Your conclusion that all speculation about preordination is idle waste of time is the only wise one; but how difficult it is not to speculate! My theology is a simple muddle; I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent design or indeed of design of any kind, in the details. As for each variation that has ever occurred having been preordained for a special end, I can no more believe in it than that the spot on which each drop of rain falls has been specially ordained.
Spontaneous generation seems almost as great a puzzle as preordination. I cannot persuade myself that such a multiplicity of organisms can have been produced, like crystals, in Bastian's (236/1. On September 2nd, 1872, Mr. Darwin wrote to Mr. Wallace, in reference to the latter's review of "The Beginnings of Life," by H.C. Bastian (1872), in "Nature," 1872, pages 284- 99: "At present I should prefer any mad hypothesis, such as that every disintegrated molecule of the lowest forms can reproduce the parent-form; and that these molecules are universally distributed, and that they do not lose their vital power until heated to such a temperature that they decompose like dead organic particles.") solutions of the same kind. I am astonished that, as yet, I have met with no allusion to Wyman's positive statement (236/2. "Observations and Experiments on Living Organisms in Heated Water," by Jeffries Wyman, Prof. of Anatomy, Harvard Coll. ("Amer. Journ. Sci." XLIV., 1867, page 152.) Solutions of organic matter in hermetically sealed flasks were immersed in boiling water for various periods. "No infusoria of any kind appeared if the boiling was prolonged beyond a period of five hours.") that if the solutions are boiled for five hours no organisms appear; yet, if my memory serves me, the solutions when opened to air immediately became stocked. Against all evidence, I cannot avoid suspecting that organic particles (my "gemmules" from the separate cells of the lower creatures!) will keep alive and afterwards multiply under proper conditions.
What an interesting problem it is.
LETTER 237. TO W.B. TEGETMEIER. Down, July 15th .
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 .