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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   7 March [1855]

Down Farnborough Kent

March 7th.

My dear Hooker

Your letters always give me great pleasure, but I am very sorry that you have had such extra bother about Godron1 & that you have had to write two notes to me & two to Lindley: it is too bad in me, though the unintentional cause of all this trouble.—

I am delighted that you are meditating on a general sketch of Bot. Geograph. It is, I really think, a work worthy of you. I have just been studying all Johnston’s Physical Atlas:2 the Bot. Part (& indeed nearly all) strikes me in my ignorance as very unsatisfactory,3 & yet I must confess I have learnt a good deal, except from the Bot. part. It strikes me that Latitude is the curse of Distribution, overruling every other idea.— Could you colour a map of world with a few primary tints & shade off: or could you give a graphical representation by concentric lines crossing where floras intermingle. The foci of peculiarities, I shd. think could be thus shown, but I presume it wd. be a very difficult job.— What an interesting case about the Australian Alps. There is to me an inexplicable charm about Alpine floras & faunas, like insular little worlds.—

Whether I shall go on tabulating proportions of colonists will depend on how far I find the subject of interest & importance to me: of course it is superfluous in me to say, that at anytime you can take the subject wholly to yourself; but if I find the case seems to me for my own work interesting, I will most gladly & gratefully ask your assistance; for without it, I well know any result wd. be of the crudest nature: anyhow I think I will before long tabulate out of A. Gray the N. American Naturalised species.—4

Can you spare me A. Gray & Flora Cestrica,5 & anytime leave it at Athenæum??—

At present I go from subject in the most jolly way.

Very many thanks about Bennett; I will keep profoundly quiet, like a well trained rogue.—6

I honour all your zeal about the new Journal, & heartily hope it success. I shd. be very glad to contribute anything, but I do not know how it is, that I never have short communications of any kind.—

You ask about Huxley: he has sent me his memoir,7 thanks to you for it. I really do not know enough of outward form & anatomy of the Mollusca to appreciate the paper; & to the ignorant I rather doubt whether the views are put in a striking point of view.—

I have just finished working well at Wollaston’s Insecta Mad:8 it is an admirable work. There is a very curious point in the astounding proportion of Coleoptera that are apterous; & I think I have grasped the reason, viz that powers of flight wd be injurious to insects inhabiting a confined locality & expose them to be blown to the sea; to test this, I find that the insects inhabiting the Dezerta Grande, a quite small islet, would be still more exposed to this danger, & here the proportion of apterous insects is even considerably greater than on Madeira proper.—

Wollaston speaks of Madeira & the other archipelagoes as being “sure & certain witnesses of Forbes old continent,” & of course the Entomological world implicitly follows this view. But to my eyes it wd be difficult to imagine facts more opposed to such a view. It is really disgusting & humiliating to see directly opposite conclusions drawn from the same facts.— I have had some correspondence with W. on this & other subjects, & I find he coolly assumes (1) that formerly insects possessed greater migratory powers than now (2) that the old land was specially rich in centres of creation (3) that the uniting land was destroyed before the special creations had time to diffuse, & (4) that the land was broken down before certain families & genera had time to reach from Europe or Africa the points of land in question.— Are not these a jolly lot of assumptions? & yet I shall see for the next dozen or score of years Wollaston quoted as proving the former existence of poor Forbes’ Atlantis.—

I hope I have not wearied you, but I thought you wd. like to hear about this Book, which strikes me as excellent in its facts; & the Author a most nice & modest man.—

Most truly your’s | C. Darwin


A. K. Johnston ed. 1856 (see letter to G. R. Waterhouse, 4 March [1855]).
Arthur Henfrey contributed to the text and map ‘On the geographical distribution of plants yielding food’ (A. K. Johnston ed. 1856, plate 24) and collaborated with Alexander Keith Johnston on the ‘Map of geographical distribution of indigenous vegetation’, which also contains a ‘Map of Schouw’s phyto-geographic regions’.
A. Gray 1848.
Darlington 1837, a second edition of William Darlington’s account of the native and naturalised plants growing in the vicinity of West Chester, Pennsylvania. The first edition did not have the title as given by CD in the letter.
Wollaston 1854. See letter from T. V. Wollaston, 2 March [1855].


Latitude overrules everything in distribution. Alpine distributions are like insular. Tabulating proportions.

T. V. Wollaston’s Madeira insects: many flightless, thus not blown to sea. TVW’s insects do not confirm Forbes’s Atlantis.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 126
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1643,” accessed on 25 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5