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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   26 July 1879


July 26/79.

Dear Darwin

I have just returned from the funeral of my niece in Glasgow—whither Dyer sent me your letter of 22d.   He has I understand sent the L. Aphaca & told you that we do not want Smilax aspera back.1

I was surprized to hear from Horace the other day that you were going to the Lakes & I do hope it will do you good.2 Our little Scotch tour, included 3 days on the Clyde, where my Niece had been staying, & which did my wife a world of good, not undone by the return to London which was accomplished in 1212 hours from door to door, & this included 6 miles of carriage drive, two railways & a journey right across Glasgow by Cab!3 we do live in wonderful times.

We are going to Scotland for our holiday, to Sir James & Lady Colviles my Indian friends who have a big house in a lovely spot on the Firth of Forth (Fifeshire)— they hospitably take ourselves 3 children & 2 nurses!—& our stay will be for a month from 15th. August.4 I must tell you that Brian has come out First Class in Chemistry at the School of Mines: he is a steady worker though not very clever & won it by hard work.5 I shall get him on to the B.Sc. of L. University & have sent him to a Mathematical coach at Cambridge who lives next to Horace—who again has kindly offered to look up Brian.6

I was very anxious to hear what you had to say to Ball’s lecture which I think is very unsatisfactory in more ways than one. Firstly it was quite unsuited to the occasion—& not profitable for Geographers— I strongly urged him to send it to a Magazine instead, or a Society where it could be discussed.—7 But what is of far greater moment I think his positive theory respecting the Carbonic acid gas in the air at the Carboniferous Epoch as inconclusive as his negative one regarding the Alpine plants not having been at the Poles.

Granting that there was the enormous percentage of CO2 in the air, he has no grounds for assuming that it would not be equably diffused— That it formed as he supposes a layer at low levels only is only tenable on the hypothesis that there was no motion in the air which requires that the world should not have revolved on it’s axis!

Then the putting aside without excuse even, all the evidence of glacial migration is quite inadmissable   But the funniest idea of all is, (if I understood him aright) that the Alpine plants have remained unchanged in kind & position since & from before carboniferous times, whilst lowland plants progressed from Lepodendron8 & so to the existing Flora!—

I think too Ball attributes to us assumptions which we have nowhere put forward, & certainly would not subscribe to:—as that all or even any of the Arctic plants common in the Alps originated in the former region—

Another assumption is that because there was an increased proportion of C.O.2 in the air at the Carboniferous epoch, they therefore took it up— I know of nothing in Vegetable life that supports this theory—

I must break off to race the post—. & I am sure you have had enough of Ball whom we will discuss when we meet.

Ever yr affec | J D Hooker


See letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 July [1879] and n. 3; the letter was forwarded by William Turner Thiselton-Dyer. Hooker’s niece was Willielma Campbell. Lathyrus aphaca is yellow pea; Smilax aspera is rough bindweed.
Horace Darwin. The Darwins stayed in Coniston in the Lake District from 2 to 27 August 1879 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
Hooker’s wife was Hyacinth Hooker.
James William Colvile and Elinor Colvile had an estate, Craigflower, near Dunfermline, Fife (ODNB). The children were probably Reginald Hawthorn Hooker, Grace Ellen Hooker, and Joseph Symonds Hooker. The nurses have not been identified.
Brian Harvey Hodgson Hooker studied at the Royal School of Mines, London, from October 1878 (letter from J. D. Hooker to Asa Gray, 22 August 1878; Joseph Dalton Hooker Correspondence, JHC 172).
According to the University of London General Register, part 1 (University of London Archives, UoL/UP/2/1/1), Brian matriculated there in June 1878. The coach may have been Edward John Routh.
CD had commented on John Ball’s paper ‘On the origin of the flora of the European Alps’ (Ball 1879) in his letter to Hooker of 22 July [1879]. Ball’s lecture was delivered at an evening meeting of the Royal Geographical Society on 9 June 1879.
Hooker probably intended Lepidodendron, an extinct genus of tree-sized plants related to club mosses (family Lycopodiaceae).


Ball, John. 1879. On the origin of the flora of the European Alps. [Read 9 June 1879.] Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography 1: 564–89.


JDH criticises John Ball’s theory of origin of higher plants in Carboniferous highlands, where low carbon dioxide levels permitted survival.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 104: 128–30
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12173,” accessed on 31 January 2023,