It is very long since I have heard from you, and I am much obliged for your letter. It is good news that you are going to bring out a new edition of your Poultry book (237/1. "The Poultry Book," 1872.), and you are quite at liberty to use all my materials. Thanks for the curious case of the wild duck variation: I have heard of other instances of a tendency to vary in one out of a large litter or family. I have too many things in hand at present to profit by your offer of the loan of the American Poultry book.
Pray keep firm to your idea of working out the subject of analogous variations (237/2. "By this term I mean that similar characters occasionally make their appearance in the several varieties or races descended from the same species, and more rarely in the offspring of widely distinct species" ("Animals and Plants," II., Edition II., page 340).) with pigeons; I really think you might thus make a novel and valuable contribution to science. I can, however, quite understand how much your time must be occupied with the never-ending, always-beginning editorial cares.
I keep much as usual, and crawl on with my work.
LETTER 238. TO J.D. HOOKER. Down, September 27th .
Yours was a splendid letter, and I was very curious to hear something about the Liverpool meeting (238/1. Mr. Huxley was President of the British Association at Liverpool in 1870. His Presidential Address on "Biogenesis and Abiogenesis" is reprinted in his collected Essays, VIII., page 229. Some account of the meeting is given in Huxley's "Life and Letters," Volume I., pages 332, 336.), which I much wished to be successful for Huxley's sake. I am surprised that you think his address would not have been clear to the public; it seemed to me as clear as water. The general line of his argument might have been answered by the case of spontaneous combustion: tens of thousands of cases of things having been seen to be set on fire would be no true argument against any one who maintained that flames sometimes spontaneously burst forth. I am delighted at the apotheosis of Sir Roderick; I can fancy what neat and appropriate speeches he would make to each nobleman as he entered the gates of heaven. You ask what I think about Tyndall's lecture (238/2. Tyndall's lecture was "On the Scientific Uses of the Imagination."): it seemed to me grand and very interesting, though I could not from ignorance quite follow some parts, and I longed to tell him how immensely it would have been improved if all the first part had been made very much less egotistical. George independently arrived at the same conclusion, and liked all the latter part extremely. He thought the first part not only egotistical, but rather clap-trap.
How well Tyndall puts the "as if" manner of philosophising, and shows that it is justifiable. Some of those confounded Frenchmen have lately been pitching into me for using this form of proof or argument.
I have just read Rolleston's address in "Nature" (238/3. Presidential Address to the Biological Section, British Association, 1870. "Nature," September 22nd, 1870, page 423. Rolleston referred to the vitality of seeds in soil, a subject on which Darwin made occasional observations. See "Life and Letters," II., page 65.): his style is quite unparalleled! I see he quotes you about seed, so yesterday I went and observed more carefully the case given in the enclosed paper, which perhaps you might like to read and burn.
How true and good what you say about Lyell. He is always the same; Dohrn was here yesterday, and was remarking that no one stood higher in the public estimation of Germany than Lyell.