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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   26[–7] February 1868


Feby 26th/68

Dear Darwin

I have been bursting with impatience to hear what you would say of the Athenæum Review & who wrote it— I could not conceive who wrote it; & can still hardly believe that Owen could be so demoniacal;1 & yet it must have been some one of great position, or the Journal could not have dared, after the article of the previous week upon the “Cambridge Graduate’s” book,2 so to have stultified itself— as it is the Journal has “covered itself with infamy”.—

The G. C. article is weak, watery— It is hard to decide between you & the critic, as to the merits of the “cause of variation”— I should say that both of you have hazy ideas on the subject!!!3 No doubt you are essentially right as to man not being the prime cause of variation—but in saying this you do not explain yourself sufficiently for the common readers understanding— When I remove a support, do I cause the supported thing to fall?— Yes,—in the common acceptation of the phrase, & of all similar phrases— No in the sense that I am not—Gravity nor the causer or author of Gravity—

I am extremely obliged for your candid record of opinions on Pangenesis—4 I was talking it over with Huxley5 who made a very clever remark so deuced clever that I cannot quite clearly recollect, it, & still less write it down—to the effect, that the cell might not contain germs or gemmules, but a potentiality in shape of a homogenous mass, as to whose exact future condition, or the exact future of whose elements depended on an impulse [communicated] at moment of evolution.— I suppose he meant, just as a crystallizable compound, that presents various isomorphic forms, depends on some unknown influence for the crystalline form it ultimately does take—but this is only my guess at his meaning   I will try & get it more clearly.— I fear you will laugh at my density—but I cannot see that in Pangenesis you are doing aught but formulating what I have always supposed to be fundamental idea in all development doctrines—viz. the transference to the progeny of any or every quality/property the parent possessed; or at least the potentiality of reproducing these qualities—& it was the inconceivability of grasping this idea, that was always a great barrier to my accepting the development doctrine— You transmit this potentiality in a cell— you diffuse it from that cell throughout the whole living organism—& you regard a spermatic cell as neither more nor less charged than others with this potentiality— of this point I am not quite sure, I must read up every point, again, of your argument. This was always with me an essential condition of the Development Doctrine—& I do not see what you gain by putting it in an imagery of germs and gemmules, analogous to a chemist’s atoms. A chemist’s atoms are useful imagery—for they convey definite ideas of proportions & have an exact meaning as relative values— If Biology enabled us so to convey definite ideas through your gemmules, they would have their use—but inasmuch as organisms are not given to unite in definite proportions I do not see what you gain.

Be all this as it may, I regard your Pangenesis chapter as the most wonderful in the book, & intensely interesting— it is so full of thought, of genuine mind: & you do so love it, yourself. I should not care a farthing were I you what people thought of it— Not one Naturalist in 100 can follow it I am sure. Spencer, Huxley & Lubbock (if he has time) may6   I have not yet mastered it. The “throwing off gemmules” is hard to hold in head, as a real vital process.—7 if you say that each cell “diffuses an influence” that is intelligeable!!!

I wish I could help you anent sexuality— the male element affecting the mother plant or animal is your strong point, nothing I suppose can explain that, but what is or is akin to, Pangenesis.8

Next morning— After rereading all this vaporous letter I shall try to answer your last page in a concrete manner (to adopt the current literary slang)— I can neither answer nor explain nor account for any of the facts you put to me except on the supposition that every mother cell thrown off by the parent & destined to reproduce the kind, must contain within itself & diffuse throughout every cell to which it gives rise, any or all the properties of the parent.

I have put this in another form on a separate piece of paper— how does it tally with pangenesis—? please postulate Pangenesis as I have my crudity.

Ever yr affec | J D Hooker


Every reproductive cell carries away with it, elements of all the properties of the parent.

Every such cell, may contribute to every other cell, in whose development it is concerned, the same elements, with scarcely diminished energies

Hence any organism may develop any property of any ancestor, however remote, in more or less force.

In most organisms those elements are most completely & energetically developed in the Spermatic cells.

In some organisms they are as completely & as energetically developed in superficial isolated cells. (Begonia, & lots of Cryptogams) or in aggregates of cells—(buds), as in the Spermatic cells.9

It is a curious thing, that, these cells are developed in most force either in the most hidden parts of the organism, i.e. where furthest removed from the action of light air &c, (as Spermatic cells) or in the most superficial, where most exposed to these influences, (as surfaces of leaves, tips of branches &c)—.

If there is any thing in above as a paraphrase or representation of your views please return it.—as I have no time to copy it.—

J H.

CD annotations

1.1 I have … Gravity— 2.7] crossed pencil
3.4 potentiality] underl red crayon
3.7 depends … does take— 3.8] double scored red crayon
3.10 I cannot … doctrines— 3.12] double scored red crayon
3.13 or at least … qualities—] double scored red crayon
4.6 if you say … intelligeable!!! 4.7] double scored red crayon
6.2 I can … the parent. 6.6] scored red crayon
1.1 Every reproductive] ‘(1)’ added before blue crayon
1.1 elements] del blue crayon, ‘atoms’ above blue crayon, ‘(or gemmules)’ ink
1.1 properties] del blue crayon, ‘structures’ above blue crayon
2.1 Every such] ‘(2)’ added before blue crayon
2.1 such] underl blue crayon
3.1 Hence] ‘(3)’ added before blue crayon
4.1 In most] ‘(4)’ added before blue crayon
5.1 In some] ‘(5)’ added before blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘London— Athen. Lewes’10 blue crayon


CD had mistakenly attribtuted a critical review of Variation in the Athenæum to Richard Owen (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 February [1868]); the review was by John Robertson ([Robertson] 1868a).
The Darwinian theory of the transmutation of species examined by a graduate of the University of Cambridge ([Beverley] 1867) was reviewed in the Athenæum, 8 February 1868, pp. 217–18.
CD had discussed the review of Variation in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 22 February 1868, p. 184, in his letter to Hooker of 23 February [1868].
Thomas Henry Huxley.
Hooker refers to Herbert Spencer and John Lubbock.
CD had described gemmules or germs as being ‘thrown off’ from each separate atom or cell of the organism during each stage of development (Variation 2: 358, 374).
CD claimed that his theory of pangenesis could explain phenomena such as the direct action of male reproductive material on female parts of an organism, such as the colour of the seed-pods (see Variation 2: 365–6, 387–8).
CD argued for the essential unity of sexual reproduction and budding in Variation 2: 359–61, 372.
These annotations are for CD’s reply. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 28 February [1868] and nn. 8–10.


Could not believe Owen to be so demoniacal as to write the Athenæum review [of Variation].

Gardeners’ Chronicle review [see 5918] is weak. CD’s ideas on causes of variation may be as hazy as the reviewer’s.

Huxley’s clever remark on Pangenesis. JDH’s view of Pangenesis as fundamental to development doctrines, but nothing is gained by formulation in terms of germs or gemmules.

Tries to answer question on last page of CD’s letter anent sexuality.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 200–3, DAR 94: 67
Physical description
8pp † enc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5935,” accessed on 17 August 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16