 1862), and he was also anxious to have Darwin’s view on his increasingly radical ideas about the antiquity of the human species (see letter from John Lubbock, 6 January 1862).

Ramsay’s was not the only significant geological paper of 1862. In May, Darwin heard from Joseph Beete Jukes, director of the Irish branch of the Geological Survey, that he had a new theory to account for the topography and drainage system of southern Ireland (see letter from J. B. Jukes, 25 May 1862). In his paper, which marked the start of a revival of fluvialism in Britain, Jukes had argued that rivers not only excavate their valleys, but that they adjust their courses according to the underlying structures. Anxious to hear ‘if any one can pick a hole in the reasoning’, Jukes sought Darwin’s opinion. Darwin replied with a plethora of detail (see letter from J. B. Jukes, 30 May 1862).

There was further evidence of glacial action in the antipodes, which Darwin diligently accumulated for the next edition of Origin. In January, William Branwhite Clarke sent new evidence from Australia, but Darwin was particularly pleased to have a new and promising correspondent in New Zealand—the provincial geologist, Julius von Haast, who sent valuable evidence of glacial action, and more besides, from the little-explored Southern Alps. This, Darwin considered, supported his view that the glacial period had affected the whole globe, and that it was the leading cause of the geographical distribution of animals and plants. Despite some worrying counter-arguments from Bates, who could not reconcile the distribution of South American insects with Darwin’s hypothesis (see letter from H. W. Bates, 30 April 1862), Darwin was unshaken. He was particularly pleased with new botanical evidence in favour of his view from the Cameroons mountains, telling Hooker: ‘I will swear that the mundane glacial period is as true as gospel, so it must be true’ (to J. D. Hooker, 9 May [1862]).

the real engine to compel people to reflect on modification of species

Hooker’s reflections on the geographical distribution of plants led to a spirited discussion of their differing views on the subject. Darwin, reading Hooker’s recently published paper on the flora of the Arctic, commented that such papers were ‘the real engine to compel people to reflect on modification of species’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 February [1862]). Hooker had found Greenland to be ‘unaccountably poor in plants’, a fact that seemed to counter the view that it had been ‘populated by migration since the glacial epoch’ (letter from J. D. Hooker, 3 March 1862). Darwin found the case ‘very curious’ and, although a long-standing opponent of attempts to account for current distribution by proposing the existence of former land-bridges between one land-mass and another, he declared himself ‘more willing … to admit a recent continental extension there than almost anywhere else’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 7 March [1862]).

he is so dishonest that I really now care little what he says

Darwin was also busy with palaeontological matters. In the new second edition of Owen’s Palaeontology, which Huxley thought ‘rather more scoundrelly’ than the first, Owen had committed himself more openly to evolutionary views, though not to natural selection (see letter from T. H. Huxley, 13 January 1862). Darwin told Huxley: ‘he is so dishonest that I really now care little what he says’ (letter to T. H. Huxley, 14 [January 1862]), but he was nonetheless irritated by Owen’s lectures at the Museum of Practical Geology in May. As he told Armand de Quatrefages, the abuse commonly heaped on him did not ‘in the least’ hurt him, but it was different ‘when the abuse comes from an old friend, like Prof. Owen, who a<bu>ses me & then advances the doctrine that all Birds are probably descended from one parent’ (letter to Armand de Quatrefages, 11 July [1862]).

really good judges concur in the main with me

Much more satisfactory was the paper sent to Darwin by one of Owen’s adversaries, Hugh Falconer, concerning the fossil and recent species of elephant. The paper included a section on the persistence of the specific characters of the mammoth over long periods of time. Falconer, anxious not to be thought an opponent, sought to placate Darwin, contrasting his own behaviour with Owen’s—‘a blackguard friend of yours and mine’ (see letter from Hugh Falconer, 24–7 September [1862]). However, having read the paper, Darwin was delighted to find Falconer coming round to evolution. ‘There will not be soon one good palaeontologist who believes in immutability’, he told Lyell (letter to Charles Lyell, 1 October [1862]).

Huxley also wanted Darwin’s palaeontological opinion: what did Darwin think of his argument, put forward in his anniversary address to the Geological Society in February, that the fossil record was ‘only the skimmings of the pot of life’? (letter from T. H. Huxley, 6 May 1862). In his address, Huxley also challenged the assumption that ‘geological contemporaneity’ could be equated with ‘chronological synchrony’. Darwin, in reply, referred him back to Origin (letter to T. H. Huxley, 10 May [1862]): 'I fully agree with “your skimming-of pot-theory” & very well you have put it.— With respect contemporaneity, I nearly agree with you, & if you will look to the d—d— Book … you will find nearly similar remarks.'

The ‘d—d— Book’ was doing good service; Darwin was confident that the views it contained would continue to gain acceptance, that though much in it would be ‘proved rubbish’, the ‘frame-work’ would stand (letter to Hugh Falconer, 1 October [1862]). As he put it in a letter to Brown-Séquard on 16 April [1862]: I have not the least doubt that I have erred most seriously on many points; but now so many … really good judges concur in the main with me, that I do not fear that some such view will ultimately prevail.

About this article

Based on the introduction to The correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10: 1862

Edited by Frederick Burkhardt, Joy Harvey, Duncan M. Porter, Jonathan R. Topham. (Cambridge University Press 1997)

Order this volume online from Cambridge University Press