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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hugh Falconer   8 January [1863]1

21 Park Crescent N.W.

8th. Jany.

My Dear Darwin,

I am charmed with the heartiness of your indignation with ‘Dirty Dick’—and your approval of the dose which I have administered to him.2 It is after all but part of the indictment—and I have let him off easy this time. But it is really apalling to see such disregard of fact—and contempt of the consequences of being shown up—in a man of Science.3 He has now got hold of a silly empty-headed young man—Carter Blake4—to work upon—for his dirty work—and he will be worse than ever. But we must drop him—or my note will be spoilt.

Many thanks for all the kind things you have been pleased to say about the Elephant paper.5 Is it not an odd thing—that there should not have been found a single Edentate—big or little either in this Pliocene or miocene Fauna of Niobrara and Nebraska;6 and fancy a Rhinoceros, said to be indistinguishable nearly from the Indian Unicorn being found, with an Indianoid Elephant & Mastodon, in the Niobrara Pliocene! the Mastodon is described by Leidy as being exactly like M. Sivalensis!7

I am very sorry to hear of the aggravated form of this Eczema and of the facility with which you are knocked up.8 But the change of a day or two to London might be useful, in interrupting the established routine of your sufferings. If you do not come up, I must run down for a day to see you.9

Your ‘dimorphic’ observations are of surpassing interest—and great importance.10 You will really inaugurate a new era of observation, in Botany. Instead of fiddling about the varieties or species of Rubus & Rosa &c—the Country Botanists—an honest & intelligent class—will find, that there is a new avenue of observation opened to them, which will yield them a real reward—and at the same time advance Science. What you mention to me, of your present puzzle, is of great interest—but I am sorry to say that I cannot contribute a fact to you, in reference to what you tell me of your observation on the Melastomas.11 When the mind has been unstrung for 8 or 10 years, from Botanical observations many facts—pass out of recollection12

With kindest regards | My Dear Darwin | Yours very Sinly | H Falconer


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Hugh Falconer, 5 [and 6] January [1863].
In the letter to Hugh Falconer, 5 [and 6] January [1863], CD condemned Richard Owen for his ‘lies and mean conduct’ over the priority dispute regarding Elephas columbi (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 January [1863] and n. 1). He also commended Falconer’s ‘unruffled’ response in Falconer 1863a, pp. 46–9.
Falconer had named the specimen Elephas columbi, and argued that Owen’s attribution of the name E. texianus disregarded the evidence that the fossil species had ranged from Georgia, in the southern United States, to Mexico. Falconer also felt that Owen and his protégé, Charles Carter Blake, had inadequately and imperfectly described the dental characteristics of the specimen (see Falconer 1863a, p. 49). See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 January [1863] and nn. 1–10.
Blake, a young colleague of Owen’s, was involved in the dispute between Owen and Falconer regarding Elephas columbi (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 January [1863] and n. 1). See also Blake 1862.
See letter to Hugh Falconer, 5 [and 6] January [1863]; the reference is to Falconer 1863a.
Falconer contrasts the absence of examples of the order Edentata (sloths, anteaters, armadillos) in the older Pliocene and the Miocene of the Niobrara and Nebraska deposits, with the abundance of large Edentata in younger Pliocene fauna of both North and South America. In his letter to Hugh Falconer of 5 [and 6] January [1863], CD had been ‘particularly struck’ by Falconer’s remarks in his elephant paper (Falconer 1863a, pp. 60–3) on the ancient mammalian fauna of North America, and their implications for CD’s theory of trans-tropical migration. See n. 7, below.
Falconer refers to Leidy 1858, pp. 28–9. Joseph Leidy, a North American palaeontologist, described two lower jaws from the Niobrara deposits that resembled the existing Indian rhinoceros; the one-horned rhinoceros of Asia had previously been described as a ‘unicorn’ (see, for example, W. Haughton 1862, p. 365). Leidy wrote that the tooth of the new species of mastodon from the Niobrara resembled ‘the corresponding one of M. angustidens, of Europe, or of M. sivalensis, of the Sivalic Hills, of India’ (Leidy 1858, p. 28). See also Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (1858): 10. Leidy 1858 was summarised in the January 1863 number of Annals and Magazine of Natural History (1863): 148–50; CD’s note on this summary is in DAR 205.9: 367.
On 4 February 1863, CD went to London for ten days (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)).
In his letter to Falconer of 5 [and 6] January [1863], CD mentioned that he had sent his paper on dimorphism in Linum (‘Two forms in species of Linum) to the Linnean Society; the paper was read before the society on 5 February 1863 and published in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1863): 69–83. Falconer also refers to CD’s paper ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, which was published in March 1862.
CD was investigating the occurrence of two different sets of stamens in flowers of Melastomataceae, and suspected that members of this family might exhibit a novel form of dimorphism (see letter to Hugh Falconer, 5 [and 6] January [1863] and n. 22).
Falconer had been superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden and professor of botany at the Calcutta Medical College from 1848 to 1855 (DNB).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Haughton, W. 1862. On the unicorn of the ancients. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 10: 363–70.

Leidy, Joseph. 1858. Notice of remains of extinct Vertebrata, from the valley of the Niobrara River, collected during the exploring expedition of 1857, in Nebraska, under the command of Lieut. G. K. Warren, US Top. Eng., by Dr F. V. Hayden, geologist to the expedition. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 10: 20–9. [Vols. 10,11]

‘Two forms in species of Linum’: On the existence of two forms, and on their reciprocal sexual relation, in several species of the genus Linum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 5 February 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 69–83. [Collected papers 2: 93–105.]


Comments on his elephant paper

and CD’s observations on dimorphism in Melastomataceae.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hugh Falconer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Park Crescent, 21
Source of text
DAR 164: 11
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3908,” accessed on 5 July 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11