But here comes, as it appears to me, an odd thing (I hope I shall not quite weary you out). There are 29 other orders, each with 2 genera, and these 58 genera have on an average 15.07 species: this great number being owing to the 10 genera in the Smilaceae, Salicaceae (with 220 species), Begoniaceae, Balsaminaceae, Grossulariaceae, without which the remaining 48 genera have on an average only 5.91 species.

This case of the orders with only 2 genera, the genera notwithstanding having 15.07 species each, seems to me very perplexing and upsets, almost, the conclusion deducible from the orders with single genera.

I have gone higher, and tested the alliances with 1, 2, and 3 orders; and in these cases I find both the genera few in each alliance, and the species, less than the average of the whole kingdom, in each genus.

All this has amused me, but I daresay you will have a good sneer at me, and tell me to stick to my barnacles. By the way, you agree with me that sometimes one gets despondent--for instance, when theory and facts will not harmonise; but what appears to me even worse, and makes me despair, is, when I see from the same great class of facts, men like Barrande deduce conclusions, such as his "Colonies" (41/3. Lyell briefly refers to Barrande's Bohemian work in a letter (August 31st, 1856) to Fleming ("Life of Sir Charles Lyell," II., page 225): "He explained to me on the spot his remarkable discovery of a 'colony' of Upper Silurian fossils, 3,400 feet deep, in the midst of the Lower Silurian group. This has made a great noise, but I think I can explain away the supposed anomaly by, etc." (See Letter 40, Note.) and his agreement with E. de Beaumont's lines of Elevation, or such men as Forbes with his Polarity (41/4. Edward Forbes "On the Manifestation of Polarity in the Distribution of Organised Beings in Time" ("Edinburgh New Phil. Journal," Volume LVII., 1854, page 332). The author points out that "the maximum development of generic types during the Palaeozoic period was during its earlier epochs; that during the Neozoic period towards its later periods." Thus the two periods of activity are conceived to be at the two opposite poles of a sphere which in some way represents for him the system of Nature.); I have not a doubt that before many months are over I shall be longing for the most dishonest species as being more honest than the honestest theories. One remark more. If you feel any interest, or can get any one else to feel any interest on the aberrant genera question, I should think the most interesting way would be to take aberrant genera in any great natural family, and test the average number of species to the genera in that family.

How I wish we lived near each other! I should so like a talk with you on geographical distribution, taken in its greatest features. I have been trying from land productions to take a very general view of the world, and I should so like to see how far it agrees with plants.


(42/1. Mrs. Lyell is a daughter of the late Mr. Leonard Horner, and widow of Lieut.-Col. Lyell, a brother of Sir Charles.)

Down, January 26th [1856].

I shall be very glad to be of any sort of use to you in regard to the beetles. But first let me thank you for your kind note and offer of specimens to my children. My boys are all butterfly hunters; and all young and ardent lepidopterists despise, from the bottom of their souls, coleopterists.

The simplest plan for your end and for the good of entomology, I should think, would be to offer the collection to Dr. J.E. Gray for the British Museum on condition that a perfect set was made out for you. If the collection was at all valuable, I should think he would be very glad to have this done. Whether any third set would be worth making out would depend on the value of the collection. I do not suppose that you expect the insects to be named, for that would be a most serious labour. If you do not approve of this scheme, I should think it very likely that Mr. Waterhouse would think it worth his while to set a series for you, retaining duplicates for himself; but I say this only on a venture.

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book