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Darwin Correspondence Project


From J. D. Hooker   4 February 1867

Kew Feby 4/67. Dear Darwin

How gets on the book?.1 I send a number of the Nation, with an article on Popular Lectures &c that seems to me remarkably good. I wonder how Agassiz likes it!—2 A. Gray3 sends me the paper regularly.

I yesterday declined the invitation to be President of Brit: Assoc: at Norwich in 1868 with much pain at having to refuse so very flattering an invitation so very kindly conveyed;4 but the fact is that I have an insuperable aversion to high places. the acceptance would have been bad dreams in anticipation for 18 months, & a downright surgical operation at the end of it!— I believe I inherit this from my father,5 who never would put himself forward, or be put forward, & I am sure it paid in the end. I was also actuated by the fact that I can see no way to a good “Address”— I played out my Trump card at Nottingham, knowing that if I were called to be President (which I had already good reason to expect) & accepted, I was throwing away my best chance of success.6 Lastly it would stand terribly in the way of my work—both Genera Plantarum, & Insular Botany.7 Here above is a pretty dose of Egotism even from one friend to another

I am reprinting the Lecture in same type but other form for distribution—8 the only thing I do not like & could not conscientiously consult you about, was the passage about “a Wise Providence ordering &c &c” or something of that sort. (I forget the words, it matters little)9

It is bosh & unscientific, but I could not resist the opportunity of turning the tables of Providence over those who think & argue the contrary of its intentions—& showing those who will have a Providence in the affair, that your’s is the God one, theirs the Devils. I always felt, that if I had to print the Lecture, I should wish these passages cut out, but that this would be dishonest—so it even went forth in G. C. & now will further

What do you say to Owen’s assuring me that Mammals bones, (Deer) are found in bogs in Mauritius.10 he told me this himself.

Grove told me, at an excellent Phil. Club meeting, that Owen in his Dodo-paper, has taken again to himself the credit of continuity theory, & of showing the futility of the Type theory—11 I wish Grove would pitch into him.

Bentham is doing Umbelliferæ for Gen. Plant, & finds that the two remarkable Umbelliferous genera of Madeira, Monizia & Melanoselinum, are only species of Thapsia, a Mediterranean genus, of most remarkable & exceptional habit.12 Now this is one of those cases of genera confined to the Island being then created out of a continental form; the genus I suspect; not having ever existed on the continent. It appears to me that it will always be difficult to say whether a genus that has continental allies, is an Insular development, or an old now extinct continental genus. & the utter want of fixed system upon which genera are & must always be formed will always throw insuperable obstacles in the way of this enquiry— it is easy enough with regard to the Laurels & other things having no continental affinities.13

I dined at Murchisons14 on Saturday, for the first time, for many years. What a charming host he makes at a small table.

I heard very poor accounts of H. Wedgwoods15 health   how is this?

The frost has done us a power of damage16

My wife sends her kind love to Mrs Darwin—& yourself— I took her just now to the Drawing room for the first time17

Ever yrs Aff | J D Hooker

Have you read the Duke’s “Reign of Law”, & if so is it worth reading?18


What I mean about Providence is this— I think & believe that all reasoning upon the subject is utterly futile—that there is no such thing in a scientific sense—but that whereas those who deal in it, hold that the theory of fixed types & creations is the only one consonant with a belief in a Providence I hold, that they are wrong & that the theory of continuity & variation is the only one consonant with the belief

CD annotations

1.1 How … book?.] scored pencil
1.1 article … good. 1.2] scored pencil
2.1 I … Assoc:] scored pencil
3.1 I am … distribution—] scored pencil
3.3 “a Wise … that sort.] scored pencil
5.1 What … himself. 5.2] double scored pencil
6.2 & of … theory— 6.3] double scored pencil
9.1 I heard … this?] double scored pencil
11.1 I took … time 11.2] scored pencil
13.1 Have … reading?] double scored pencil
End of letter: ‘Spectator— Abortive organs’19 pencil


Hooker refers to Variation, the manuscript of which CD had sent to his publisher in December 1866 (see Correspondence vol. 14). See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 15 January [1867] and n. 10.
The author of ‘Popularizing science’ focused on a number of Louis Agassiz’s lectures and publications to illustrate the ‘distinct dangers’ of popularisation (Anon. 1867, p. 33); one danger cited was the temptation to present only one side of a controversy. The author gave an example from recent lectures by Agassiz in Boston; under the guise of describing the natural history of Brazil, Agassiz claimed to have refuted CD’s transmutation theory, but did not precisely state CD’s position. The lectures mentioned may have been those given before the Lowell Institute in September and October 1866 (see Lurie 1960, p. 353). Agassiz had recently published an article in the Atlantic Monthly, a popular periodical (J. L. R. Agassiz 1866).
Asa Gray.
The British Association for the Advancement of Science met at Norwich, 19 to 26 August 1868 (Report of the thirty-eighth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Norwich). The president always gave an address.
William Jackson Hooker.
Hooker gave a well-received lecture on insular floras at the annual meeting of the British Association in Nottingham in August 1866 (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 August [1866]).
Hooker had been collaborating with George Bentham on Genera plantarum (Bentham and Hooker 1862–83) since 1860; the second of seven parts appeared in 1865, and the third in October 1867. Hooker had occasionally mentioned his intention of writing a book on insular botany and general geographic distribution (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 13, letter from J. D. Hooker, 1 January 1865), and had considered this further after his lecture on insular floras (see n. 6, above, and Correspondence vol. 14, letters from J. D. Hooker, [22 November 1866] and 4 December 1866).
Hooker refers to the type used when his lecture ‘Insular floras’ was published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle (J. D. Hooker 1866a). When the lecture was reprinted as a pamphlet he made changes that took account of some of CD’s criticisms offered in his letters of 9 January [1867], 15 January [1867], 21 January [1867], and 29 January [1867]. Hooker had been concerned about the type-size that the Gardeners’ Chronicle would use for the article (Correspondence vol. 14, letter from J. D. Hooker, 28 September 1866). For a transcription of his pamphlet, see Williamson 1984.
See enclosure. Towards the end of the lecture published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, Hooker wrote (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 75): By a wise ordinance it is ruled, that amongst living beings like shall never produce its exact like; that as no two circumstances in time or place are absolutely synchronous, or equal, or similar, so shall no two beings be born alike; that a variety in the environing conditions in which the progeny of a living being may be placed shall be met by variety in the progeny itself. A wise ordinance it is, that ensures the succession of beings, not by multiplying absolutely identical forms, but by varying these, so that the right form may fill its right place in Nature’s ever varying economy. He retained the paragraph in his pamphlet (Williamson 1984, p. 76). Hooker discussed his 1866 Nottingham lecture at length with CD in July and August 1866 (see Correspondence vol. 14). See also n. 8, above.
In his paper ‘Account of the late discovery of dodo’s remains in the island of Mauritius’, George Clark noted that remains of a deer were also found in the marsh where the dodo’s remains were; he added that he sent Richard Owen and Alfred Newton all the bones he found (G. Clark 1866, pp. 144, 146). Owen described the dodo in R. Owen 1866, but the only other animal remains he mentioned as being found with the dodo bones were the carapaces and skulls of tortoises.
Hooker refers to William Robert Grove, and to the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society of London. On Owen’s supposed claim of priority to the ‘continuity theory’ (transmutation of species), see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to J. D. Hooker, 31 May [1866] and n. 11. In ‘On the osteology of the dodo (Didus ineptus Linn.)’ (R. Owen 1866), Owen claimed that there were affinities between the dodo, an extinct flightless bird, and members of the Columbidae (pigeons and doves) that lived or had lived on Mauritius. He argued that through the ‘long course of successive generations’ with food available on the ground and no predators, a pigeon could cease using its wings, and develop a heavy body and stronger legs, and that this was how the dodo originated (R. Owen 1866, p. 70). In support of his argument, he cited Lamarck 1809 and Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (R. Owen 1866, p. 80), but not CD. In R.Owen 1866, Owen criticised the ‘type-form’ described in Strickland and Melville 1848, that is, the notion that the ‘Creator’ assigned to each class of animals ‘a definite type or structure’ that did not change (ibid., p. 81); however, in the 1840s, Owen had espoused the related notion of a vertebrate archetype (see Rupke 1994, pp. 193–204, and Camardi 2001). For CD’s comments on the type theory, see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to H. E. Strickland, [19 February 1849], and Correspondence vol. 5, letter to T. H. Huxley, 23 April [1853]; see also Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix II.
See Bentham and Hooker 1862–83, 1: 930, for Bentham’s description of Thapsia. Hooker mentioned Monizia edulis and Melanoselinum when noting how odd it would be if some of the plants on Madeira were found on a British island or mountain (see J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 7, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 January [1867] and n. 6). Hooker did not mention Thapsia in the published versions of the lecture.
In his letter to Hooker of 15 January [1867], CD had suggested that most of the genera, though not the species, that were distinctive to Atlantic islands had been derived from Europe and had since become extinct there. See also Origin, pp. 106–7, 397–9, 403–6, and letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 January 1867. Hooker mentioned the laurels in his paper on insular floras as one of the groups of the Atlantic island type that were ‘contradistinguished from European’ (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 7; see also p. 50).
Roderick Impey Murchison.
Hensleigh Wedgwood.
Hooker was director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. For an account of the destructive frost, see Allan 1967, p. 217.
Frances Harriet Hooker had given birth to Reginald Hawthorn Hooker on 12 January (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [12 January 1867]).
The reign of law (G. D. Campbell 1867) was written by George Douglas Campbell, duke of Argyll (see also letter from T. H. Huxley, [before 7 January 1867]).
CD’s annotation was for his letter to Hooker of 8 February [1867].


Has declined Presidency of BAAS.

Relation of insular and continental genera will always be difficult problem.

On Providence and the "continuity theory".

Letter details

Letter no.
Hooker, J. D.
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 138–142
Physical description
10pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5390,” accessed on 25 July 2016,