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Darwin Correspondence Project


To J. D. Hooker   22 [May 1860]1

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Hooker

I was very glad to see Thwaites’ letter:2 he makes same objection almost totidem verbis as Lyell did at first. It was great omission in my part not discussing this subject, (as I will if there be future Edition) for I think I can remove this difficulty.—3

That is curious fact about Beetle: something analogous is known in certain crustaceans; but hardly well enough made out in the case of Beetle to quote.— Have you Pyrolas at Kew? if so for Heaven sake observe curvature of pistil towards gangway to nectary. If Bees visit this plant, it is best of all to observe them.

You have turned the tables in case of Lavatera with a vengeance against me. Godron in his work “sur l’Espece” gives apparently the best & most carefully worked out cases, which I have met with, of seeds alive & long buried in earth.4

I fear by appearance, Leschenaultia will not seed, possibly owing to conditions of life; I can see no sign of incipient fertilisation.—

I have had lately two most kind letters from A. Gray, with 22£ from American Publisher!5 I have had, also, capital letter from Wallace, after reading the Origin.—6

Lyell tells me that Binney has published in Proc: of Manchester Socy. paper trying to show that coal plants must have grown in very marine marshes.—7 Do you remember how savage you were long years ago at my broaching such a conjecture?—8

I am sincerely sorry to hear about Carpenter’s disappointment, but I wonder he cares about it—9

Poor Etty keeps nearly same, but we think certainly improves a little.— Your kind expressions about her pleased us much.—

My dear old friend | Your affect | C. Darwin

P.S. | As Horse-chesnuts have male flowers & hermaphrodite flowers I have wished to examine their pollen, & this has made me observe a thing which has surprised me.— All the flowers now open on my several trees are male with rudimentary pistil with pollen shedding; so that I began to think my memory had deceived me & that the pistil was never well developed; but on opening buds near end of each little lateral twig of the flower-truss, I find plenty of hermaphrodite flowers with pistils well developed. So that on all my trees there has been a gigantic crop of quite useless male flowers, with millions of pollen-grains wasted, for there is not a female flower nearly open.—   Now will you just look if you think fact odd enough at Kew at Horse chesnuts; only you must remember that your trees will be 7 or 10 days earlier than mine; so that I daresay your hermaphrodite flowers & males from upper flower of each side twig will be open; but I daresay you will be able to see whether the lower flowers on each little side twig are exclusively male.— If this is case elsewhere & in native country, it wd be great & curious blunder in dame nature.10 I shall look to pollen hereafter.—   The pollen of useless males seems good & swells in water.—

P.S. 2d. I think I shall make out good case of want of perfection in Horse-chesnut— I find 140 flowers on a small truss— I think each truss produces only one or sometimes two seeds—& I have got vague notion that in each ovary there are at first many ovules.—   I might put it, “why should we wonder at thousands of wasted male flowers, when we see such waste of flowers of all kind?”— I have, also, somewhere got some notes on the prodigious waste of insect life—by the sticky scales on the buds buds, —by the thousands, & all uselessly killed.—


The endorsement is confirmed by the reference to CD having received £22 from the publisher of the American edition of Origin (‘Journal’; Appendix II).
The letter from George Henry Kendrick Thwaites to Hooker giving his opinion of Origin has not been found. However, see the letter to G. H. K. Thwaites, 21 March [1860].
See following letter and letter to Asa Gray, 22 May [1860]. CD added to the third edition of Origin a brief explanation of why organisms, particularly simple ones, do not necessarily have to advance (Origin 3d ed., pp. 133–43).
Godron 1859, 1: 147–54. For CD’s interest in the vitality of long-buried seeds, see Correspondence vols. 2, 5, and 6.
See letter to Asa Gray, 22 May [1860].
Alfred Russel Wallace’s letter has not been found, but see CD’s reply (letter to A. R. Wallace, 18 May 1860).
Binney 1847. See following letter and n. 10.
See Correspondence vol. 4, letters to J. D. Hooker, [1 May 1847], [6 May 1847], and [12 May 1847]. CD referred to this incident in his Autobiography, p. 105.
The reason for William Benjamin Carpenter’s ‘disappointment’ has not been identified.
CD and Hooker had discussed the imperfection of nature on a number of occasions. See, for example, Correspondence vol. 6, letters to J. D. Hooker, 13 July [1856] and 11 September [1857]. See also Origin, pp. 202–3.

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Hooker, J. D.
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 57
Physical description


Floral anatomy.

Wallace’s capital response on reading Origin.

E. W. Binney has published on coal-plants living in marine waters ["On the origin of coal", Mem. Lit. & Philos. Soc. Manchester 2d ser. 8 (1848): 148–94], an old CD idea.

Waste of pollen in horse chestnut will make a good case against perfection.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2813,” accessed on 3 May 2016,