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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Joseph Dalton Hooker   1 January 1865


Jany 1/65

Dear Darwin

I have told Mr Stainton that I have referred his letter to me to you— kindly answer it—if you can.1

I find plenty of Cucurbitaceæ to have sticking ends to their tendrils, & expect that it is a common enough phenomenon in the Order.2 From what you say of the form of the cells in Hanburya I should have inferred something of the sort, as such cells are common on the undersurface of the leaves of various vines & you say they have sticking tendrils.3 Certainly the suppressed potentiality of so many organs of plants to play so many parts, is one of the most wonderful of your discoveries. The more I think of it, the more pregnant it is: one day it will itself play a prodigious part, in the interpretation of both morphological & physiological facts.

I have read Sabines complete address (I had seen only extracts before) & am indignant & disgusted at the mutilation & emasculation of what I wrote— Especially about Lythrum & Linum, which he has made nonsense of & the use your observations will be in interpreting, no end of phenomena not yet guessed at.4 Poor old man, he is ill still, & I am beginning to fear that my ill-natured prophecy, that the Presidentship would be the death of him, may come true.—5

Have you read Huxleys (I suppose) slashing leader in todays Reader.6 it is uncommonly able &c: but as usual with him, he goes like a desert whirlwind over the ground scorching blasting & suffocating all opposing objects, & leaving nothing but dry bones on the ground. The vegetation he withers was one of vile weeds to be sure, but vile weeds are green, & all is black after him

I have done little but dissect Cucurbitaceæ since I wrote last.7 I wish I had the energy when doing each Nat. Ord: to show how each prevalent & characteristic feature shades off at either end, or waxes & wanes in the series of Genera.8 An absolute character is very rare in an order. Cucurbi. is a very curious order—especially as to stamens.9

I will let you know if I hear of Hoffmeisters book,10 or Hildebrands paper.11 & Oliver will keep you advised of Bot. Zeit. articles.12

Tell me when you write how your health is.

My book on Geog. Distrib. is nowhere13 I wish it were only begun.

The Reader seems to me dull & rather aimless—the articles too learned & heavy for men who work hard during the week, & want some enticement to read Science on Sunday. Huxley has taken the scientific Editorship I am told;14 but he never stuck to any thing of the kind long, & I have no hopes of it’s succeeding under him— he is far too good for such work, & has no aptitude for it—: no man can write such good articles upon Science as he can, but he is no caterer for the public, & never can be: he wants breadth of sympathy

We are all well, & the children very happy— I have no news of any kind.

Did I send you enclosed letter of Thwaites with a passage for you?15

Ever yrs affec | J. D. Hooker.


Peradenia, Ceylon 28th Oct 1864 Dear Hooker,

The last mail brought a kind & most welcome letter from you and, in case I should omit to do so, will at once answer your question about Nepenthes: it certainly climbs by means of its tendrils and I enclose you the only example I happen to have of the tendrils firmly grasping any object but this will show you what they can do.16 The plant is most common in open swampy ground but when it gets amongst bushes it takes to climbing & I have often been struck with its beauty under such circumstances. Nepenthes does not grow in this neighbourhood and I have never succeeded in keeping plants alive planted out in the Garden.17 I will get Mr. W. Ferguson18 to look at & gather a fine specimen illustrating its climbing propensities or capabilities & will send it to you another time.

I am glad to hear you have conquered Melastomads.19 It is certainly best to make several attacks at distant intervals, in order to overcome the difficulties of marshalling such a puzzling family as the Melastomads, as after periods of rest differences are better estimated as to their importance, and undue prominences get softened down in the more general view one is able to take some time after working at particular genera or groups.

It gratifies me much to learn that Müller thinks well of my arrangement of the Ceylon Euphorbs, as they cost me much labour & thought20

I have heard nothing yet of the box of seeds you mention as sending through Mssr. David Power,21 so I suppose it will come by the next mail steamer.

In travelling here the other day I was particularly struck with the resemblance in colour the natives exhibit to different varieties of soil here. It was curious to observe, sometimes, how precisely of one colour were the native & the ground upon which he was sitting or lying. I wonder whether this colour served at one time as a protection from his enemies whether wild beasts or men—& that so it originated— ask Darwin what he thinks of this view of the matter, when you write to him.

I am glad to see that Colenso [showed] himself at the meeting of the Association at Bath and was so well received.—22 I have been greatly delighted with the perusal of his work.23 A true & safe reformer he appears to me to be. It is curious how long the world has been taking things on trust in matters of such immense importance & it is well that the change of opinion is coming on so gradually, or what a smash there would be!

Always my dear Hooker | Your affectionate friend | G. H. K. Thwaites

P.S. Will you kindly send this little note to Berkely when you next write to him: it contains a curious [Sphæria] upon a Fly—24


The letter from Henry Tibbats Stainton has not been found; however, CD’s reply to Hooker of 7 January [1865] indicates that Stainton’s letter concerned a translation of Karl Friedrich von Gärtner’s Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Bastarderzeugung im Pflanzenreich (Gärtner 1849) that was to be undertaken by the Ray Society. Stainton was secretary of the Ray Society, which was founded in 1844 with the object of printing works of natural history and had produced a number of translations of foreign works (see Curle 1954). CD had recommended Gärtner 1849 for translation in his letter to the Ray Society, [before 4 November 1864] (Correspondence vol. 12; see also letter to J. D. Hooker, [c. 23 September 1864]). Hooker also supported the proposed translation; however, it was not undertaken (see Correspondence vol. 12, letters from J. D. Hooker, 16 September 1864 and [28 September 1864], and Curle 1954, pp. 25–6). A heavily annotated copy of Gärtner 1849 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 256–98). It is cited extensively in Origin, Variation, and Forms of flowers on the subject of hybrid sterility. For a discussion of the importance of Gärtner’s work to CD’s research, see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI.
CD included Hooker’s comment in ‘Climbing plants’, p. 78.
See Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. D. Hooker, 10 December [1864] and n. 6. As part of his research on climbing plants, CD had observed the development of discs at the tips of tendrils in different families, including Cucurbitaceae. He noted that these discs had a variety of adhesive properties, enabling the plants to climb in different conditions (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864], letter from Asa Gray, 11 July 1864, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 December [1864]). From his observations of Hanburya mexicana, a species of Cucurbitaceae, CD inferred that the plant might be an incipient form, since the adhesive discs were of no apparent use (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 10 December [1864], and ‘Climbing plants’, p. 78). In ‘Climbing plants’, p. 104, CD concluded that three genera of the Cucurbitaceae presented ‘a nearly perfect gradation from a common tendril to one that forms an adherent disk at its tip’. CD’s notes on this subject are in DAR 157.1: 140, DAR 157.2: 52 and 65–7, and DAR 187: 2. CD recorded in his Journal for 1864 (Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix II) that he had finished the paper on climbing plants on 15 September; however, he continued his observations and made small changes to the manuscript until it was sent to the Linnean Society of London on 18 January (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 19 January [1865]). The paragraphs on adherent discs in Hanburya, and on the development of discs in Cucurbitaceae, are inserted in CD’s working copy of the manuscript in DAR 18.1: 146d–e and DAR 18.2: 199 v., 199a v.
Hooker refers to the anniversary address written for the 30 November 1864 meeting of the Royal Society by its president, Edward Sabine. At the meeting, George Busk accepted the Copley Medal on CD’s behalf. Sabine’s address described the grounds on which the award had been given, and included a discussion of CD’s ‘Two forms in species of Linum’ and ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’ (see Sabine 1864, p. 510). Hooker had provided information on CD’s botany to assist Sabine in composing this portion of the address (letter from Edward Sabine to J. D. Hooker, 14 November 1864, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, letters to J. D. Hooker, vol. 18, letter 218). Hooker had previously expressed dissatisfaction with Sabine’s account of CD’s botany after reading a shortened and edited version of the address in the 3 December 1864 issue of the Reader, pp. 708–9 (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, [6 December 1864]). Hooker probably refers to the publication of Sabine’s address in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 13 (1864): 497–517. Individual numbers of the journal were issued to fellows of the Royal Society at intervals during the year. The portion of Sabine’s address on the Copley award is reproduced in Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix IV.
Sabine had contracted influenza prior to the 30 November meeting of the Royal Society (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Elizabeth Juliana Sabine, 7 December [1864]). For a discussion of Sabine’s presidency, see M. B. Hall 1984, pp. 104–8.
The reference is to Thomas Henry Huxley’s unsigned article ‘Science and “Church policy” ’, which appeared in the 31 December 1864 issue of the Reader, p. 821 ([T. H. Huxley] 1864b). The attribution is based on the letter from T. H. Huxley, 15 January 1865. The article criticised ‘leading statesmen’ and ‘ecclesiastical dignitaries’ for their lack of regard for science, and addressed in particular the remarks on science made by Benjamin Disraeli in his recent speech on church policy (Disraeli 1864). For a discussion of Huxley’s article, see A. Desmond 1994–7, 1: 331–2.
Hooker was preparing an account of the family Cucurbitaceae for Genera plantarum (see Bentham and Hooker 1862–83, 1: 816–41). See Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, [6 December 1864].
Hooker had expressed similar frustrations with regard to his exclusively descriptive taxonomic work for Handbook of the New Zealand flora (Hooker 1864–7); having accumulated a large number of facts on variable genera and species, he had intended to write a theoretical introduction to the book (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, [26 or 27 April 1864]).
For CD’s interest in transitional forms in the family Cucurbitaceae, see n. 3, above. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 19 January [1865]. For Hooker’s description of the stamens of Cucurbitaceae, see Bentham and Hooker 1862–83, 1: 816.
In his letter to Hooker of 10 December [1864] (Correspondence vol. 12), CD reported having seen a foreign advertisement for ‘Handbuch zur Physiologie’ by Wilhelm Hofmeister. The advertisement has not been found; it evidently referred to Handbuch der physiologischen Botanik, a series of monographs to be published under the general editorship of Hofmeister (Hofmeister ed. 1865–77). Hofmeister wrote two monographs in the series, Die Lehre von der Pflanzenzelle (Hofmeister 1867), and Allgemeine Morphologie der Gewächse (Hofmeister 1868). CD’s copy of Hofmeister 1867 is in the Darwin Library–Down.
CD had informed Hooker in his letter of 10 December [1864] (Correspondence vol. 12) that he expected to hear of a paper on dimorphic Pulmonaria by Friedrich Hildebrand. CD had corresponded with Hildebrand about dimorphism in P. officinalis in June 1864 (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Friedrich Hildebrand, 21 June 1864, and letter to Friedrich Hildebrand, 25 June [1864]). Hildebrand sent CD a copy of his paper ‘Dimorphismus von Pulmonaria officinalis’ in February 1865 (Hildebrand 1865, pp. 13–15; see letter to J. D. Hooker, 15 [February 1865]). CD’s annotated copy of the paper is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. It is discussed in ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, pp. 430–1, and Forms of flowers, pp. 101–3.
In his letter to Hooker of 10 December [1864] (Correspondence vol. 12), CD had asked Daniel Oliver to check Botanische Zeitung for references to material on dimorphism.
CD had asked about Hooker’s proposed book on geographical distribution in his letter of 10 December [1864] (Correspondence vol. 12). Hooker and CD had a long-running interest in the geographical distribution of plants (see, for example, Hooker 1853, and Correspondence vol. 6, letter from J. D. Hooker, 9 November 1856). Hooker is cited extensively in the chapters on geographical distribution in Origin. Although he never wrote a general book, he continued to publish articles and addresses on the subject (see, for example, Hooker 1867 and Hooker 1881).
The Reader, a weekly review of literature, science, and art, was started in January 1863 (see Sullivan ed. 1984 and North 1997, pp. 4066–8). CD was enthusiastic about the journal (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. D. Hooker, 26[–7] March [1864]). In 1864, editorial control passed increasingly into the hands of Huxley, Joseph Norman Lockyer, and other scientific practitioners (see Barton 1998, pp. 439–40). Near the end of 1864, the journal was purchased and reorganised by a consortium that included CD’s friend, John Lubbock. To help support the journal, CD bought shares in the Reader Limited Company in November 1864 (CD’s Account book–banking account (Down House MS); see also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to John Lubbock, 19 November [1864]).
See enclosure. The reference is to George Henry Kendrick Thwaites.
In the spring of 1864, CD had asked Hooker on several occasions to observe the climbing habit of the pitcher plant Nepenthes (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, 9 [March] 1864, n. 22; see also letter to Daniel Oliver, [22 July 1864]). Hooker evidently passed CD’s query to Thwaites; however, CD’s description of two Nepenthes species in ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 46–7, is based largely on specimens that he obtained from the nursery firm of James Veitch (see Correspondence vol. 12, letters to J. D. Hooker, 10 June [1864] and [28 September 1864]). CD classified Nepenthes among the leaf-climbers, concluding that, at least when young, the tips of the leaves coil around a stick in order to support the pitcher with its load of secreted fluid. His notes on the genus are in DAR 157.1: 111–12 and DAR 187: 1. At some point, CD appears to have inserted the paragraph on Nepenthes into his working copy of the manuscript (see DAR 17.2: 90, 90a, and 90 v., and in ‘Climbing plants’, p. 46).
Thwaites refers to the Peradeniya botanic gardens, Ceylon, of which he was director (DNB).
William Ferguson.
Hooker had been working on the taxonomy of the Melastomaceae, a family of tropical and subtropical plants, for Genera plantarum (Bentham and Hooker 1862–83, 1: 725; the Melastomaceae correspond approximately to the modern family Melastomataceae). See Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, [26–7 April 1864].
Thwaites probably refers to Johann Müller and to his own description of the Euphorbiaceae in Thwaites 1858–64, 4: 268. Müller visited Hooker at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in September 1864 (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, 16 September 1864).
David Edward Power was a merchant with premises at 110 Fenchurch Street, London (Post Office London directory 1865).
The reference is to John William Colenso’s reception at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Bath on the evening of 14 September 1864. See Cox 1888, 1: 257, for Colenso’s account of the meeting, and Barton 1998, p. 437. See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, [19 September 1864].
Thwaites refers to the first parts of Colenso 1862–79, a work of biblical criticism that had led to religious controversy (see Guy 1983 and Correspondence vol. 12, letter from E. A. Darwin, 1 February [1864] and nn. 3 and 5; see also Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, 16 February 1864).
Miles Joseph Berkeley was an expert on British fungi. Sphaeria is a fungal parasite.


Forwards H. T. Stainton letter for reply.

Finds many Cucurbita have tendrils with sticking ends.

The "potentiality of so many organs in plants to play so many parts is one of the most wonderful of your discoveries . . . one day it will itself play a prodigious part in the interpretation of both morphological and physiological facts".

Is disgusted with Sabine’s address [see 4708] because of its mutilation of what JDH wrote.

THH’s slashing leader in Reader ["Science and ""Church policy"" ", 4 (1864): 821] – as usual he destroys all in his path.

Encloses letter from G. H. K. Thwaites with a message for CD [see encl].

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 1–3; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, DC vol. 162 doc. 224
Physical description
6pp encl 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4734,” accessed on 21 September 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13