I know you will understand and not object to my thus expressing my opinion (for one must form one) so presumptuously. I have no criticisms, except perhaps I should like you somewhere to say, when you refer to me, that you refer only to the notice in the "Linnean Journal;" not that, on my deliberate word of honour, I expect that you will think more favourably of the whole than of the suggestion in the "Journal." I am far more than satisfied at what you say of my work; yet it would be as well to avoid the appearance of your remarks being a criticism on my fuller work.
I am very sorry to hear you are so hard-worked. I also get on very slowly, and have hardly as yet finished half my volume...I returned on last Tuesday from a week's hydropathy.
Take warning by me, and do not work too hard. For God's sake, think of this.
It is dreadfully uphill work with me getting my confounded volume finished.
I wish you well through all your labours. Adios.
LETTER 79. TO ASA GRAY. Down, November 29th .
This shall be such an extraordinary note as you have never received from me, for it shall not contain one single question or request. I thank you for your impression on my views. Every criticism from a good man is of value to me. What you hint at generally is very, very true: that my work will be grievously hypothetical, and large parts by no means worthy of being called induction, my commonest error being probably induction from too few facts. I had not thought of your objection of my using the term "natural selection" as an agent. I use it much as a geologist does the word denudation--for an agent, expressing the result of several combined actions. I will take care to explain, not merely by inference, what I mean by the term; for I must use it, otherwise I should incessantly have to expand it into some such (here miserably expressed) formula as the following: "The tendency to the preservation (owing to the severe struggle for life to which all organic beings at some time or generation are exposed) of any, the slightest, variation in any part, which is of the slightest use or favourable to the life of the individual which has thus varied; together with the tendency to its inheritance." Any variation, which was of no use whatever to the individual, would not be preserved by this process of "natural selection." But I will not weary you by going on, as I do not suppose I could make my meaning clearer without large expansion. I will only add one other sentence: several varieties of sheep have been turned out together on the Cumberland mountains, and one particular breed is found to succeed so much better than all the others that it fairly starves the others to death. I should here say that natural selection picks out this breed, and would tend to improve it, or aboriginally to have formed it...
You speak of species not having any material base to rest on, but is this any greater hardship than deciding what deserves to be called a variety, and be designated by a Greek letter? When I was at systematic work, I know I longed to have no other difficulty (great enough) than deciding whether the form was distinct enough to deserve a name, and not to be haunted with undefined and unanswerable questions whether it was a true species. What a jump it is from a well-marked variety, produced by natural cause, to a species produced by the separate act of the hand of God! But I am running on foolishly. By the way, I met the other day Phillips, the palaeontologist, and he asked me, "How do you define a species?" I answered, "I cannot." Whereupon he said, "at last I have found out the only true definition,--any form which has ever had a specific name!"...
LETTER 80. TO C. LYELL. Ilkley, October 31st .
That you may not misunderstand how far I go with Pallas and his many disciples I should like to add that, though I believe that our domestic dogs have descended from several wild forms, and though I must think that the sterility, which they would probably have evinced, if crossed before being domesticated, has been eliminated, yet I go but a very little way with Pallas & Co.