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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   30 May [1861]

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

May 30th

My dear Hooker

I did misunderstand you about the Biography.—1 This morning I wrote my recollections & impression of character of poor dear Henslow about the year 1830.2 I liked the job & so have written 4 or 5 pages, now being copied. I do not suppose you will use all,—of course you can chop & change as much as you like. If more than a sentence is used, I shd. like to see a proof page, as I never can write decently till I see it in print. Very likely some of my remarks may appear too trifling; but I thought it best to give my thoughts as they arose for you or Jenyns to use as you think fit— You will see that I have exceeded your request; but, as I said, when I began I took pleasure in writing my impression of his admirable character.—

I send this to Kew, thinking that you will be there on Saturday. With your regular work, you will soon get, I hope, into your regular frame of mind & look at poor Henslow’s death as one of inevitable events in this life.—3

Farewell | my dear friend | Your affect | C. Darwin

I believe we shall go to Torquay about 10th, though I may be prevented by some Business affairs.—4

Your Rhod. formosus looks quite gorgeous & illuminates our whole garden.—5

A month or two ago you said you would have some discussion about Bates paper & mundane Glacial action:6 but you will have forgotten whole subject, unless you chance to have kept my letter; & for long will be too busy to discuss such matters.

We take in L. Review— Many thanks for having sent it.

P.S.7 Have you many Saxifrages at Kew? When you are a little quiet, I wish you would make a little observation for me, viz whether any & what of the most hairy species catch minute flies, & whether there is any bending of the hairs all round towards the fly.— In S. umbrosa many flies are caught, but there is no bending & I do not believe the dead flies are any profit to the plant: but I find that the glands at ends of hairs which secrete viscid matter & catch flies are much more permeable to C. of Ammonia, than the exterior walls of the cells in the bark or skin; but far less permeable than the internal walls between cell & cell of bark. You will see at once that this concerns genesis of Drosera, for we have in Saxifrage the habit of catching flies to start from & the viscid glands, & we have a considerable amount of potential power of absorption of C. of Ammonia. I think it worth investigation whether some of the more hairy Saxifrages may not profit by caught flies.8 Will you look for me?—9


Hooker’s letter has not been found. CD had thought that Hooker wanted him to write a biography of Hooker’s father-in-law, John Stevens Henslow, who died on 16 May 1861. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 24–5 May [1861].
CD’s ‘recollections’ of Henslow, consisting chiefly of his memory of Henslow during his student days at Cambridge, were published in the Memoir of the Rev. John Stevens Henslow edited by Henslow’s brother-in-law Leonard Jenyns (Jenyns ed. 1862). CD’s sketch is reprinted in Collected papers 2: 72–4, and in Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix X.
Hooker’s grief at the loss of Henslow is recounted in letters written in April and May 1861. On 23 May Hooker wrote (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 61): Henslow has left a blank in my existence never to be replaced. Quite apart from considerations matrimonial, H. had more influence over my life and conduct than any other man … More than all this, I miss his knowledge of loads of matters bearing on Botany which I never knew or took up but through him, and of loads of kindred subjects in which I have keenly interested myself, ever since I knew him.
The ‘Business affairs’ that postponed the family’s departure for Torquay related to William Erasmus Darwin’s future career. See letter to W. E. Darwin, [25 May 1861].
Bates 1861. See letter from H. W. Bates, 18 March 1861, and letters to H. W. Bates, 26 March [1861], and to J. D. Hooker, 27 [March 1861].
The postscript is written on a separate sheet of paper; although it is not clear whether it was sent with this letter, the reference in the letter to J. D. Hooker, 19 June [1861], to CD’s query about saxifrages makes this likely.
In the summer of 1860, CD had begun investigating the ability of various plants to derive nutriment from insects captured in the hairs of their leaves. Insectivorous plants, such as the sundew Drosera, provided good illustrations of very specialised adaptations. CD discussed the absorptive powers of the hairy glands of Saxifraga umbrosa in Insectivorous plants, pp. 345–8.
Hooker does not seem to have carried out the observations that CD mentions. CD later asked him again for specimens of saxifrage (see letters to J. D. Hooker, 28 September [1861] and 18 October [1861]), which Hooker eventually supplied in the spring of 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, 17 March 1862 and letter to J. D. Hooker, [18 May 1862]).


Has written recollections of Henslow [Collected papers 2: 72–4].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 102
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3168,” accessed on 24 February 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9