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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   14 December 1878

Royal Gardens Kew

Dec 14/78

Dear old Darwin

It is indeed kind of you to write to me—& I heartily rejoice with you— no one deserves it half so well—& I have often thought that considering the health of some of your children, you were too liberal to other people & their demands.1 It is so much better the money coming to you than (as in Mrs Lyell’s case) part to her, & part to children, who will, I fear, now do no work!.2 She poor thing seems to feel the burthen of the riches, which she would not do had her children not been made so much better off already, that the leaving it to them is no object. As it is she strives to do her best with it; in a very praiseworthy way.

I too have had a little pleasure, which arrived today, it is the getting the Treasury to allow Mr Baker, the Herb. assistant, to occupy a little house next the Herbarium rent free, which has been empty for half a century.! Baker has only £250 salary, & (a wife & 2 children!), would you believe it!3 I have been a whole year trying to get £200 to put the house into habitable condition with leave for him to occupy it. It has cost me sheets of foolscap, & two refusals by the Treasury to allow either one or other! At last I went to Mr Noel & insisted on a reversal of the refusals telling him that Mr Baker was an F.R.S. that so was the C. of E. (Sir St. Northcote) & that if it was not done, a representation would be made by some Fellows of the R. S. to the C. of E. & a scandal ensue.4 The Treasury at first again refused, but Mr Noel carried his point, & the £200 is to be granted— I do think this the meanest thing I ever knew the Treasury do. The House, when done up, would not let for £40 a year; & standing as it does in the demesne, it could not be let at all except to an officer of the Establishment. Baker is the most hardworking useful man & was elected F R.S. last year. his Services to this establishment have been most self-sacrificing. & he is a general favorite.

I am immensly gratified with your praise of the Address, which I was most anxious about, and feared would be a failure. I have to thank Frank for the gist of the story about your works—& Dyer gave me great help in vegetable Physiology. The rest cost me a deal of coaching up. I left out the Palæontology because I dosed them with it in last year’s Address & I could not grapple with Zoology in the time & space.5

I felt very sorry to leave the Chair, but the relief is very great.6

My wife is gone to a concert or she would join me in congratulations—

I have just glanced at Huxley’s Cray-fish work, it is capital.7

Well I shall dream of that blessed old couple at Worthing— it was indeed a curious thing—& I have no doubt that it is the precursor of many such acts; as knowledge increases, so must appreciation of the people & institutions to whom we owe it.— Govt. may do much, but it must always be under such vexatious restrictions that it tries a man’s temper & patience, let his patriotism be what it will, to undertake the Expenditure of what Government gives, & I fear it ever must be so. Between ourselves I think there will be a wretched outcome of the Govt. Fund (the £4000 p. annum). I am sure that if I had the uncontrolled selection of persons to grant it to, & was free to use my authority over them, I could have got ten times more done with the money. I shirked the subject in my address.8

Ever yr affectionate | rejoicer | J D Hooker


See letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 December [1878]. Anthony Rich had decided to bequeath his property in the City of London to CD in recognition of CD’s contribution to science (see letter from Anthony Rich, 7 December 1878).
John Gilbert Baker had been an assistant in the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, since 1866. His wife was Hannah Baker and their children were Edmund Gilbert Baker and Katharine Unthank Baker.
Gerard James Noel was first commissioner of works and public buildings. Stafford Northcote was chancellor of the Exchequer and had been a fellow of the Royal Society of London since 1875; he had been proposed for membership by Hooker (Royal Society archives, GB 117, EC/1875/01). Baker had been elected as a fellow on 6 June 1878 (Record of the Royal Society of London).
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 December [1878] and n. 2. Hooker had mentioned work by both CD and Francis Darwin in his presidential address to the Royal Society (Hooker 1878b; see also Nature, 13 December 1878, p. 133). William Turner Thiselton-Dyer was Hooker’s assistant.
Hooker’s presidency of the Royal Society (1873–8) had come to a close.
Thomas Henry Huxley’s ‘On the classification and the distribution of the crayfishes’ was published in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (T. H. Huxley 1878c).
In his presidential address to the Royal Society in November 1876, Hooker had announced a new government grant of £4000 a year for five years, separate from the existing £1000 grant for instruments and assistance from the Treasury; personal allowances or grants could be awarded subject to the approval of the president of the Council (see Hooker 1876, pp. 342–3). Details of the management of the fund were given in the next year’s address (Hooker 1877, pp. 432–3).
See n. 1, above. The couple from Worthing were Rich and his sister, Emma Burnaby.


Record of the Royal Society of London: The record of the Royal Society of London for the promotion of natural knowledge. 4th edition. London: Royal Society. 1940.


Congratulates CD on the Anthony Rich bequest.

Sad but relieved to retire as President of the Royal Society.

Describes battle with Treasury over use of an empty house at Kew.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 104: 121–4
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11795,” accessed on 31 January 2023,