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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   1 December [1875]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Dec 1st

My dear Hooker

I most heartily rejoice that yesterday is over. I thought often over the troubles of my “tortured friend”.2 I cannot conceive getting through those horrid speeches, toasts, addresses &c; but other men do it, so I suppose it can be done; & it is my private opinion from what I have heard, that you a dead hand3 at such work, however horrid you think it.—

My object in writing now is to say that I have communicated to R. Soc a long paper by Lawson Tait on Nepenthes &c.—4 If his results are trustworthy it is a very valuable paper; but he owns that he is not strong in chemistry & I cannot help doubting much about the 2 ferments necessary for digestion.— I do not doubt that he has separated what he has named azerin (or a non-drying substance) & this seems a very curious discovery.5 I hope the Council will not refer the paper to me, as I am so mixed up with the business—feel somewhat prejudiced against the man—& more especially the referee ought to be a vegetable histologist, & I know nothing of subject.— I shall at some future day be very curious to hear what you or Dyer think of his account of structure of Nepenthes, Sarracenia &c.—6

Ever yours | Ch. Darwin.

P.S. When Dyer has a bit of leisure, I hope you will be able to spare smallest scrap of Byblis for Frank.—7


The year is established by CD’s reference to Tait’s paper (see n. 4, below).
Hooker had referred to himself as tortured when he informed CD that he was preparing his presidential address for the anniversary meeting of the Royal Society of London (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 November 1875); the meeting was held on 30 November 1875 (Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 24 (1875–6): 72–94).
‘Dead hand’: an expert (at doing something) (OED).
See letter to the secretary of the Royal Society of London, 27 November 1875. Nepenthes is the genus of tropical pitcher-plants.
Tait claimed to have isolated two substances in the digestive fluid of insectivorous plants; he named one droserin and the other azerin (see letter from Lawson Tait, 6 November [1875] and n. 2, and second letter from Lawson Tait, 16 November [1875]). The term ferment refers to substances that would later be explained by the concept of enzyme.
Hooker and William Turner Thiselton-Dyer had begun investigating the digestive power of Nepenthes on CD’s behalf in 1873 (see Correspondence vol. 21, letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 October 1873 and n. 2). Sarracenia is a genus of North American pitcher-plants known as trumpet pitchers. For Hooker’s low opinion of Tait’s paper, see Correspondence vol. 24, letter from J. D. Hooker, 28 January 1876.
Francis Darwin may have wanted scraps of Byblis (the genus of Australian rainbow plants) to investigate their digestive processes. CD had earlier received dried specimens of Byblis from Kew, but had returned them (see Correspondence vol. 22, letters from Daniel Oliver, 12 October 1874 and 20 October 1874 and n. 1).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Comments on R. L. Tait’s claimed isolation of digestive ferments from Nepenthes.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 95: 399–400
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10283,” accessed on 19 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23