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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   [1 May 1847]1

Down Farnborough Kent.


My dear Hooker

I send the accompanying pamphlet2 (which may be left anytime at Athenæum or Geolog Soc.) for the chance of your not having seen it & your liking to do so.— The Geological reasoning appears to me quite sound, except touching the old shallow seas. I am delighted to hear that Brongiart thought Sigillaria aquatic3 & that Binney considers coal a sort of submarine peat. I wd. bet 5 to 1 that in 20 years this will be generally admitted; and I do not care for whatever the Botanical difficulties or impossibilities may be. If I could but persuade myself that Sigillaria & Co. had a good range of depth, ie cd live from 5 to 100 fathoms under water, all difficulties of nearly all kinds would be removed.—(for the simple fact of muddy ordinarily shallow sea implies proximity of land.) (NB I am chuckling to think how you are sneering all this time.) It is not much of a difficulty there not being shells with the coal, considering how unfavourable deep mud is for most Mollusca: & that shells wd probably decay from the humic acid, as seems to take place in peat & in the black moulds (as Lyell tells me) of the Missisippi.— so coal question settled. Q.E.D— sneer away.—

Many thanks for your welcome note from Cambridge & I am glad you like my alma mater, which I despise heartily as a place of education, but love from many most pleasant recollections; I am delighted to think there is any chance of Henslow & you coming here; you did very right to urge him here.— I hope much to be at Oxford, but my poor wife will be otherwise engaged4 & that is my only cause of doubt of being able to attend.

Thanks for your offer of the Phytologist; I shall be very much obliged for it, for I do not suppose I shd be able to borrow it from any other quarter: I will not be set up too much by your praise, but I do not believe I ever lost a book or forgot to return it during a long lapse of time. Your Webb5 is well wrapped up & with your name in large letters, outside.—

My new microscope6 is come home (a “splendid plaything”, as old R. Brown7 called it) & I am delighted with it; it really is a splendid plaything. I have been in London for three days & saw many of our friends. I was extremely sorry to hear a not very good account of Sir William.

Farewell my dear Hooker & be a good boy & make Sigillaria a submarine sea-weed— pray give my compliments to Mr Berkeley—8 Ever yours. C. Darwin


The date is based on the relationship of this letter to letter to J. D. Hooker, [6 May 1847], and from CD’s reference to acquiring a new microscope (see n. 6, below).
Binney 1847. Edward William Binney argued for the marine deposition of coal during the Carboniferous period. CD’s copy of the pamphlet, later published in the Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester 8 (1848), is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL and is lightly annotated.
Adolphe Théodore Brongniart’s paper, ‘Observations sur la structure intérieure du Sigillaria elegans comparée a celle des Lepidodendron et des Stigmaria et a celle des végétaux vivants’ (Brongniart 1839), is referred to in Binney 1847 and also in J. D. Hooker 1848a and 1848b. Binney confirmed Brongniart’s opinion that Sigillaria was an aquatic plant, against which passage CD commented ‘Hurrah!’ (CD’s copy of Binney 1847, p. 46). For Hooker’s views, however, see letter to J. D. Hooker, [6 May 1847], and J. D. Hooker 1848a, 1848b, 1848c.
The British Association met in Oxford during the last week of June. Emma Darwin gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, on 8 July.
A volume of Webb and Berthelot, Histoire naturelle des Îles Canaries (1836–50). CD had borrowed this work in 1846, see Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [4 June 1845]. His reading notebook for that year has an entry on 30 January: ‘Webb & Berthelot Geograph Bot of Canary isld s. (my notes with Hookers copy)’ (DAR 119; Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV).
See letter to W. B. Carpenter, [January? 1847]. An entry in CD’s Account Book (Down House MS) reads: ‘April 29t h Smith & Beck microscope (cheque) £34 s.’ The amount of the cheque suggests that this was a compound microscope, which CD wanted for his work on Cirripedia (Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [December 1846]) and which was more expensive than a single-lens instrument.
Robert Brown, famous for his microscopical and botanical researches. Brown had recommended the make of microscope that CD used during the Beagle voyage.
After studying a collection of coal plants at Cambridge, Hooker visited Miles Joseph Berkeley, an expert on cryptogams (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 220 n.). Berkeley had described some of the fungi collected by CD during the Beagle voyage (Berkeley 1842 and 1845).


Delighted that Brongniart thinks Sigillaria aquatic, and that E. W. Binney thinks coal is a sort of submarine peat. Thinks coal-plants will prove to be aquatic, though JDH will sneer at this.

Has acquired a new microscope.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 89
Physical description
4pp & C

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1085,” accessed on 25 March 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4