skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   22 December [1865]

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Dec 22—

My dear Hooker

I take pride & credit to myself at not having written to you for so long a time, as you must still be very busy; but I want much to hear how you are.1 Yet I shd not have written now, had not Haast urged me to help him for Royal Soc.2 Can you send me the certificate to sign? As I cannot go to the Soc. to sign it. I was wonderfully well in London & had long talks with Lyell & Huxley;3 but I then caught a cold which threw me back a whole month. I am now getting stronger & am actually able to write about an hour on most days.4

I have been summing up the facts on the sterility & dwarfness &c of the illegitimate seedlings of Lythrum & Primula. I can prove that they are in all respects like hybrids, & this seems to me extremely curious, for I have in fact made hybrids within the limits of the same undoubted species.5 I have at the same time tested the characters of seedlings which inherited all the external characters from John Scott’s sterile Primrose & red Cowslip; but functionally they behaved very differently, & I begin to doubt his accuracy.6

I must ask a question or two. I have just read in the Annals Karsten’s paper against the Parthenogenesis of Cœlobigyne. Do you believe in him? I really want to know. I hardly can believe, as the seedlings have all turned out females.7 It is a shame that some of you Kew men do not examine some flowers with a lens, mark them with a thread, & enclose them in a gauze bag. 2ndly Do you still wish me to subscribe (you asked me just before yr illness) to the Palestine explo. fund?8 If so tell me how much & to whom. I know nothing of the subject.

I was glad to see yr letter in Gard. Chron. about Naudin.9 Here is a really curious thing, considering that Brewster is President & Balfour secretary, I have been elected Hon. member of Royal Soc. of Edin.10 And this leads me to a 3rd question. Does the Berlin Acad. of Sciences send their proceedings to Hon. members? I want to know, to ascertain whether I am a Member. I suppose not for I think it wd have made some impression on me, yet I distinctly remember receiving some diploma signed by Ehrenberg.11 I have been so careless I have lost several diplomas & now I want to know what Socs I belong to, as I observe every tacks their tittles to their names in the Catalogue of the Royal Soc.12

Nothing in this letter requires any immediate answer, excepting indeed Haast’s Cert. if you can send it & about your own health. Is there any chance of your being able to spend a Sunday & wd Mrs Hooker come with you?13 It wd give us extreme pleasure. I shd be able to have 2 or 3 half hours conversation with you—

yours affectionately | Ch Darwin


CD’s last letter to Hooker was that of 22 and 28 [October 1865]. After a period of illness following his father’s death, Hooker had returned to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on 26 October; he officially became director of Kew on 1 November (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [3 November 1865] and nn. 2 and 3).
Julius von Haast had asked CD to support his candidacy for fellowship of the Royal Society of London (see letter from Julius von Haast, 27 September 1865 and n. 6).
Charles Lyell and Thomas Henry Huxley. According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), CD was in London from 8 to 20 November.
In his ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 13, Appendix II), CD wrote that while at Erasmus Alvey Darwin’s house in London he ‘fell ill again with cold; but got better in the beginning of December’. In his letter to Asa Gray of 19 October [1865], he said that he was able to do no ‘regular work’, by which he seems to have meant writing. On CD’s health in late 1865, see the letter from E. A. Darwin to Emma Darwin, 25 [November 1865] and n. 6.
CD described same-form crosses between dimorphic and trimorphic individuals as ‘illegitimate unions’ (see, for example, ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’, pp. 186–7; Collected papers 2: 120). As a result of crossing experiments with dimorphic species of Primula and with the trimorphic Lythrum salicaria, CD determined that the offspring of illegitimate unions were in their degree of sterility and dwarfness identical to the offspring of hybrids. CD presented a summary of his findings in Origin 4th ed., pp. 322–3, and Variation 2: 181–4, and gave more detailed accounts in ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’ and Forms of flowers, pp. 188–243. CD’s notes on Lythrum for 1865 are in DAR 109: B30–5, 40, and 55–86; his notes on Primula for 1865 are in DAR 108. His list of illegitimate seedlings is in DAR 109: B51–4.
On CD’s efforts to test John Scott’s experimental results, see the letter to B. D. Walsh, 19 December [1865] and n. 10.
Coelebogyne ilicifolia had first been described by the Kew gardener John Smith (1798–1888), who had observed only female forms during ten years of cultivation (see J. Smith 1839; see also letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 December 1865). Subsequent observations had confirmed that the plant was parthenogenetic (see, for example, Daubeny 1860a, p. 12, and letter from J. D. Hooker, [23] December 1865). In an article in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History for 1861, Hermann Karsten concluded that parthenogenesis never occurs in plants. He claimed to have observed the attachment of the pollen-tube to the embryo sac in the ovule of C. ilicifolia and the resulting fertilisation (Karsten 1861, pp. 93, 200–2). Karsten also claimed to have observed hermaphrodite flowers on the plant that had been missed by other botanists (Karsten 1861, pp. 88–93). In 1862, CD had received a letter from Scott discussing Karsten’s observations, and remarking that only females of the plant had been produced (Correspondence vol. 10, letter from John Scott, 17 December [1862]; see also letter from John Scott, 15 November [1862], and letter to John Scott, 11 December [1862]). Coelebogyne ilicifolia is listed as a synonym of Alchornea ilicifolia (family Euphorbiaceae) (Index Kewensis). It is on CD’s 1862 list of hothouse plants (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix VI).
Hooker’s letter on Charles Victor Naudin appeared in the 2 December 1865 issue of Gardeners’ Chronicle, p. 1133. It was written in defence of Naudin, who had been accused of claiming priority for the hypothesis of the ‘derivative origin of species’ (see Gardeners’ Chronicle, 4 November 1865, pp. 1033–4). The accusation was originally made in an editorial note attached to a paper by Naudin in the Natural History Review for October 1865 (Naudin 1865b). The note alleged that Naudin ‘failed to perceive the points of Mr. Darwin’s hypothesis, and hence suppose[d] that he had forestalled its author’ (Naudin 1865b, p. 568). The Gardeners’ Chronicle for 18 November 1865, pp. 1081–2, carried a letter from Naudin denying having made any claim to priority. Naudin also wrote a letter to the same effect to Hooker, who remarked (Gardeners’ Chronicle, p. 1133): What M. Naudin justly claims, is the merit of having independently convinced himself of the truth of the hypothesis by a series of laborious and valuable physiological experiments instituted for the purpose of testing it, and which in my opinion do him great credit, and enable him justly to take the highest rank as a working apostle of the doctrine of the derivative origin of species. Naudin 1865b was a portion of a much longer paper on hybridism (Naudin 1865a) that Naudin had sent to CD (see letter from C. V. Naudin, 18 June 1865 and n. 4). On the relationship between CD’s and Naudin’s work on hybridism and heredity, see the letter to M. E. Wichura, 3 February [1865] and n. 6.
CD was elected an honorary fellow at the 4 December 1865 meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 5 (1862–6): 518). David Brewster and John Hutton Balfour were opposed to CD’s transmutation theory. Brewster had written a highly unfavourable review of Origin, in which he criticised CD for ‘poisoning the foundations of science, and disturbing the serenity of the Christian world’ (Brewster 1862, p. 3; see also Correspondence vol. 10, letter from T. H. Huxley, 13 January 1862, and letter to T. H. Huxley, 22 January [1862]). Balfour had expressed his opposition to CD’s theory as applied to humans in his letter of 14 January 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10). See also letter from John Scott, 20 January 1865, n. 5. For the diploma, see Correspondence vol. 13, Appendix III.
CD was elected a corresponding member of the Königliche-Preussiche Akademie der Wissenschaften in 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to the secretary, Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences, Berlin, 16 March 1863). The diploma, signed by Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg, one of the Academy’s secretaries, is in DAR 229: 50a, with CD’s other extant honorary diplomas; the text is reproduced in Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix III. CD became a fellow in 1878 (Freeman 1978).
CD refers to the List of the Royal Society, which was published annually by the society and contained the names of the current fellowship. For a list of the societies of which CD was an honorary member, see Freeman 1978.
CD refers to Frances Harriet Hooker. According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), Hooker next visited Down on 24 March 1866.


Is working one hour a day now, on illegitimate seedlings of Lythrum and Primula.

Begins to doubt John Scott’s accuracy about primrose and cowslip.

Does JDH believe in Karsten’s denial of parthenogenesis of Coelebogyne?

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 278, 278b
Physical description
( S ) 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4953,” accessed on 27 June 2017,

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