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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   14 [July 1855]

Down Farnborough Kent


My dear Hooker

Please read enclosed & if you think Lindley would like (that being my object) it, post it; but if not, or too trifling, I beg you to tear it up.—1

Many thanks for naming the Festuca; I daresay some of my grasses are wrongly named; & though I doubt whether I shall ever profit from my work, it has been a very great amusement, & since writing I have found 3 noble new kinds.—

What a wonderful fact you tell me about S. Australia: how utterly inexplicable.— Henslow used in old Cambridge days urge the importance of preoccupation: what can this mean, in annuals or biennials but an abundance of seed? I have a great mind to sow some untouched land with seeds of the kinds already growing there & see whether this by itself will increase their numbers.— Your splendid Thistle fact will of course, I hope, appear in detail in Indian Flora.— What a sentence that was in your note, about my Festuca agreeing as ill with F. pratensis, as plants generally do with their descriptions. How this shows the variation of species!—

I have begun to sow seeds to break their constitutions (if I can) & have been reading Hunts Book on light,2 & he is going to write to me with suggestions & tell me where I can get coloured glass. Therefore it is really impant to me if you will let me hear soon what Daubeny has to say against him;3 after reading Lawson’s letter4 the evidence seems first rate on blue glass accelerating germination. How do you like green glass of Hot-house?—5

One more request (do not hate me) will you read (& carefully return) the list sent me by H. C. Watson6 (who has been most kind, & whom I am going to visit!) & tell me whether you think Lawson or any seedsman would be at all likely to be able to supply me with any of of those not scored with red. (Those scored with red Henslow through his children is going to get me & no others grow wild about here.). Have you not at Kew a British Garden: could you spare me any which I could not buy; ie if you think the experiment deserving of so much public (now you are a public servant) encouragement: when I have tried these, I shall do no more salting.—

I shd. like to talk over the list of seeds7 (by the way you did not send me the seeds themselves, except of Saxifraga, & you wrongly accused Kew, when you said in an old note that my bad germinating seeds were due to Kew)8 which you sent me to try in salt-water. Most truly did my wife say the other day “what a pleasure it would be to you, if you did but live within reach of Dr. Hooker.”

I have lately been at work, compiling from all works on Hybridism; & most interesting work (though I know you despise it) I have found it; the difficulty has wonderfully enhanced my respect for Carpenter et id genus omne.—9 I have just broken ground myself in attempting to hybridise;10 I want seed of the wild Dianthus caryophyllus; can you aid me in this?

Ever yours most truly | C. Darwin

Let us have one line to say whether a little girl or boy is added to the world.—11


The enclosure was probably the letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 21 July 1855], about nectar-secreting organs of plants, published 21 July. John Lindley was the editor of the Gardeners’ Chronicle.
R. Hunt 1854. CD’s copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The few annotations it contains relate to Robert Hunt’s chapter on ‘Researches on the influence of the solar rays on the growth of plants’, pp. 215–47.
Charles Giles Bridle Daubeny was professor of chemistry at Oxford University, 1822–55. R. Hunt 1854, pp. 216–17, alluded to Daubeny’s memoir on the action of light on plants (Daubeny 1836) as describing some of the experimental difficulties involved in working with coloured glasses. Daubeny was quoted as stating that the effect of light on plants corresponds with its illuminating, rather than its chemical and ‘caloric’, influences, a point of view which was contradicted by Hunt’s comparative experiments.
A letter from Charles Lawson, the horticulturist, to Robert Hunt on the use of blue glass in accelerating the germination of seeds was printed in the appendix of R. Hunt 1854, pp. 375–6. Charles Lawson was the son of Peter Lawson, the founder and director of the firm of seedsmen, Messrs. Lawson and Sons, of Edinburgh.
CD refers to R. Hunt 1854, p. 239, which describes Hunt’s commission to select an appropriate coloured glass for glazing the palm house in Kew Gardens. The object was to obtain a glass that would prevent scorching; Hunt reported that, five years after installing green glass, no such cases had as yet been detected (p. 239 and Appendix, pp. 376–84).
The list of European species that were least likely to have been introduced into the Azores is in DAR 205.4 (Letters) and was enclosed with the letter from H. C. Watson, 11 July [1855]. At the top, CD wrote: ‘Please return this to me. C. Darwin’. See also letter to J. S. Henslow, 2 July [1855], n. 3.
Hooker had sent CD a list of plants selected especially for CD’s seed-soaking experiments (see letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 21 May [1855]).
The note has not been found but was probably in the missing portion of letter from J. D. Hooker, [6–9 June 1855], a response to CD’s complaints about his seed-soaking experiments (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 June [1855]).
William Benjamin Carpenter, who had discussed hybridity, monsters, and the origin of variation in Carpenter 1854, pp. 632–40. CD recorded that he finished reading this work on 29 May 1855 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 12). CD’s copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The section on hybridism is extensively scored. Carpenter’s experiments were also discussed in a paper on plant hybridisation by Thomas Bell Salter (Salter 1852), which was fresh in CD’s memory (see letter from T. B. Salter, 25 [June 1855]).
See letter to J. S. Henslow, 11 July [1855], in which CD requested Dianthus seeds for a hybridising experiment.


CD experiments: sowing seeds in fields; "breaking" seeds’ constitution with coloured light; plant hybridisation. Compiling works on hybridism.

Respect for W. B. Carpenter.

Note on "nectar secreting" to Gardeners’ Chronicle [Collected papers 1: 258–9].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 141
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1717,” accessed on 24 March 2019,

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