To J. D. Hooker 10 December 
My dear Hooker
Your letter which you speak of as containing nothing, interested me much.—1 I enclose 3 seeds of the Mimoseous tree, of which the pods open & wind spirally outwards & display a lining like yellow silk, studded with these crimson seeds, & looking gorgeous.2 I gave two seeds to a confounded old cock, but his gizzard ground them up; at least I cd. not find them during 48o in his excrement. Please Mr. Deputy-Wriggler explain to me why these seeds & pods, hang long & look gorgeous, if Birds only grind up the seeds, for I do not suppose they can be covered with any pulp.— Can they be disseminated like acorns merely by birds accidentally dropping them. The case is a sore puzzle to me.—3
Speaking of distribution Mr Norman sent me a woodcock’s leg with 8–9 gr. of dry clay clinging to its tarsus, & by Jove this morning a little monocot., like a microscopical rush, has sprung up: of course this fact does not really make the means any more probable, but it is satisfactory & all the more as the Bird is a migrant & belongs to the order which first visits oceanic islands.4
I have now read the last nor of H. Spencer: I do not know whether to think it better than the previous number;5 but it is wonderfully clever & I daresay mostly true. I feel rather mean when I read him; I could bear & rather enjoy feeling that he was twice as ingenious & clever as myself, but when I feel that he is about a dozen times my superior, even in the master art of wriggling, I feel aggrieved. If he had trained himself to observe more, even if at the expence, by the law of balancement, of some loss of thinking power, he wd. have been a wonderful man.— I have not yet read either Lyell’s great work or Huxley’s little work,6 for I have at present much reading for my book;7 & therefore will not borrow the papers on N. Zealand Glaciers.—8
I am heartily glad you are taking up the distribution of plants in New Zealand & suppose it will make part of your new book.9 Your view, as I understand it, that N.Z. subsided & formed two or more small islands & then rose again, seems to me extremely probable. Your fact about the annual plants is extraordinary, & I shall be very curious to hear whether the prevalence of annual plants under different climates & on islands, throws any light on the problem.10 When I puzzled my brains about N.Z. I remember I came to the conclusion, as indeed I state in the Origin, that its flora as well as that of other Southern lands, had been tinctured by an antarctic Flora which must have existed before the glacial period.11 I concluded that N.Z never cd have been closely connected with Australia, though I supposed it had received some few Australian forms by occasional means of transport. Is there any reason to suppose that N Z. cd have been more closely connected with S. Australia during the glacial period when the Eucalypti &c might have been driven further north? Apparently there only remains the line, which I think you suggested, of sunken islands from New Caledonia.12 Please remember that the Edwardsia was certainly drifted there by the sea.13
I remember in old days speculating on the amount of life, i.e. of organic chemical change, at different periods. There seems to me one very difficult element in the problem, namely the state of development of the organic beings at each period; for I presume that a Flora & Fauna of cellular cryptogamic plants, of protozoa & radiata wd lead to much less chemical change than is now going on.14
But I have scribbled enough.— Yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin
I sent the plants off last Wednesday.15
A confounded cock ground the crimson seeds up so CD could not find them in its excrement. CD is puzzled by how seeds can be disseminated if merely ground up by birds. Perhaps like acorns from seeds accidentally dropped by birds?
A woodcock’s leg with dry clay clinging to it, from which CD has grown a microscopical rush.
Spencer would have been wonderful if he had trained himself to observe more.
On New Zealand flora and connection with Australia.
Difficulty of speculating about the amount of organic chemical change at different periods.
- affinity and analogy
- chemistry, chemicals
- continuous or ‘broken’ land
- experiment, scientific observation
- geographical distribution
- geological time, epochs
- isolation, islands
- physical ‘external’ characters
- queries / requests
- relation of organism to organism
- soil and other substrates
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5300,” accessed on 30 September 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-5300