Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Selected Letters
By Charles Darwin (1809–1882)
From ‘Life and Letters’

C. Darwin to Miss Julia Wedgwood: On Design

JULY 11th [1861].    
SOME one has sent us ‘Macmillan,’ and I must tell you how much I admire your article; though at the same time I must confess that I could not clearly follow you in some parts, which probably is in main part due to my not being at all accustomed to metaphysical trains of thought. I think that you understand my book perfectly, and that I find a very rare event with my critics. The ideas in the last page have several times vaguely crossed my mind. Owing to several correspondents I have been led lately to think, or rather to try to think, over some of the chief points discussed by you. But the result has been with me a maze—something like thinking on the origin of evil, to which you allude. The mind refuses to look at this universe, being what it is, without having been designed; yet where one would most expect design,—viz., in the structure of a sentient being,—the more I think on the subject, the less I can see proof of design. Asa Gray and some others look at each variation, or at least at each beneficial variation (which A. Gray would compare with the rain-drops which do not fall on the sea, but on to the land to fertilize it), as having been providentially designed. Yet when I asked him whether he looks at each variation in the rock-pigeon, by which man has made by accumulation a pouter or fantail pigeon, as providentially designed for man’s amusement, he does not know what to answer; and if he or any one admits [that] these variations are accidental, as far as purpose is concerned (of course not accidental as to their cause or origin), then I can see no reason why he should rank the accumulated variations by which the beautifully adapted woodpecker has been formed, as providentially designed. For it would be easy to imagine the enlarged crop of the pouter, or tail of the fantail, as of some use to birds in a state of nature, having peculiar habits of life. These are the considerations which perplex me about design; but whether you will care to hear them, I know not….
  [On the subject of design, he wrote (July 1860) to Dr. Gray:—]  2
  One word more on “designed laws” and “undesigned results.” I see a bird which I want for food, take my gun and kill it; I do this designedly. An innocent and good man stands under a tree and is killed by a flash of lightning. Do you believe (and I really should like to hear) that God designedly killed this man? Many or most persons do believe this; I can’t and don’t. If you believe so, do you believe that when a swallow snaps up a gnat, that God designed that that particular swallow should snap up that particular gnat at that particular instant? I believe that the man and the gnat are in the same predicament. If the death of neither man nor gnat is designed, I see no good reason to believe that their first birth or production should be necessarily designed.  3
C. Darwin to J. D. Hooker

DOWN, February 24th [1863].    
My Dear Hooker:
I AM astonished at your note. I have not seen the Athenæum, but I have sent for it, and may get it to-morrow; and will then say what I think.
  I have read Lyell’s book [‘The Antiquity of Man’]. The whole certainly struck me as a compilation, but of the highest class; for when possible the facts have been verified on the spot, making it almost an original work. The Glacial chapters seem to me best, and in parts magnificent. I could hardly judge about Man, as all the gloss of novelty was completely worn off. But certainly the aggregation of the evidence produced a very striking effect on my mind. The chapter comparing language and changes of species seems most ingenious and interesting. He has shown great skill in picking out salient points in the argument for change of species; but I am deeply disappointed (I do not mean personally) to find that his timidity prevents him giving any judgment…. From all my communications with him, I must ever think that he has really entirely lost faith in the immutability of species; and yet one of his strongest sentences is nearly as follows: “If it should ever be rendered highly probable that species change by variation and natural selection,” etc., etc. I had hoped he would have guided the public as far as his own belief went…. One thing does please me on this subject, that he seems to appreciate your work. No doubt the public or a part may be induced to think that as he gives to us a larger space than to Lamarck, he must think there is something in our views. When reading the brain chapter, it struck me forcibly that if he had said openly that he believed in change of species, and as a consequence that man was derived from some quadrumanous animal, it would have been very proper to have discussed by compilation the differences in the most important organ, viz., the brain. As it is, the chapter seems to me to come in rather by the head and shoulders. I do not think (but then I am as prejudiced as Falconer and Huxley, or more so) that it is too severe. It struck me as given with judicial force. It might perhaps be said with truth that he had no business to judge on a subject on which he knows nothing; but compilers must do this to a certain extent. (You know I value and rank high compilers, being one myself.) I have taken you at your word, and scribbled at great length. If I get the Athenæum to-morrow, I will add my impression of Owen’s letter….  5
  The Lyells are coming here on Sunday evening to stay till Wednesday. I dread it, but I must say how much disappointed I am that he has not spoken out on species, still less on man. And the best of the joke is that he thinks he has acted with the courage of a martyr of old. I hope I may have taken an exaggerated view of his timidity, and shall particularly be glad of your opinion on this head. When I got his book I turned over the pages, and saw he had discussed the subject of species, and said that I thought he would do more to convert the public than all of us; and now (which makes the case worse for me) I must, in common honesty, retract. I wish to Heaven he had said not a word on the subject.  6
  WEDNESDAY MORNING.—I have read the Athenæum. I do not think Lyell will be nearly so much annoyed as you expect. The concluding sentence is no doubt very stinging. No one but a good anatomist could unravel Owen’s letter; at least it is quite beyond me….  7
  Lyell’s memory plays him false when he says all anatomists were astonished at Owen’s paper: it was often quoted with approbation. I well remember Lyell’s admiration at this new classification! (Do not repeat this.) I remember it because, though I knew nothing whatever about the brain, I felt a conviction that a classification thus founded on a single character would break down, and it seemed to me a great error not to separate more completely the Marsupialia….  8
  What an accursed evil it is that there should be all this quarreling, within what ought to be the peaceful realms of science.  9
  I will go to my own present subject of inheritance and forget it all for a time. Farewell, my dear old friend.
C. DARWIN.    
C. Darwin to T. H. Huxley

OCTOBER 3d, 1864.    
My Dear Huxley:
  IF I do not pour out my admiration of your article on Kölliker, I shall explode. I never read anything better done. I had much wished his article answered, and indeed thought of doing so myself, so that I considered several points. You have hit on all, and on some in addition, and oh, by Jove, how well you have done it! As I read on and came to point after point on which I had thought, I could not help jeering and scoffing at myself, to see how infinitely better you had done it than I could have done. Well, if any one who does not understand Natural Selection will read this, he will be a blockhead if it is not as clear as daylight. Old Flourens was hardly worth the powder and shot; but how capitally you bring in about the Academician, and your metaphor of the sea-sand is inimitable.
  It is a marvel to me how you can resist becoming a regular reviewer. Well, I have exploded now, and it has done me a deal of good.  12
C. Darwin to E. Ray Lankester

DOWN, March 15th [1870].    
My Dear Sir:
  I DO not know whether you will consider me a very troublesome man, but I have just finished your book, and cannot resist telling you how the whole has much interested me. No doubt, as you say, there must be much speculation on such a subject, and certain results cannot be reached; but all your views are highly suggestive, and to my mind that is high praise. I have been all the more interested, as I am now writing on closely allied though not quite identical points. I was pleased to see you refer to my much despised child, ‘Pangenesis,’ who I think will some day, under some better nurse, turn out a fine stripling. It has also pleased me to see how thoroughly you appreciate (and I do not think that this is general with the men of science) H. Spencer; I suspect that hereafter he will be looked at as by far the greatest living philosopher in England; perhaps equal to any that have lived. But I have no business to trouble you with my notions. With sincere thanks for the interest which your work has given me,
I remain, yours very faithfully,
From a Letter to J. D. Hooker

CLIFF COTTAGE, BOURNEMOUTH, September 26th, 1862.    
My Dear Hooker:
  DO not read this till you have leisure. If that blessed moment ever comes, I should be very glad to have your opinion on the subject of this letter. I am led to the opinion that Drosera must have diffused matter in organic connection, closely analogous to the nervous matter of animals. When the glans of one of the papillæ or tentacles in its natural position is supplied with nitrogenized fluid and certain other stimulants, or when loaded with an extremely slight weight, or when struck several times with a needle, the pedicel bends near its base in under one minute. These varied stimulants are conveyed down the pedicel by some means; it cannot be vibration, for drops of fluid put on quite quietly cause the movement; it cannot be absorption of the fluid from cell to cell, for I can see the rate of absorption, which, though quick, is far slower, and in Dionæa the transmission is instantaneous; analogy from animals would point to transmission through nervous matter. Reflecting on the rapid power of absorption in the glans, the extreme sensibility of the whole organ, and the conspicuous movement caused by varied stimulants, I have tried a number of substances which are not caustic or corrosive,… but most of which are known to have a remarkable action on the nervous matter of animals. You will see the results in the inclosed paper. As the nervous matter of different animals is differently acted on by the same poisons, one would not expect the same action on plants and animals; only, if plants have diffused nervous matter, some degree of analogous action. And this is partially the case. Considering these experiments, together with the previously made remarks on the functions of the parts, I cannot avoid the conclusion that Drosera possesses matter at least in some degree analogous in constitution and function to nervous matter. Now do tell me what you think, as far as you can judge from my abstract. Of course many more experiments would have to be tried; but in former years I tried on the whole leaf, instead of on separate glands, a number of innocuous substances, such as sugar, gum, starch, etc., and they produced no effect. Your opinion will aid me in deciding some future year in going on with this subject. I should not have thought it worth attempting, but I had nothing on earth to do.
My dear Hooker, yours very sincerely,
  P. S.—We return home on Monday 28th. Thank Heaven!

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