I shall remain in London till Friday morning, and if quite convenient to send me two volumes of D.C. Prodromus, I could take them home and tabulate them. I should think a volume with a large best known natural family, and a volume with several small broken families would be best, always supposing that the varieties are conspicuously marked in both. Have you the volume published by Lowe on Madeira? If so and if any varieties are marked I should much like to see it, to see if I can make out anything about habitats of vars. in so small an area--a point on which I have become very curious. I fear there is no chance of your possessing Forbes and Hancock "British Shells," a grand work, which I much wish to tabulate.
Very many thanks for seed of Adlumia cirrhosa, which I will carefully observe. My notice in the G. Ch. on Kidney Beans (54.1 "On the Agency of Bees in the Fertilisation of Papilionaceous Flowers" ("Gardeners' Chronicle," 1857, page 725).) has brought me a curious letter from an intelligent gardener, with a most remarkable lot of beans, crossed in a marvellous manner IN THE FIRST GENERATION, like the peas sent to you by Berkeley and like those experimentalised on by Gartner and by Wiegmann. It is a very odd case; I shall sow these seeds and see what comes up. How very odd that pollen of one form should affect the outer coats and size of the bean produced by pure species!...
LETTER 55. TO J.D. HOOKER. Down [1857?].
You know how I work subjects: namely, if I stumble on any general remark, and if I find it confirmed in any other very distinct class, then I try to find out whether it is true,--if it has any bearing on my work. The following, perhaps, may be important to me. Dr. Wight remarks that Cucurbitaceae (55/1. Wight, "Remarks on the Fruit of the Natural Order Cucurbitaceae" ("Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist." VIII., page 261). R. Wight, F.R.S. (1796-1872) was Superintendent of the Madras Botanic Garden.) is a very isolated family, and has very diverging affinities. I find, strongly put and illustrated, the very same remark in the genera of hymenoptera. Now, it is not to me at first apparent why a very distinct and isolated group should be apt to have more divergent affinities than a less isolated group. I am aware that most genera have more affinities than in two ways, which latter, perhaps, is the commonest case. I see how infinitely vague all this is; but I should very much like to know what you and Mr. Bentham (if he will read this), who have attended so much to the principles of classification, think of this. Perhaps the best way would be to think of half a dozen most isolated groups of plants, and then consider whether the affinities point in an unusual number of directions. Very likely you may think the whole question too vague to be worth consideration.
LETTER 56. TO J.D. HOOKER. Down, April 8th .
I now want to ask your opinion, and for facts on a point; and as I shall often want to do this during the next year or two, so let me say, once for all, that you must not take trouble out of mere good nature (of which towards me you have a most abundant stock), but you must consider, in regard to the trouble any question may take, whether you think it worth while--as all loss of time so far lessens your original work--to give me facts to be quoted on your authority in my work. Do not think I shall be disappointed if you cannot spare time; for already I have profited enormously from your judgment and knowledge. I earnestly beg you to act as I suggest, and not take trouble solely out of good-nature.
My point is as follows: Harvey gives the case of Fucus varying remarkably, and yet in same way under most different conditions. D. Don makes same remark in regard to Juncus bufonius in England and India. Polygala vulgaris has white, red, and blue flowers in Faroe, England, and I think Herbert says in Zante. Now such cases seem to me very striking, as showing how little relation some variations have to climatal conditions.
Do you think there are many such cases? Does Oxalis corniculata present exactly the same varieties under very different climates?
How is it with any other British plants in New Zealand, or at the foot of the Himalaya? Will you think over this and let me hear the result?
One other question: do you remember whether the introduced Sonchus in New Zealand was less, equally, or more common than the aboriginal stock of the same species, where both occurred together? I forget whether there is any other case parallel with this curious one of the Sonchus...