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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   22 November 1880

Royal Gardens Kew

Nov. 22/80

Dear old Darwin

I must just thank you for the “Movements”, which seems a most capital production, & I am so pleased to see Franks name associated with your’s in it—1 I have read only two chapters, vii & viii. & they are splendid, but I hate the zigzags.!—2 Bauhinia leaf closing is a curious case; does it not show that said leaf consists of two leaflets?—3

The fact that for good action the leaves want a good illumination during the preceding day is very suggestive of experiments with the electric light. They are like the new paint that only shines by night after sun-light by day.4 There are heaps of points I should like to know more about.

Dyer & Baker are taken aback by the keel of the Cucurbita seed;—which keel was a wonderful discovery in Welwitschia!!!5

I have had no time to read more than the 2 chapters as yet, for I have a stock of half read books on hand & no time for any of them. I am only 23 through Wallace;6 it is splendid— what a number of cobwebs he has swept away.— that such a man should be a Spiritualist is more wonderful than all the movements of all the plants.7

He has done great things towards the explanation of the N. Zeald Flora & Australian, but marred it by assuming a preexistent S.W. Australian Flora—8 I am sure that the Australian Flora is very modern in the main; & that the S.W. peculiarities are exaggerations due to long isolation during the severance of the West from the East by the inland sea or straits that occupied the continent from Carpentaria to the Gt. Bight. I live in hopes of showing by an analysis (botanical) of the Australian types, that they are all derived from the Asiatic continent.—9

Meanwhile I have no chance of tackling problems— I must grind away at the Garden, the Bot. Mag & Indian Flora, which I cannot afford to give up, & Gen. Plant. which alone I delight in.10 I am at Palms, a most difficult task: but sometimes weeks elapse & not a stroke of work done! I am getting very weary of “working for a living”, & am beginning to covet rest & leisure in a way I never did before; but I must first look out for the education of three sons,—all hopeful I am glad to say, but one still an infant!11

The Grays will be back in a fortnight, they have changed their plans & will spend 2 or 3 winter months here & then go abroad (with us) for the spring.12 They will go into lodgings in Kew. We contemplate getting out a paper or book on the distribution of U.S. plants together (as one of Hayden’s Reports.)13

Have you read Pagets Lecture on plant diseases?14 it is very suggestive & a wonderful specimen of style aiding in giving great importance to possibly very superficial resemblances between animal & vegetable malformations: still there must be a great deal in the subject to be investigated.

I suppose we should get “Nobbe’s Handbuch der Samenkunde”.—15 is it an expensive work— our funds for purchase are rather short— but if inexpensive book I will order it at once

Ever affy Yrs | J D Hooker

Paget has started the idea of a Vegetable Pathologist for Kew & I have asked him to corkscrew Gladstone16 about it.—

We were very sorry to see Miss Wedgwoods death in the paper— I fear that Mrs Darwin will feel it a great deal.17

CD annotations

9.1 I suppose … at once 9.3] scored red crayon and pencil; ‘Answer’ red crayon
End of letter: ‘what wd you use for zig-zag | The account of cutting off tip | Last chapter’ pencil del ink


Hooker’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Movement in plants (see Appendix IV). The words ‘assisted by Francis Darwin’ appear below CD’s name on the title page of the book.
Movement in plants contained numerous diagrams showing circumnutation over time; CD described many of the patterns as ‘zigzag’ (see, for example, ibid., p. 71).
In Movement in plants, pp. 373–4, CD described the two halves of each leaf of Bauhinia rising up and closing completely at night, ‘like the opposite leaflets of many Leguminosae’. While in Germany, Francis had observed Bauhinia richardiana, reporting: ‘2 large leaflets drop’ (see Correspondence vol. 26, letter from Francis Darwin, [12 July 1878]).
CD remarked that in some genera it was indispensable that leaves be well illuminated during the day in order that they should assume a vertical position at night (see Movement in plants, pp. 318–19). On the new luminous paint, see the Chemical Gazette, 17 December 1880, p. 302.
William Turner Thiselton-Dyer and John Gilbert Baker. In Movement in plants, pp. 102–6, CD described the development of a heel or peg on the summit of the radicle that aided in opening the seed-coats in species of Cucurbitaceae, the cucumber family. On a similar structure in Welwitschia, see Bower 1881, pp. 27–8 (see also letter from W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, [after 23 November 1880]).
Alfred Russel Wallace’s new book, Island life, was dedicated to Hooker (Wallace 1880a).
Hooker had been highly critical of Wallace’s spiritualism; see Correspondence vol. 24, letter from J. D. Hooker, [24 September 1876], and Correspondence vol. 27, letter from J. D. Hooker, 18 December 1879.
Wallace remarked that parts of south-western Australia were especially rich in ‘purely Australian types’ of flora, and concluded that it was a ‘remnant of the more extensive and more isolated portion of the continent in which the peculiar Australian flora was principally developed’ (see Wallace 1880a, pp. 463–4).
Hooker had written an essay on the flora of Australia and Tasmania (J. D. Hooker 1859); however, he never published another major work on the subject.
Hooker was the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, and had been engaged for many years in the multi-volume works The flora of British India (J. D. Hooker 1872–97) and Genera plantarum (Bentham and Hooker 1862–83).
Hooker and his wife, Hyacinth Hooker, had planned to join Asa Gray and his wife, Jane Loring Gray, in Italy in December (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 September 1880 and n. 2).
J. D. Hooker and Gray 1880 was published in the Bulletin of the United States Geological and Geographical Survey, edited by Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden.
CD had received a copy of James Paget’s lecture (Paget 1880; see letter to James Paget, 14 November 1880).
In Movement in plants, p. 105 n., CD had referred to Friedrich Nobbe’s Handbuch der Samenkunde (Handbook of seed science; Nobbe 1876).
William Ewart Gladstone was the prime minister.
Elizabeth Wedgwood, Emma Darwin’s sister, had died on 8 November 1880 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). Her death was reported in The Times, 9 November 1880, p. 1.


Bentham, George and Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1862–83. Genera plantarum. Ad exemplaria imprimis in herbariis Kewensibus servata definita. 3 vols. in 7. London: A. Black [and others].

Bower, Frederick Orpen. 1881. On the germination and histology of the seedling of Welwitschia mirabilis. Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science n.s. 21: 15–30.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1859. On the flora of Australia, its origin, affinities, and distribution; being an introductory essay to the flora of Tasmania. London: Lovell Reeve.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1872–97. The flora of British India. Assisted by various botanists. 7 vols. London: L. Reeve & Co.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton and Gray, Asa. 1880. The vegetation of the Rocky Mountain region and a comparison with that of other parts of the world. Bulletin of the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories 6 (1880): 1–77.

Movement in plants: The power of movement in plants. By Charles Darwin. Assisted by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1880.

Nobbe, Friedrich. 1876. Handbuch der Samenkunde. Berlin: Wiegandt, Hempel and Baren.

Paget, James. 1880. An address on elemental pathology. British Medical Journal 2: 611–14, 649–52.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1880a. Island life: or, the phenomena and causes of insular faunas and floras, including a revision and attempted solution of the problem of geological climates. London: Macmillan.


Praise for Movement in plants, lately arrived.

Praise for Wallace’s Island life

and astonishment that he could be a spiritualist.

Differs with Wallace on age of SW. Australian flora. JDH ascribes its peculiarities to isolation by an inland sea.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 104: 142–5
Physical description
ALS 7pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12838,” accessed on 1 December 2023,