Hooker, Sir Joseph Dalton
JHC136
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, United Kingdom
JDH/2/22/1/1 f.2-3
Gray, Asa
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
26-1-1854
© Descendants of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker
Asa Gray Correspondence
The Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
English
Original MS
8 page letter over 2 folios
 

JDH thanks Asa Gray for his opinion on an unspecified essay by JDH, letter includes discussion of species & specific centres suggesting the subject of the essay is geographical plant distribution, the definition of a species & whether they are created entities or varieties evolve with environmental influences. JDH refers Gray to his comments in the FLORA ANTARCTICA. He argues against Gray & Agassiz's belief in multiple centres. Discusses the relative importance of genetic resemblance as opposed to habitat, referring to the Dorking Fowl, Manx Cats & Falkland Island rabbits. He favours theories based on observable evidence of geography, physiology etc. Dismisses Agassiz's work, incl on glaciers such as Aletsch, as prejudice not based in fact but on a desire for notoriety. JDH & Lyell like Agassiz personally. JDH looks to Americans for future discoveries in science as he considers them more practical. Bentham has decided to give his herbarium to RBG Kew. Thomas Thomson [TT] wants to be botanist on an expedition to North West Australia, if the East India Company will give him leave. Hurt approves of TT, who was imprisoned with his brother during the Afghanistan campaign. William Jackson Hooker has applied to The Duke of Newcastle on TT's behalf. Writes of progress with FLORA INDICA & distribution of plant sets to Gray, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, St Petersburg, Brown at the British Museum, Lowell & Torrey. Asks Gray about North American Larch, Yew, Junipers & Coniferae incl. Scotch Pine. Uses Yews from Pontrilas as an example of the difficulty of using habitat vs character in determining species. The Deodar Avenue at Kew is another example of how plants may not always have the ideal characteristics of their species. Agrees that species cannot be pronounced the same because they are united by certain forms, gives Mt Lebanon & Himalayan Cedars as example of extreme forms. Argues the difficulty is with local botanists wanting to give local varieties a distinct classification.

Transcript

& favourable to Tom, who had been a fellow prisoner with Hurt[']s brother in Afghan campaign. My father applies to the D[uke]. of Newcastle for Tom to be appointed & if he agrees the gov[ernmen]t will apply to the E. I. C. for Tom's services. It starts in June & will be away 2 years probably (they say one). Flora Indica progresses very slowly we have upwards of 100 pages of introductory essay, a very laborious affair. I have commenced distribution & put Herb[arium]. A Gray: with the 5 first -- i.e. Paris Berlin Vienna Gray St Petersburgh[sic]. All of which will be as nearly equal as may be. We made 60 sets & No.60 will have about 1/6 of the species distributed -- we have 3 American names down, you, Lowell & Torrey -- write & tell me privately if you can amend or increase this & we will consider it but we find it very difficult to adjust claims after the first 20. We are in great doubt about Brit[ish] Mus[eum] & Brown, the things are too valuable to throw away I think B[ritish]. M[useum]. comes in about 20 & as Brown does not want common things for B.M. & rare for Brown! is that not a far west dodge -- joking apart we have not made up our minds what to do. Is your N[orth]. American Larch different from ours?

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Kew
Wednesday 26 Jan[uar]y / [18]54
My dear [Asa] Gray,
I was extremely pleased by your letter last night, & quite as much with the mere fact of my treating the subject having been thought worthy [of] your attention, as with the many too flattering things you say of it. Such essays attract so little attention in this country, that one feels, at least I did, that I was writing for the dead more than the living. Though amongst other men Agassiz had a prominent seat in judgement before me. After all I regard the whole essay more as a resume of general impressions than a specimen of close reasoning for of the latter in truth the subject does not admit. There is not a single argument that will not cut both ways, & may not be turned pro & con species, specific centres &c &c. You

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turning my argument against myself on the point that two originally created distinct species so similar as to be about undistinguishable may exist in two widely sundered localities is a awful staggerer & I have always felt it to be the most impracticable objection of any to the possibility of determining what is & what is not a species. I have touched on that subject very point at Chap 2 paragraph 2 toward end "These considerations &c" for & but perhaps too gingerly, also in the Flora Antarct[ica] I think see Empetrum. I combat this idea theory more upon principle than upon facts;-- once admit it & the flood--gates are opened to species mongers & it is cast in your teeth every moment as an argument for making all every slight difference, if only accompanied with geographical des segregation, of specific value -- nevertheless I am quite aware that such species must exist, I do not deny nor would I blink the evidence in favor of it: nor that it is the greatest of all objections to the pronouncements

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upon species in our present state of knowledge I therefore admit its influence application to practice only in exceptional cases -- The long &short of it is, that if you admit two centres you may as well admit all [Louis] Agassiz*1, you cannot draw the line, & geographical distribution is hence a vain study. -- The connection of life with the revolutions of the globe & with all the plagues[?] of nature naught & nothing can come of its pursuit but the temporary gratification of taste & ingenuity.
I am amused amused by fancying you "fall into the snare you lay for another" in the following -- which shews[sic] how all these arguments cut two ways -- you say that the genetic resemblance is a strong point & not enough dwelt upon. -- I grant it fully -- I suppose I thought it too hackneyed, though it is far from being so in a philosophical point of view -- but you go on with consummate sangfroid to tell me of Dorking fowl & Manx cats starting off -- at a tangent without rhyme or reason! This I grant too, but let me ask you what would be done by Gould or Agassiz

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with a Dorking fowl, if it were shot & skinned in the Andamans & brought from thence as its only habitat not only would a new genus be made of it but its toes would lead to a deal of pen ink & paper analogues -- affinities -- relations &c &c &c. Ditto with the Manx cat, an osteological specific character would be found for it as easily as Cuoire[?] found one for the Falkland Islands rabbit; which had not been 30 years out from Europe! oh dear oh dear, my mind is not fully, faithfully, implicitly given to species as created entities ab origine, but it is the imperative necessity of sticking to one side or the other, & without being bound by it, referring[,] arranging & reasoning by it. I take that side which though apparently the most narrow & prejudiced is the only one which really keeps the mind open to investigate, which coordinates all the elements of geography, system & physiology, & which keeps the observers attention alive to the importance of watching studying collateral phenomena[.]
I have long been aware of Agassiz's heresies -- his opinion are too extreme for respect

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& hence are mere prejudices, they are further contradicted by facts. [Sir Charles] Lyell & I have talked him over by the hour these ones L[yell]. & A[gassiz] are great personal friends. I always think Ag[assiz]. an extraordinarily clever fellow & a treasure too as a scientific man, but there are many people whom we personally we like & as men of science too, but whose views on individual points are best let alone. Giving too much attention (even to oppose[)] to the startling views of such people rather encourages them, & there is an inherent love of getting fame at any price i.e. getting notoriety amongst these French Swiss & Italians that leads them to commit themselves on such questions. Agassiz's glacier work was a dead failure so far as theory & sound principles were involved & his operations were to a great extent mis spent directed labour. As to

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glacier of Aletsch: to have have[sic] staid[sic] there sucking Ag[assiz's]. brain dry & then coolly took himself off to apply the knowledge & experience he had obtained, is a truly philosophical manner to the question of the physics of a glacier & to have hence cracked the nut in beautiful style. The long & short of it is that we have too many clever people in the world, too few sound ones. When you Yankees take up the higher branches of Botany more generally you will turn out far more & better work than we do, for you are a far better educated sounder more practical people, & I look to you for the great discoveries, come when they may.
We have no particular Botanical news here, [George] Bentham has made up his mind about his Herb[arium]. coming to Kew in summer & is coming himself to look out how the land lies in spring. There is a fine land expedition going to N[orth]. W[est]. Australia & [Thomas] Thomson is anxious to join as Botanist if the E[ast]. I[ndia]. C[ompany]. will give him the his pay & time as service. I hope there will be no difficulty as Australia is so far in E.I.C. territories that an officer goes there on sick--leave with time still going on. Hurt will commend it; he was here yesterday

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& favourable to Tom, who had been a fellow prisoner with Hurt[']s brother in Afghan campaign. My father applies to the D[uke]. of Newcastle for Tom to be appointed & if he agrees the gov[ernmen]t will apply to the E. I. C. for Tom's services. It starts in June & will be away 2 years probably (they say one). Flora Indica progresses very slowly we have upwards of 100 pages of introductory essay, a very laborious affair. I have commenced distribution & put Herb[arium]. A Gray: with the 5 first -- i.e. Paris Berlin Vienna Gray St Petersburgh[sic]. All of which will be as nearly equal as may be. We made 60 sets & No.60 will have about 1/6 of the species distributed -- we have 3 American names down, you, Lowell & Torrey -- write & tell me privately if you can amend or increase this & we will consider it but we find it very difficult to adjust claims after the first 20. We are in great doubt about Brit[ish] Mus[eum] & Brown, the things are too valuable to throw away I think B[ritish]. M[useum]. comes in about 20 & as Brown does not want common things for B.M. & rare for Brown! is that not a far west dodge -- joking apart we have not made up our minds what to do. Is your N[orth]. American Larch different from ours?

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Is there more than one yew in the world? How many Junipers have you? Coniferae are I am sure much more variable & widely distributed than is supposed & whilst our commonest wild & cultivated Junipers, Yews & Scotch Pines are telling us by every specimen that their habits vary with every local circumstance, we are still quoting habit as a specific character for Coniferae. I showed Bentham two yews in a hedge at Pontrilas, side by side, of which he owned specimens from each would make two species, & their habit was so different, that were they growing side by side in a garden the habit would have confirmed the difference. Take Juniperus communis, I found it in Rhone valley growing like [Juniperus] recurva of India, with a straight trunk & carical[?] comaea coma. As to our Deodar avenue of Kew it is the seediest most ragged affair you ever saw, many of the trees far more like young cedars, these were all seed raised; had we planted cuttings as nurserymen do, of the most weeping glaucous long leaved stirps, what a different thing we should have had. I do think habit a perfect snare with many people, we stereotype an ideal habit & refer every thing to it. Of the many people ready to swear & declare that they can never mistake an Oak, Beech &c &c by habit: how many can prove their words? -- My wife is well ditto Baby -- father & mother.
Ever dear Gray with united regards | affectionately y[our]s J D Hooker [signature]
P.S.*2 You say that we are not to pronounce species the same because they are united apparently by certain forms of each -- I grant this fully, but we I how are we to act upon it & deny local Botanists specific value to their small fish? This is no good argument & a better is that we do not know which is the originally created form state that we you call the type say or that we I call the connecting form? E.G. you may say Cedar & Deodar are distinct because though apparently united by a few exceptional forms of each -- I say no, the exceptional intermediate forms present no new form character different from either. This original type Cedar was intermediate in character, but is extinct, one extreme form is retained driven to the top of Mt Lebanon & hence called Libani, another extreme form is retained in the humid Himalaya. We cultivated the Libariys stirps*3 which retains to certain degree its rigid character, but often looses it. We also cultivated the Deodar stirps & because beautiful we propagate by cuttings from stirps most typical of Deodar i.e. most extremely unlike cedar -- & propagate the error by artificial means.

ENDNOTES


1. Louis Agassiz (1807--1873). A Swiss born American biologist, geologist, physician and prominent innovator innovator in the study of the Earth's natural history. He was Professor of natural history at the University of Neuch√Ętel and later a Professor at Harvard University.
2. The post script is written in the margins of pages 1 and 2.
3. Stirps. Latin, meaning 'rootstock'.

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