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- More Letters of Charles Darwin Volume I - 80/99 -


This sentence was omitted in the subsequent editions, owing to the advice of Prof. Owen, as it was liable to be misinterpreted; but I have always regretted that I followed this advice, for I still think the view quite reasonable.

LETTER 306. TO A. HYATT. Down, May 8th, 1881.

I am much obliged for your kind gift of "The Genesis, etc." (306/1. "The Genesis of the Tertiary Species of Planorbis," in the "Boston Soc. Nat. Hist. Anniversary Mem." 1880.), which I shall be glad to read, as the case has always seemed to me a very curious one. It is all the kinder in you to send me this book, as I am aware that you think that I have done nothing to advance the good cause of the Descent-theory. (306/2. The above caused me to write a letter expressing a feeling of regret and humiliation, which I hope is still preserved, for certainly such a feeling, caused undoubtedly by my writings, which dealt too exclusively with disagreements upon special points, needed a strong denial. I have used the Darwinian theory in many cases, especially in explaining the preservation of differences; and have denied its application only in the preservation of fixed and hereditary characteristics, which have become essentially homologous similarities. (Note by Prof. Hyatt.))

(306/3. We have ventured to quote the passage from Prof. Hyatt's reply, dated May 23rd, 1881:--

"You would think I was insincere, if I wrote you what I really felt with regard to what you have done for the theory of Descent. Perhaps this essay will lead you to a more correct view than you now have of my estimate, if I can be said to have any claim to make an estimate of your work in this direction. You will not take offence, however, if I tell you that your strongest supporters can hardly give you greater esteem and honour. I have striven to get a just idea of your theory, but no doubt have failed to convey this in my publications as it ought to be done."

We find other equally strong and genuine expressions of respect in Prof. Hyatt's letters.)

LETTER 307. TO LORD FARRER.

(307/1. Mr. Graham's book, the "Creed of Science," is referred to in "Life and Letters," I., page 315, where an interesting letter to the author is printed. With regard to chance, Darwin wrote: "You have expressed my inward conviction, though far more clearly and vividly than I could have done, that the universe is not the result of chance.")

Down, August 28th, 1881.

I have been much interested by your letter, and am glad that you like Mr. Graham's book...(307/2. In Lord Farrer's letter of August 27th he refers to the old difficulty, in relation to design, of the existence of evil.)

Everything which I read now soon goes out of my head, and I had forgotten that he implies that my views explain the universe; but it is a most monstrous exaggeration. The more one thinks the more one feels the hopeless immensity of man's ignorance. Though it does make one proud to see what science has achieved during the last half-century. This has been brought vividly before my mind by having just read most of the proofs of Lubbock's Address for York (307/3. Lord Avebury was President of the British Association in 1881.), in which he will attempt to review the progress of all branches of science for the last fifty years.

I entirely agree with what you say about "chance," except in relation to the variations of organic beings having been designed; and I imagine that Mr. Graham must have used "chance" in relation only to purpose in the origination of species. This is the only way I have used the word chance, as I have attempted to explain in the last two pages of my "Variation under Domestication."

On the other hand, if we consider the whole universe, the mind refuses to look at it as the outcome of chance--that is, without design or purpose. The whole question seems to me insoluble, for I cannot put much or any faith in the so-called intuitions of the human mind, which have been developed, as I cannot doubt, from such a mind as animals possess; and what would their convictions or intuitions be worth? There are a good many points on which I cannot quite follow Mr. Graham.

With respect to your last discussion, I dare say it contains very much truth; but I cannot see, as far as happiness is concerned, that it can apply to the infinite sufferings of animals--not only those of the body, but those of the mind--as when a mother loses her offspring or a male his female. If the view does not apply to animals, will it suffice for man? But you may well complain of this long and badly-expressed note in my dreadfully bad handwriting.

The death of my brother Erasmus is a very heavy loss to all of us in this family. He was so kind-hearted and affectionate. Nor have I ever known any one more pleasant. It was always a very great pleasure to talk with him on any subject whatever, and this I shall never do again. The clearness of his mind always seemed to me admirable. He was not, I think, a happy man, and for many years did not value life, though never complaining. I am so glad that he escaped very severe suffering during his last few days. I shall never see such a man again.

Forgive me for scribbling this way, my dear Farrer.

LETTER 308. TO G.J. ROMANES.

(308/1. Romanes had reviewed Roux's "Struggle of Parts in the Organism" in "Nature," September 20th, 1881, page 505. This led to an attack by the Duke of Argyll (October 20th, page 581), followed by a reply by Romanes (October 27th, page 604), a rejoinder by the Duke (November 3rd, page 6), and finally by the letter of Romanes (November 10th, page 29) to which Darwin refers. The Duke's "flourish" is at page 7: "I wish Mr. Darwin's disciples would imitate a little of the dignified reticence of their master. He walks with a patient and a stately step along the paths of conscientious observation, etc., etc.")

Down, November 12th, 1881.

I must write to say how very much I admire your letter in the last "Nature." I subscribe to every word that you say, and it could not be expressed more clearly or vigorously. After the Duke's last letter and flourish about me I thought it paltry not to say that I agreed with what you had said. But after writing two folio pages I find I could not say what I wished to say without taking up too much space; and what I had written did not please me at all, so I tore it up, and now by all the gods I rejoice that I did so, for you have put the case incomparably better than I had done or could do.

Moreover, I hate controversy, and it wastes much time, at least with a man who, like myself, can work for only a short time in a day. How in the world you get through all your work astonishes me.

Now do not make me feel guilty by answering this letter, and losing some of your time.

You ought not to swear at Roux's book, which has led you into this controversy, for I am sure that your last letter was well worth writing-- not that it will produce any effect on the Duke.

LETTER 309. TO J. JENNER WEIR.

(309/1. On December 27th, 1881, Mr. Jenner Weir wrote to Mr. Darwin: "After some hesitation in lieu of a Christmas card, I venture to give you the return of some observations on mules made in Spain during the last two years...It is a fact that the sire has the prepotency in the offspring, as has been observed by most writers on that subject, including yourself. The mule is more ass-like, and the hinny more horse-like, both in the respective lengths of the ears and the shape of the tail; but one point I have observed which I do not remember to have met with, and that is that the coat of the mule resembles that of its dam the mare, and that of the hinny its dam the ass, so that in this respect the prepotency of the sexes is reversed." The hermaphroditism in lepidoptera, referred to below, is said by Mr. Weir to occur notably in the case of the hybrids of Smerinthus populi-ocellatus.)

Down, December 29th, 1881.

I thank you for your "Christmas card," and heartily return your good wishes. What you say about the coats of mules is new to me, as is the statement about hermaphroditism in hybrid moths. This latter fact seems to me particularly curious; and to make a very wild hypothesis, I should be inclined to account for it by reversion to the primordial condition of the two sexes being united, for I think it certain that hybridism does lead to reversion.

I keep fairly well, but have not much strength, and feel very old.

LETTER 310. TO R. MELDOLA. Down, February 2nd, 1882.

I am very sorry that I can add nothing to my very brief notice, without reading again Weismann's work and getting up the whole subject by reading my own and other books, and for so much labour I have not strength. I have now been working at other subjects for some years, and when a man grows as old as I am, it is a great wrench to his brain to go back to old and half- forgotten subjects. You would not readily believe how often I am asked questions of all kinds, and quite lately I have had to give up much time to do a work, not at all concerning myself, but which I did not like to refuse. I must, however, somewhere draw the line, or my life will be a misery to me.

I have read your preface, and it seems to me excellent. (310/1. "Studies in the Theory of Descent." By A. Weismann. Translated and Edited by Raphael Meldola; with a Prefatory Notice by C. Darwin and a Translator's Preface. See Letter 291.) I am sorry in many ways, including the honour of England as a scientific country, that your translation has as yet sold badly. Does the publisher or do you lose by it? If the publisher, though I shall be sorry for him, yet it is in the way of business; but if you yourself lose by it, I earnestly beg you to allow me to subscribe a trifle, viz., ten guineas, towards the expense of this work, which you have undertaken on public grounds.

LETTER 311. TO W. HORSFALL. Down, February 8th, 1882.

In the succession of the older Formations the species and genera of trilobites do change, and then they all die out. To any one who believes that geologists know the dawn of life (i.e., formations contemporaneous with the first appearance of living creatures on the earth) no doubt the sudden appearance of perfect trilobites and other organisms in the oldest known life-bearing strata would be fatal to evolution. But I for one, and many others, utterly reject any such belief. Already three or four piles


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