Hugh Dower

Patrick Matthew

Welcome to the page that provides links to Hugh Dower's published research on Charles Darwin and more besides.

Dower's website can be found here. And I particularly recommend visitors read his well researched online essays here.


Hugh Dower kindly sent me an unpublished appendix he wrote on Darwin's dishonesty about one of his influencers. Building on the work of my influencers - particularly Dempster and Eiseley - my own research reveals several of Darwin's lies about Matthew. The fact Dower originally unearthed additional proof of Darwin's dishonesty about his prior-influencers provides us with yet more verifiable evidence that Darwin simply cannot be afforded the benefit of any doubt on the issue of his dishonesty about those whose work he relied upon in his replication of Matthew's breakthrough. Dower's original research is extremely important in that regard, and in others besides.


The following text is authored by Hugh Dower (Spring 2009), who wrote it to provide independently verifiable evidence for the claim made in his online essay "Darwin's Guilty Secret" that Darwin told an unequivocal lie about von Buch. The endnote numbers in the text reproduced below correspond with Dower’s currently unpublished larger document, and so should be disregarded here.


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DOWER'S APPENDIX


In 1815, a German geologist called Leopold von Buch visited the Canary Islands, causing him to formulate his "crater of elevation hypothesis”. He published his findings in 1825 in a German book whose English title would be “Physical Description of the Canary Isles”, in which he also expounded the view that species in geographical isolation changed to the point of becoming different species. In the first Volume of Charles Lyell’s hugely influential book, “Principles of Geology”, published in 1830, Lyell refutes von Buch’s hypothesis and cites his 1825 book by its German title. Despite their being geological rivals, and opponents over geological theories, Lyell never expressed anything but admiration for von Buch’s work, and liking for him as a person. The second Volume of Lyell’s book also contained an extensive critique of Lamarck’s evolution theory.


Whilst on the “Voyage of the Beagle”, the young Charles Darwin read both volumes of “Principles of Geology” and became an exponent of Lyell’s ‘uniformitarian’ views. After his return to England in 1836, he not only became a friend of Lyell’s, but also, possibly on Lyell’s recommendation, read von Buch’s book on the Canaries, which had been translated into French in 1836. As recorded in his notebook of 1837 (Notebook B, p.156), what Darwin particularly picked up on was the issue of species transition, in admiring tones:


Von Buch. — Canary Islands, French Edit. Flora of Islds very poor. (p. 145) 25 plants................... I can understand in one small island species would not be manufactured. Does it not present analogy to what takes place from time? Von Buch distinctly states that permanent varieties become species p. 147, p. 150, not being crossed with others. Compares it to languages. But how do plants cross? — — admirable discussion. [71]


However, by August 1844, Darwin expressed opposition to von Buch’s geological views in his correspondence with Leonard Horner:


With respect to Craters of Elevation, I had no sooner printed off the few pages on that subject, than I wished the whole erased.— I utterly disbelieve in Von Buch & de Beaumonts views……. [72]


In October 1845, Darwin expressed in a letter to Lyell his dismay over the known friendship between Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist whom Darwin greatly admired, and von Buch:


— I grieve to find Humboldt an adorer of Von Buch…. [73]


In November 1846, Darwin wrote to another correspondent, Daniel Sharpe:


I might perhaps have been some degree prejudiced by Von Buch's remarks, for whom in those days I had a somewhat greater deference than I now have. [74]


In November 1849, in a letter to Lyell, Darwin says:


Albemarle Isld instead of being a Crater of Elevation as Von Buch foolishly guessed is formed…. [75]


In 1853, von Buch died, and in January 1854, Darwin was invited by Edward Sabine of the Royal Society to write an Obituary for him. This is Darwin’s reply:


My dear Sir


I must consider the request you make me as a very high compliment, but several reasons lead me to wish to decline it. In the first place (& this alone would suffice) I should not do it at all well, for I have no particular taste for criticism or for attempting biography; & I should not, consequently, do it with gusto. Moreover I could not conscientiously rank Von Buch so high as the world at large does, though certainly some of his descriptions are models in that line; & this would make the task, even if easy in itself, very difficult for me, & disagreeable to anyone holding my opinions.— I am, also, a slow worker, & have heaps of my own half-worked out materials; & I think I should do better by plodding on in my own line, than by attempting a quite new field of literature & the History of a Branch of Science.—I fear I must have wearied you with the superfluity of my reasons for not most willingly accepting that which in the eyes of many, I do not doubt, would be considered as a high priviledge.


Pray forgive me & believe me | Your's very sincerely | C. Darwin [76]


In 1859, Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was published and he came in for some criticism from naturalists for giving the impression he had thought it all up himself and for failing to acknowledge his many predecessors. Not least of his critics was the Revd. Baden Powell, father of the famous Scout and contributor to the species debate in 1855, who wrote to Darwin in January 1860. These are extracts from Darwin’s two replies:


My health was so poor, whilst I wrote the Book, that I was unwilling to add in the least to my labour; therefore I attempted no history of the subject; nor do I think that I was bound to do so. I just alluded indeed to the Vestiges & I am now heartily sorry I did so. No educated person, not even the most ignorant, could suppose that I meant to arrogate to myself the origination of the doctrine that species had not been independently created. The only novelty in my work is the attempt to explain how species become modified, & to a certain extent how the theory of descent explains certain large classes of facts; & in these respects I received no assistance from my predecessors. To the best of my belief I have acknowledged with pleasure all the chief facts & generalisations which I have borrowed. If I have taken anything from you, I assure you it has been unconsciously; but I will reread your Essay. Had I alluded to those authors who have maintained, with more or less ability, that species have not been separately created, I should have felt myself bound to have given some account of all; namely, passing over the ancients, Buffon (?) Lamarck (by the way his erroneous views were curiously anticipated by my Grandfather), Geoffry St. Hilaire & especially his son Isidore; Naudin; Keyserling; an American (name this minute forgotten); the Vestiges of Creation; I believe some Germans. Herbert Spencer; & yourself.—


The task would have been not a little difficult, & belongs rather to the Historian of Science than to me. I ought also to have alluded to chief maintainers of opposite doctrines.— I had intended in my larger book to have attempted some such history; but my own catalogue frightens me. I will, however, consult some scientific friends & be guided by their advice.


Second letter:


I have just bethought me of a Preface which I wrote to my larger work, before I broke down & was persuaded to write the now published Abstract. In this Preface I find following passage, which on my honour I had as completely forgotten as if I had never written it. “The “Philosophy of Creation” has lately been treated in an admirable manner by the Revd. Baden Powell in his Essay &c &c 1855. Nothing can be more striking than the manner in which he shows that the introduction of new species is ‘a regular not a casual phenomenon’, or as Sir John Herschel expresses it ‘a natural in contradistinction to a miraculous process’.” [77]


By February 9, Darwin had written, re-written or retrieved that Preface and sent it to his American publisher. It contained a brief sketch of all the evolutionary predecessors named in the letter to Baden Powell, and a few more, but not von Buch. That Preface was included in both the American and German 1860 editions of “The Origin of Species”. He hadn’t forgotten about von Buch though, since, in July, he included the following in a letter to S.P.Woodward:


I entirely & absolutely disagree with Von Buch's elevation-crater-theory—indeed I think it proved false. [78]


In December 1860, Darwin received a letter from Alfred Wallace, seemingly drawing to his attention the following:


From “Von Buch on the Flora of the Canaries”. “On continents the individuals of one kind of plant disperse themselves very far, and by the difference of stations of nourishment & of soil produce varieties which at such a distance not being crossed by other varieties and so brought back to the primitive type, become at length permanent and distinct species. Then if by chance in other directions they meet with an other variety equally changed in its march, the two are become very distinct species and are no longer susceptible of intermixture.” [79]


In April 1861, the expanded Preface was included in the 3rd English edition of “The Origin of Species” under the title of “An Historical Sketch”, but it still didn’t include von Buch. However, the 4th English edition, in 1866, did include the following:


The celebrated geologist and naturalist, Von Buch, in his excellent ‘Description Physique des Isles Canaries’ (1836, p. 147), clearly expresses his belief that varieties slowly become changed into permanent species, which are no longer capable of intercrossing. [80]


That passage was included in the Historical Sketch in all subsequent editions. There is no indication in the correspondence that anyone had alerted him to the previous omission. Charles Lyell died in 1875. In August 1881, the year before his own death, Darwin included the following passage in a letter to his friend, Joseph Hooker:


I cannot aid you much, or at all. I should think that no one could have thought on the modification of species without thinking of representative species. But I feel sure that no discussion of any importance had been published on this subject before the "Origin," for if I had known of it I should assuredly have alluded to it in the "Origin," as I wished to gain support from all quarters. I did not then know of Von Buch's view (alluded to in my Historical Introduction in all the later editions). Von Buch published his "Isles Canaries" in 1836, and he here briefly argues that plants spread over a continent and vary, and the varieties in time come to be species. He also argues that closely allied species have been thus formed in the SEPARATE valleys of the Canary Islands, but not on the upper and open parts. I could lend you Von Buch's book, if you like. I have just consulted the passage.

.............

To return to geographical distribution: As far as I know, no one ever discussed the meaning of the relation between representative species before I did, and, as I suppose, Wallace did in his paper before the Linnean Society. Von Buch's is the nearest approach to such discussion known to me. [81]


The only other person I am aware of (Malcolm Kottler, 1977) who has picked up on this ‘discrepancy’ between the 1837 notebook and the 1881 letter to Hooker puts it down to amnesia. I find that totally implausible. According to his friends, Darwin had a prodigious memory, of which he himself was proud, though that would have been unknown to Baden Powell. The extracts above show that there was no prolonged period in which Darwin could have forgotten about von Buch. The only possible memory lapse is that, in 1881, he might have forgotten that he had left evidence in his 1837 notebook of having read von Buch’s book.


One possible explanation lies in the issue of what caused Darwin to omit von Buch from the 1861 Historical Sketch and then include him in the 1866 one. With regard to the omission, his first letter to Baden Powell exemplifies one of Darwin’s paramount concerns – that he should not be thought to have been influenced by anyone. However, the evidence shows that he was primed by his grandfather’s writings, made very aware of Lamarckian theory by Robert Grant at Edinburgh, and reminded of Lamarckian theory by Lyell’s “Principles of Geology” at a very opportune time – while he was on the Voyage of the Beagle. When he knew he couldn’t get away with ignoring his predecessors, his first Preface and subsequent Historical Sketch tried to downplay the roles of people he couldn’t avoid mentioning (his grandfather, Lamarck, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Grant) and overdo the people he couldn’t have been expected to have known about (Wells, Matthew), whilst most of the rest came too late to have been potentially influential. Von Buch didn’t fall into any of those categories, so he didn’t want to alert anyone to his existence.


About Robert Grant – the man who had certainly sown the seeds of transformism in his mind, even though they would not sprout for ten years – Darwin had only this to say in the Historical Sketch:


In 1826, Professor Grant, in the concluding paragraph in his well-known paper (Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, vol. xiv. p. 283) on the Spongilla, clearly declares his belief that species are descended from other species, and that they become improved in the course of modification. This same view was given in his 55th Lecture, published in the 'Lancet' in 1834. [14]


That is unfair and deceptive, since it doesn’t even indicate that Darwin knew about Grant, let alone that he knew him personally, in 1826. He wouldn’t acknowledge that until his Autobiography, published posthumously in 1887, in which he also repeated a false claim he had made in the 6th Edition of “The Origin of Species”:


I formerly spoke to very many naturalists on the subject of evolution, and never once met with any sympathetic agreement. [42]


With regard to von Buch’s inclusion in the 1866 Historical Sketch, it is possible Darwin did it of his own volition, but, a more likely reason, in view of his obvious distaste for von Buch, is that he was prompted to do so through personal contact. If so, the two most likely people are Wallace or Lyell. Wallace regarded himself as Darwin’s inferior, so he would have been unlikely to have criticised Darwin for such an omission. Besides, if Wallace’s knowledge of von Buch had been a factor, Darwin would surely have included von Buch in the 1861 edition. Lyell was the person to whom Darwin turned for moral guidance, whenever he was faced with a dilemma, and, as the older man, Lyell would have had no compunction about advising Darwin on matters of integrity. Indeed, the correspondence indicates that Lyell was by no means averse to giving advice and criticism. Therefore, I believe that it was probably Lyell who prompted the reluctant Darwin into including von Buch in the 1866 edition, and it was only after Lyell’s death that Darwin felt safe to disavow von Buch.


Though, in itself, this incident may be regarded as trivial, the duplicity on Darwin’s part does add weight to the arguments employed by many people that Darwin was ruthless when it came to establishing his precedence in evolution theory – the survival of the fittest – and that he was guilty of shabby treatment of several predecessors and influences, including Lamarck, Grant, Matthew and Edward Blyth. If the supporters of Patrick Matthew are to be believed in their most extreme claim – that Darwin did know by 1842 about Matthew’s 1831 theory of evolution through a ‘natural process of selection’ – then Darwin was not just devious but guilty of gross moral turpitude (See Appendix III).


                                                                                                 By Hugh Dower (2009)