RECORD: Bunbury, Charles James Fox. 1906. [Recollections of Darwin.] The life of Sir Charles J. F. Bunbury, Bart. Edited by his sister-in-law Mrs Henry Lyell [Katherine Murray Lyell]; with an introductory note by Sir Joseph Hooker. 2 vols. London: John Murray.
REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker, corrections and editing by John van Wyhe 10.2011. RN1
NOTE: Passages from the two volumes of Bunbury's book with recollections of Charles Darwin. Original pagination is indicated in square brackets. Sir Charles James Fox Bunbury, 8th Baronet, FRS (4 Feb 1809 - 18 Jun 1886) was an English naturalist.
To his Brother.
O. & C. Club, March 13th, 1837.
My dear Edward, Many thanks for your agreeable letter about Mr. Darwin. I went to the Geological Society last Wednesday, in hopes of hearing some of his discoveries stated, but I was disappointed: the papers that were read were very dull, and it was not till after they were finished that there was some fun, in the shape of an animated debate between Sedgwick and Greenough; the former was in his glory, and very entertaining on the subject of raised beaches, which one would hardly have thought a very favourable topic for the exercise of wit or humour. Greenough still sticks to his notion of the sea having sunk instead of the land being raised, but I almost think he must cling to it more from caprice or habit than conviction. Whewell introduced me to Mr. Darwin, with whom I had some talk; he seems to be a universal collector, and among other things, to the surprise of all the big wigs, he discovered an entirely new quadruped (recent), a kind of tiger-cat, in the immediate neighbourhood of Rio, where I did not suppose there were any wild quadrupeds at all, except rats. By the way there is a very interesting account in the Journal of the Geographical Society, of the great earthquake of 1835, in Chili.
June 26th. Went by coach to Capel Curig (1), in very cold, gloomy, blustering weather, which chilled my enjoyment of the scenery. Yet the rocky mountain-pass leading to Llyn Ogwen is magnificent, the mountains amazingly rugged and savage. I was struck with the vast extent of the slate quarries at the entrance of the pass: the whole side of a mountain is cut into terraces and escarpments. After I reached Capel Curig the weather improved for a time, and the sun shone out, but the wind continued to blow with surprising fury all day, so that the little lakes were all in a foam, and broke upon their shores in actual waves. Snowdon, of which there is a capital view from the garden of the inn, looked black and sullen, but his outline very distinct, and not obscured by the clouds. Seen from hence, he appears to have three sharp and well-marked peaks.
(1) Here he met Mr. Charles Darwin, and spent a little while with him with much enjoyment of his conversation.
November 23rd. Went over to Bedford Place at luncheon time, and met Charles Darwin, whom I was very glad to see. I had scarcely seen him since June, [p. 214] 1842 when we were together for some days in the Inn at Capel Cerrig, and made a great intimacy. He has long been an invalid, but has not the appearance of it, and is full of vivacity and ardour. We had a good deal of pleasant talk on scientific matters, especially on the geographical distribution of plants and animals. He spoke of the extraordinary local peculiarity of the productions of the Galapagos islands, of which he has given a most interesting account in the new edition of his Journal; said, that nothing could be more striking than to see in all the plants and animals of these islands a well-marked South American aspect — a South American character as it were stamped on them all, while nearly all the species are peculiar. He avowed himself to some extent a believer in the transmutation of species, though not, he said, exactly according to the doctrine either of Lamarck or of the "Vestiges." But he admitted that all the leading botanists and zoologists, of this country at least, are on the other side.
May 7th. Spent much of the day at the Athenaeum. Herman Merivale talked of the mesmeric table lifting, which is a great subject of curiosity just now; he had not seen an instance himself, and did not express any opinion as to its truth, but said that a friend of his, a member of the Athenaeum, professed to have the power in a high degree. Went in the evening to Lord Ross's Royal Society party, and met many acquaintances; Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, John Moore, James Heywood, Monckton Milnes, and others, Darwin very [p. 363] seldom goes out in the evening, and I had not seen him for a long time. Talked with him and Hooker about distant travels, about countries still remaining to be explored, and about Harvey's enterprising plan of going to Australia and New Zealand, to study their Algae.
June 20th. Charles Darwin came in at breakfast time, and I had an interesting talk with him about species, and the various questions connected with their origin, distribution and diffusion. All this — all connected with the geography of natural history, in the widest sense, is to me the most interesting part of the science, and it is that to which Darwin has long devoted himself. I was very glad to find that there is some prospect of his publishing his views on the subject. He spoke with great admiration of Alphonse De Candolle's new work on botanical geography, though he said that Joseph Hooker does not appear to think so highly of it. He is sceptical about the Atlantis, of which according to Bory, E. Forbes and Heer, the Atlantic Islands are the remains; and thinks generally that the theory of the migration of plants and animals by land since submerged, has been carried too far. He thinks that much yet remains to be learned with respect to the means of transport of plants, and mentioned in particular some observations which led him to believe that the seed of plants might sometimes be transported in earth enclosed amidst the roots of floated trees. He believes also that the agency of birds in the transport of seed has been underrated by De Candolle. He says he has [p. 99] ascertained by careful experiment that seeds of West Indian plants cast up by the sea on the Coast of the Azores, have germinated.
July 14th. Lyell's thoughts are at present very much engaged by Darwin's speculations on the great question of species in natural history, and the opposite views of Agassiz. Darwin has been engaged for nearly twenty years in a work on the general question of species, which is not yet nearly ready for publication; but at last, as there was some danger of his being forestalled — for Mr. Wallace, who is employed as a natural history collector in the Eastern Islands, had independently taken up some of the same theories, and sent home a Paper containing his own views — therefore Lyell and J. Hooker persuaded Darwin to allow one chapter of his work to be published. This chapter, written fourteen years ago, and containing as it seems the pith and essence of his theory, was brought before the Linnean Society by Lyell and Hooker, with a preface of their own to explain its history; and they have thus made themselves in a manner, sponsors to it, though neither of them, as I understand, is prepared altogether to adopt Darwin's views. Darwin has arrived at the conclusion that there is really no such thing as species; that the great law of nature in the organic world is that of unlimited variation; and that by the action of this law under the influence of external circumstances, in an indefinite lapse of time, any form of organic life may be derived from any other. In short he believes in "the transmutation of species." But he differs from the Lamarckians in this, as Lyell tells me, that he sees no reason to believe in a regularly ascending series of changes, a regular progressive development; [p. 130] he hold that variation may as often and as easily take place in the sense of degeneration as the contrary. Agassiz, on the other hand, as Lyell tells me, argues strongly for the fixity of species, and contends that the different forms which have successively appeared at different times have been produced not by variation or transmutation out of those previously existing, but by direct acts of creative energy. Lyell thinks there is great force in his reasoning. Much of Darwin's argument is built upon the varieties of domesticated animals, such as dogs and pigeons; but Agassiz meets this by contending that the numerous domestic — races of the dog, for instance — are not derived from one single specific stock, but from three or four or more; as has been already maintained (in the case of the dog and the horse) by Hamilton Smith. Lyell says that Agassiz is certainly a zoologist of very high authority and merit, but that as he has a particularly good eye for minute differences and distinctions, so his tendency is rather to rely too much on these, and rather to multiply species too much than the contrary. His knowledge of botany also is considerable. Lyell says that Darwin thinks him (L.) inconsistent, in maintaining the doctrine of uniformity in geology, and at the same time believing in the creation instead of the transmutation of species. But he contends that there is no inconsistency, since he holds the creation of new species to be an act that is still going on from time to time; not one that belonged only to former ages of the world.
To Mrs. Lyell.
Mildenhall, October 31st, 1859.
My dear Katharine,
It is a long time since I have written to you, but you are well aware what a time of sad anxiety and suspense we had with my dear father's illness. You will have heard about us from Charles and Mary. It was a very great pleasure to me to see [p. 150] them, and to have some good talk with them, though my enjoyment of their company was sadly broken and interrupted. How eager Charles Lyell is about the flint hatchets, and about Darwin's forthcoming book on Species. This book is indeed sure to be very curious and important, and is likely to cause no little combustion in the scientific world, for I have no doubt that plenty of pens will be drawn on both sides of the question. After all, however mortifying it may be to think that our remote ancestors were jelly fishes, it will not make much difference practically to naturalists who deal with recent plants and animals; for species must be distinguished and named, whether we suppose them to have been distinct from the beginning, or to have been produced by causes of variation acting through enormous periods of time. I am now hard at work naming a collection of Lepidodendrons entrusted to me for determination by the Geological Survey; and awfully hard they are to make out. Dear Susan's company is a very great pleasure to us: she is always so agreeable and so kind in staying on with us, though we were obliged to leave her so inhospitably. I have not time to write more at present, so must say farewell, with much love to all your party. Ever your very affectionate brother,
Charles J. F. Bunbury.
November 28th. Dined with Charles and Mary — no one else present: Charles Lyell very full of Darwin's book and quite a convert to his theory, which will make great changes necessary in the next edition of the Principles.
December 6th-8th. At Sandhurst, spending our time very pleasantly with the William Napiers and their lovely children. We drove over to Eversley, and had a delightful visit to the Kingsleys. I am more and more charmed with him in each successive visit. He is a truly noble man. And the extent and variety of his knowledge are astonishing. He is not only an eloquent preacher and moralist, a poet and a novelist, but an accomplished naturalist and antiquarian, an eager sportsman, what is he not? All that he says bears the stamp at once of great intellectual power and of a lofty and noble nature. [p. 152] Unfortunately his health has suffered from too great exertion of mind, and the physicians have ordered him to write nothing for the next three years. He talked much of Darwin's new book on Species, expressing great admiration for it, but saying that it was so startling that he had not yet been able to make up its mind as to its soundness. But were it merely as the result of thirty years' labour of such a man, he observed it ought to be treated with reverence. He said that he had himself been disposed to question the permanence of species, and on the same ground to which Darwin has attached so much importance, namely the great variations produced in the domestic races, but the very startling conclusions which Darwin has deduced from this doctrine have shown him the necessity of examining very carefully all the grounds of the reasoning. He is much interested also in the question of the flint "hatchets" or "arrow heads" in the drift. I told him of the curious fact mentioned at the last G. S. Meeting, of bronze ornaments discovered in the drift in Siberia. Kingsley remarked he had little doubt that gold had been worked in Northern and Central Asia, in very remote times, by nations probably now extinct, that Herodotus mentioned some of the Scythian tribes as possessing much gold, and that the very ancient myth of the Arimaspians probably related to the same facts. He told us much about the condition of Britain under the Romans, and about the Saxon conquest; thought that one principal reason why so little of Roman buUding remains above ground in this country, was that the degenerate Romanized Britons were chiefly collected in walled towns; and the Saxons, a wild race, who hated towns and town life, took these -towns and destroyed them utterly. He doubts Pevensey being Anderida, as commonly supposed, for Anderida is described as situated in a forest, whereas Pevensey must evidently have been in those times, an island or peninsula in the sea. [p. 153] The British Church, about which so much has been said, he suspects to be mythical, and doubts whether Christianity was at all generally or firmly established in Britain while it was a Roman province.
[Letter to Mrs. Pertz]
Darwin's book has made a greater sensation than any strictly scientific book that I remember. It is wonderful how much it has been talked about by unscientific people; talked about, of course, by many who have not read it, and by some, I suspect, who have read without understanding it, for it is a very hard book. Certainly it is a very remarkable work, of extraordinary power and ability, and founded on a wonderful mass of careful observation. I confess that, for my own part, though I have read it with great care, I am not altogether convinced; possibly when I shall have seen the body of evidence which he is to bring forward in his large work, I may be better satisfied: but as yet, I doubt. It is, however, a great triumph for Darwin that he has made converts of the greatest geologist and the greatest botanist of our time; at last, Joseph Hooker so far adopts the Darwinian theory that he considers it not as proved, but as a hypothesis, quite as admissible as the opposite one of permanent species, and far more suggestive. I wonder what Humboldt would have thought of Darwin's book.
Meeting of the Linnean Society. A very remarkable paper by Charles Darwin on that curious anomaly in Orchids (first noticed by Sir Robert Schomburgk in Demerara, and afterwards by Lindley and others) of the occurrence of flowers of supposed distinct genera on the same plant and even in the same spike. He took up Schomburgk's instance, of which the original specimens have been preserved in the Linnean Society, where flowers of so-called Catasetum tridentatum, Monachanthus viridis and Myanthus barbatus occur together. Schomburgk suspected that the differences were sexual; Darwin, by a most minute, elaborate and sagacious examination, proves that this is the case that the Catasetum is the male flower, the Monachanthus the female, and the Myanthus the hermaphrodite. These usually occurring on separate plants, had very naturally (as they are extremely unlike) been taken for distinct species and even genera: but now and then flowers of two and even three kinds are produced on the same plant. This is, I believe, the first ascertained instance of separated sexes in Orchids; it is very possible that in other instances also, different sexes of the same plant may have been taken for different species. Darwin gave us part of his paper viva voce, a beautiful exposition of the curious and complicated structure of the sexual apparatus of Catasetum. Joseph Hooker gave him due honour in the few remarks which he made upon the paper, and observed at the same time that the whole subject of Orchidaceae had for a long time past been in a manner given up by the professed botanists to two men, Brown and Lindley. The discussion which followed was for the most beside the matter of the paper, going off into the question of vegetable irritability, [p. 177] of which there are some remarkable examples in Orchidaceae.
To Sir Charles Lyell.
Barton, February 20th, 1866.
My dear Lyell, Very many thanks for sending me Hooker's and Darwin's letters, which I have read with great interest. I agree in almost everything that Hooker says, as far as I can make him out, but his letter is very hard to read. I differ from Darwin as to the plants which he quotes, as instances of the occurrence of temperate forms on the Organ mountains; he seems to consider as a "temperate" genus every genus which is found at all in temperate climates, and here I think him mistaken. I think I mentioned in my former letter, that, besides the strictly tropical forms on those peaks, there are species of genera which are very widely spread, and not specially either tropical or the reverse. Such a genus is Hypericum, one of those which Darwin enumerates; it is found in almost all parts of the world, except very cold countries. Clematis (which he does not mention) is another instance of the same kind. Drosera and Habenaria (as Hooker points out) have  certainly their maximum within the tropics. If there are Vacciniums on the Organ mountains they are of the sub-genus (Gaylussacia of Humboldt), which belongs specially to South America, and of which there is a species even on the coast of Brazil, in the island of St, Catherine.
If the Brazilian mountains were once a branch of the Andes (which I infer is Darwin's notion) I should have expected a greater number of the peculiar characteristic forms of the Upper Andes to be found on the mountains of Minus, etc., such as those "Rhododendrons of the Andes " (Betarius), of which Humboldt talks so much. There are some such: Gaultherias, Gaylussacias, Escallonias, etc., but not so many as one would expect. The strongest case, perhaps, in favour of Darwin's view and against mine, is the genus Drimys (the Winter Bark). Whether the American forms of Drimys be all varieties of one species, or a group of closely allied species, they certainly afford a most striking instance of a group of very near relations ranging along the Andes, from Cape Horn all through South America into Mexico, and re-appearing conspicuously on the table land of Brazil. I do not know whether they are found anywhere between Minas and the Andes. It is certainly quite allowable for Darwin to say, that they must have migrated to the Brazilian uplands when these were more closely connected with the Andes than they now are. Fuchsia comes nearly into the same category with Drimys, except that there is a greater variety of forms, and some of them more decidedly distinct. I doubt whether either Fuchsia or Drimys is found very high up on the Andes.
I acknowledge that, in my former letter, I did not sufficiently consider the possibility of the Organ mountains and those of Minas having been formerly much higher than now, and of their upper regions having been "glaciated" while in that position. But [p. 204] after all, as Hooker says, the information in Madame Agassiz's letter is almost too vague to afford any safe ground for fighting upon. 1 think the meaning must be, that the "glacial" marks were observed down to (not up to) 3,000 feet. This is a most material point. I do not agree with Darwin, that the nature of the vegetation of New Zealand gives us reason to believe that tropical families of plants could bear a cold climate. However luxuriant the vegetation of New Zealand, it does not, I think, include any really tropical types. I am not so sure, however, about Chiloe and Valdivia. I am very glad to hear that Darwin's health is better.
Believe me ever your very affectionate friend,
Charles J. F. Bunbury.
Sunday, February 25th. I went to afternoon church with Kingsley, who preached. A very agreeable evening with him. He is now, I am happy to find, in much better health than when he was with us in September. I wish I could remember more of his conversation. He is more and more an admirer of Darwin's theory of variation and natural selection; thinks it becomes more and more evident how much more "living" and "fruitful" this doctrine is than any previous one; how many more phenomena it explains and how much more fruitful it is in interesting results. Kingsley told me in a most delihtful way a Cornish legend about two saints in  that country who were also giants — St. Kevern and St. Just.
Joseph Hooker told me that Charles Darwin offered to give his new book to his brother, if he would promise to read it. "No, I thank you," said Erasmus Darwin, "I would rather buy it than read it."
To Sir Charles Lyell.
Barton, April 13th, 1868.
My dear Lyell, Very many thanks for your letter upon Agassiz, which has interested me much, and I am delighted that you are as much opposed as I am to his hypothesis of burying Brazil under ice. I shall now proceed at once to some remarks upon the Darwinian chapters in your new volume so far as I have read them, — that is, chapters 35 to 39. I must begin by saying that I think this part of your book admirably clear and most instructive. Every reader will see at once that you are a zealous advocate of the Darwinian theory, but I do not think you can be said to be bigoted, and I much admire the candour with which you acknowledge the difficulty with respect to hybridity (especially at p. 321). This is, in fact the great difficulty in Darwin's way, and it does not appear to me to be as yet at all overcome. Now for my remarks, which in general apply rather to opinions or facts which you bring forward on the authority of others, than to what is strictly your own. First — I understand you (or rather Darwin) to say that where a genus or other group includes a great number of forms, running much into one another, with slight differences between them, [p. 231] this indicates a comparatively modern group, "so that there has not been time for the causes of extinction to make gaps in the series of new varieties" (p. 340), Now, will this always hold good? We may confidently affirm that the Ferns (including the Lycopodia) are one of the most ancient families of plants now in existence; they are found well characterized in the most ancient deposits which contain any distinct traces of land plants. Yet there is no family of which the species run more into one another, or in which botanists are more puzzled to fix the limits of species and varieties.
2. — I doubt the correctness of Hooker's opinion (p. 305) that cultivated races of plants when they run wild, do not revert to the likeness of the original wild stock. One of the great difficulties in ascertaining the true native country of plants which are extensively cultivated (as you may see in many places in Alphonse de Candolle's "Geographic Botanique") consists in this, that it is often so difficult to determine whether individual plants of those kinds, which are found growing apparently wild, are really wild or the relics of former culture. Would there be this difficulty, if cultivated races never lost their distinc tive characters ? Perhaps, however, Hooker would say, that these are not instances of real well-marked varieties, but of mere variations in luxuriance, like the cultivated states of the common red and white Clovers.
My other remarks refer to mere matters of detail. I much admire your exposition of Sclater's "Regions of Zoological Geography," but —
3. — I must object to your naming the Tiger among the animals properly belonging to Northern Asia. I cannot doubt that his specific centre was in tropical Asia; and that he gradually spread from thence to the north.
4. — Is it always true that our domestic animals are such as were social in their natural state? Is the wild [p. 232] cat a social animal? or is the jungle-fowl? or is the rock-pigeon (which Darwin admits to be the original of our tame pigeons) more a social bird than the wood pigeon?
5. — This is merely a question suggested by what is said in p. 355, of the swimming power of quadrupeds. Is any instance known of any of the monkey kind being able to swim I never remember to have read of such. What Wallace and Bates observed about the range of various species of monkeys being limited by the great South-American rivers, appears most natural. I should have been surprised if it had been otherwise. The small swimming power (if I am not mistaken) appears to be one of the great differences between the quadrumana and the genus homo.
As far as I have yet read, I think you have kept pretty clear of the way that the younger Darwinians run into, of representing the theory of natural selection as having solved all the mysteries of creation. The truth is, that the advocates of Darwinianism or Lamarckianism have a great advantage, inasmuch as theirs is really the only theory (properly speaking) on the subject. It is necessary, for clearness, to speak of the theory of special creation, but the truth is, that that hypothesis is merely negative those who support it merely mean to say, that species were created, they do not know how, but independently of previous species. Evidently the advocates of a positive theory have all the advantages of the invitation. It remains to be seen what Agassiz will put forth, as he has decidedly thrown down the gauntlet to the Darwinians. Do you remember our talking when you were last here, about Darwin's grandfather, the poet, and the scandal he gave by his theories? I have since been rather amused by hitting upon a passage in Davy's "Salmonia," concerning the "ingenious but somewhat unsound" speculations of Darwin (the poet) as to the hereditary transmission [p. 233] of peculiarities and the formation of new species thereby. He was in fact, a Lamarckian. So that Charles Darwin is himself an instance of the hereditary transmission of a propensity for daring theories.
Ever yours affectionately, C. J. F. Bunbury.
April 24th, 1882. The news of Charles Darwin's death startled us on the 22nd. It is a great loss to science as well as to his many friends. Old as he was (just eight days younger than I) he had so long been indefatigable in his pursuits, and had so lately given public evidence of his unabated mental activity and clearness of faculties, that one could not help expecting still more from him; and at the first moment it seemed strange (though in reality perfectly natural) that such a fount of knowledge should be suddenly cut off. He was decidedly the greatest naturalist of our time and country; perhaps of our time without the limitation of country. What is most remarkable, he was not only transcendently great in the two departments (zoology and geology) to which he chiefly devoted himself, but he threw new and most important light on some branches of botany, particularly on the physiology of plants.
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