skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   29 July [1860]

at Miss Wedgwoods | Hartfield | Tonbridge Wells

July 29th

My dear Hooker

We have had Sir H. Holland here to see Etty again,1 & to our great grief he tells us the fever has left mischief in the abdomen with some fluid accumulated, but thank God not much. He is tolerably sanguine for her ultimate recovery; but it will be very long. We have had a miserable time of it, but are now more composed & hopeful. I know well how sincerely you will sympathise with us. But do not write: there is nothing to be said. We can only hope.

I trust your Baby is better & that Mrs. Hooker has got to Worthing.2

I return home with our children on Thursday, & Emma follows with Etty in two or three days.

Latterly I have done nothing here; but at first I amused myself with a few observations on the insect-catching power of Drosera; & I must consult you some time whether my “twaddle” is worth communicating to Linnean Soc.—3

I have made some good observations, extending your Listera work in case of Malaxis,—curious modification of same process.4

In 3d nor of “London Review” very good geological article on my Book; & I shd. very much like to know who author is.—5

I have had note from A. Gray: he is fighting away like a Trojan.— The Athenæum will insert A. Gray’s discussion.—6

My dear Hooker | Yours affect | C. Darwin


Henry Holland was called to Hartfield on 26 July 1860 (Emma Darwin’s diary). Emma Darwin described his visit in a letter to Mary Elizabeth Lyell, written on 28 August 1860: ‘We had the bad luck at Hartfield to fall into the hands of a desponding medical man, and it really was a great injury to us. We had a visit from Sir Henry Holland, who cheered us again, and I fully believe his view is the true one. He has been so constantly kind, and taken so much trouble, that we feel very grateful.’ (Emma Darwin 2: 177). The ‘desponding medical man’ was probably William Wallis of Hartfield (see n. 4, below). When Henrietta first fell ill in April, she was diagnosed as suffering from ‘a form of Typhus fever’ (letter to J. D. Hooker, 11 May [1860]). Subsequently, CD described the fever as being ‘partly remittent partly typhoid’ (letter to W. D. Fox, 18 May [1860]). One of the symptoms of patients with typhoid fever is the enlargement of the mesenteric glands of the abdomen (EB).
The common sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) is an insectivorous plant that catches insects by the movement of sticky hairs on its leaves. CD’s notes on his observations are in DAR 60.1: 15–23. He published an account of them in Insectivorous plants, pp. 1–3: During the summer of 1860, I was surprised by finding how large a number of insects were caught by the leaves of the common sun-dew (Drosera rotundifolia) on a heath in Sussex. I had heard that insects were thus caught, but knew nothing further on the subject. I gathered by chance a dozen plants, bearing fifty-six fully expanded leaves, and on thirty-one of these dead insects or remnants of them adhered … Many plants cause the death of insects, for instance the sticky buds of the horse-chestnut (æsculus hippocastanum), without thereby receiving, as far as we can perceive, any advantage; but it was soon evident that Drosera was excellently adapted for the special purpose of catching insects, so that the subject seemed well worthy of investigation. Emma Darwin described CD’s work in a letter to Mary Elizabeth Lyell (see n. 1, above). She wrote: ‘At present he is treating Drosera just like a living creature, and I suppose he hopes to end in proving it to be an animal.’ (Emma Darwin 2: 177).
Malaxis is a genus of orchids that resembles Listera in not having the rostellum permanently attached. Hooker had published a paper on Listera several years earlier (Hooker 1854b). CD described the anatomy of the flower of M. paludosa in Orchids, pp. 130–9, having dissected specimens provided by ‘Mr. Wallis, of Hartfield, in Sussex’ (Orchids, p. 130 n.). William Wallis was a surgeon in Hartfield (Post Office directory of the six home counties 1859). CD found that the flowers of Malaxis secreted a drop of viscid fluid on the rostellum, which served to catch the pollinia and attach them to an insect’s proboscis (Orchids, pp. 136–7). Hooker had described a similar phenomenon in Listera (Hooker 1854b, p. 259, and Orchids, p. 142).
The author of the review of Origin, which appeared in the London Review and Weekly Journal of Politics, Literature, Art and Society 1 (1860): 11–12, 32–3, 58–9, has not been identified.
See letters to J. D. Hooker, [17 July 1860] and 7 August [1860], and to Asa Gray, 22 July [1860].


Casual observations on Drosera.

Wants to know author of good review of Origin in London Review [& Wkly J. Polit. 1 (1860): 11–12, 32–3, 58–9].

Athenæum will reprint Gray’s discussion.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Wedgwood, S. E. (b) Hartfield
Source of text
DAR 115: 70
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2880,” accessed on 17 January 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8