Fertilisation of Orchids - Reception

Reception

Botanists responded favourably to the book immediately on its publication. Hooker told Darwin that the book showed him to be "out of sight the best Physiological observer & experimenter that Botany ever saw", and was glad to note that two leading traditional botanists had accepted the concept of evolution; "Bentham & Oliver are quite struck up in a heap with your book & delighted beyond expression". Daniel Oliver thought it "very extraordinary", and even Darwin's old beetle-hunting rival Charles Babington, by then professor of botany at the University of Cambridge and inclined to oppose natural selection, called it "exceedingly interesting and valuable ... highly satisfactory in all respects. The results are most curious and the skill shown in discovering them equally so." George Bentham praised its value in opening "a new field for observing the wonderful provisions of Nature ... a new and unexpected track to guide us in the explanation of phenomena which had before that appeared so irreconcilable with the ordinary prevision and method shown in the organised world."

The book's success in botanical circles was enhanced following Bentham's public endorsement. In his presidential address to the Linnean Society on 24 May 1862, Bentham praised the book as exemplifying the biological method, and said that it had nearly overcome his opposition to the Origin. In his address in 1863 he stated that "Mr Darwin has shown how changes may take place", and described it as "an unimpeachable example of a legitimate hypothesis" in compliance with John Stuart Mill's scientific method. This endorsement favourably influenced Miles Joseph Berkeley, Charles Victor Naudin, Alphonse Pyramus de Candolle, Jean Louis Quatrefages, and Charles Daubeny.

In June 1862, Darwin welcomed favourable reviews in the press and wrote to Hooker; "Well my orchis-book is a success (but I do not know whether it sells) after cursing my folly in writing it". He told his publisher, "The Botanists praise my Orchid-book to the skies", and to Asa Gray he said, "I am fairly astonished at the success of my book with botanists." Darwin's geologist friend Charles Lyell gave it enthusiastic praise: "next to the Origin, as the most valuable of all Darwin's works." However, the book attracted little attention from the general public, and in September Darwin told his cousin Fox, "Hardly any one not a botanist, except yourself, as far as I know, has cared for it." The book baffled a general public more interested in controversy over gorillas and cavemen. There were some reviews in gardening magazines, but few natural philosophers or zoologists noticed the book, and hardly any learned appraisals appeared.

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