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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   3 May [1859]

Down Bromley Kent

May 3d

My dear Hooker

Thanks about N. Zealand plants & the Nelumbium & I will put in “probably”.—1

The pamphlet shall be returned in day or two.—2

With respect to reversions; I have been raking up vague recollections of vague facts; & the impression on my mind is rather more in favour of reversions, than it was when you were here.—3 In my abstract I give only a paragraph on the general case of reversions, though I enter on detail on some cases of reversions of special characters.—4

I have not as yet put all my facts on this subject in mass, so can come to no definite conclusion. But as single characters may revert, I must say that I see no improbability in several reverting. As, I do not believe any well founded experiment or facts are known, each must form his opinion from vague generalities.— I think you confound two rather distinct considerations: a variation arises from any cause, & reversion is not opposed to this, but solely to its inheritance.5 Not but what I believe, what we must call perhaps a dozen distinct laws are all struggling against each other in every variation which ever arises.—

To give my impression, if I were forced to bet, whether or not, after a 100 generations of growth in a poor sandy soil, a cauliflower & red-cabbage would or would not revert to same form, I must say I would rather stake my money that they would.— But in such a case the conditions of life are changed (& here comes question of direct influence of conditions.), & there is to be no selection; the comparatively sudden effects of man’s selection are left to the free play of reversion.6 In short I darenot to come to any conclusion without comparing all facts, which I have collected, & I do not think there are many.

Please do not say to anyone that I thought my Book on species would be fairly popular & have a fairly remunerative sale (which was the height of my ambition) for if it prove a dead failure, it would make me the more ridiculous.—

I enclose a criticism,—. a taste of the future.—

I have had invite to dinner from Gassiot., & have sent to say I wd. subscribe £100, & gave my opinion on some points, which we talked over.—7

Ever yours | C. Darwin

[Enclosure 1]

Revd S. Haughton Address to Geolog. Soc. Dublin8

“This speculation of Mess. Darwin & Wallace would not be worthy of notice, were it not for the weight of authority of names (ie Lyell’s & yours)9 under whose auspices it has been brought forward. If it means what it says, it is a truism; if it means anything more, it is contrary to fact.”—

Q. E. D.—

[Enclosure 2]

Since writing the enclosed note, I have thought I would expand a little on the subject of Reversion for my Abstract; & I send it uncorrected, as you may possibly like to see what I say. Please return it soon; but I am not quite sure whether or not I shall insert it. I have already separately touched on most of the points.—

[Enclosure 3]

P.S. 2d. | I return by this Post A. Gray, which I have just read.—10 I see he adopts the notion I sent him, of the homogeniety of the flora on the circumpolar land before the Glacial period, when the climate was warmer, & there was an open highway—11 What rubbish, Agassiz talks.—12


Hooker apparently had second thoughts about his identification of the waterlily seeds found in a heron’s stomach by John James Audubon (see letters to J. D. Hooker, 24 December [1858] and 31 December [1858]). The passage in Origin, p. 387, reads: ‘Audubon states that he found the seeds of the great southern water-lily (probably, according to Dr. Hooker, the Nelumbium luteum) in a heron’s stomach’.
See the final postscript and n. 10, below.
Hooker had visited Down on 21 April 1859 (Emma Darwin’s diary). For Hooker’s views on the reversion of cultivated plants, see Hooker 1859, pp. viii–ix.
The paragraph on ‘general case of reversions’ is given in Origin, pp. 14–15. CD also discussed specific examples of reversion in pigeons and horses (Origin, pp. 159–67).
See letters to J. D. Hooker, 7 April [1859] and 12 [April 1859]. Hooker considered that the manifestation of variability somehow precluded the possibility of reversion. In his essay (Hooker 1859, pp. vii–viii n.), he discussed the point in detail, criticising Alfred Russel Wallace’s argument in Darwin and Wallace 1858 that domesticated organisms easily revert to the wild type whereas wild organisms must always ‘depart more and more widely from the original type’ (Hooker 1859,p. viii n.).
The same example was used by CD in Origin, p. 15. It probably originated in Hooker’s discussion of the reversion of cabbages in Hooker 1859, p. ix.
John Peter Gassiot had been appointed the convenor of a sub-committee of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society to investigate the possibility of establishing a scientific relief fund and to draft a proposal to put before the Royal Society’s council (Philosophical Club minutes, Royal Society). CD was a member of the sub-committee. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 11 April [1859].
The remarks were made by Samuel Haughton, president of the Geological Society of Dublin, at the anniversary meeting of the society on 9 February 1859 and reported in the Journal of the Geological Society of Dublin 8 (1857–60): 152. CD noted in Autobiography, p. 122, that this was the first notice of Darwin and Wallace 1858. Haughton later published a critical review of Origin ([Haughton] 1860).
The phrase ‘(ie Lyell’s & yours)’ was added by CD in square brackets.
The reference is to the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 4 (1857–60): 131–5, which reported Asa Gray’s remarks on the relationship of the flora of Japan to that of the United States. Gray stated that the pattern of distribution seemed ‘far more conformable to the hypothesis of a single local origin for each species at an early time’ than with the supposition of the multiple creation of species, and he further proposed explaining the phenomena by ‘the idea of the descent of all similar or conspecific individuals from a common stock’ (ibid., p. 132). Gray’s full results were later published in A. Gray 1859.
See the correspondence between CD and Gray in Correspondence vol. 6, and also letter to Asa Gray, 11 August [1858].
Louis Agassiz was present at the meeting at which Gray presented his results (see n. 10, above). Agassiz defended his own view of the multiple creation of species, accounting for the relationship of the flora not by extensive migrations or climatic changes but ‘as a primitive adaptation of organic types to similar corresponding physical features’ that have remained unchanged (Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 4 (1857–60): 133–4).


CD favours occurrence of reversions, although lack of experiments forces one to vague opinions. Reversions oppose only the inheritance not the occurrence of variation. Discusses relation of reversion, direct influence of conditions, and selection.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 13
Physical description
9pp, encl 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2457,” accessed on 29 June 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7