skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   23 November 1880

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

Nov. 23d/80

My dear Hooker

Your note has pleased me much; for I did not expect that you would have had time to read any of it.—1 Read the last chapt. & you will know whole result, but without the evidence. The case, however, of radicles bending after exposure for an hour to geotropism, with their tips (or brains) cut off is, I think worth your reading (bottom of p. 525); it astounded me. The next most remarkable fact, as it appears to me (p. 148) is the discrimination by the tip of the radicle between a slightly harder & softer objects affixed on opposite sides of tip. But I will bother you no more about my book.— The sensitiveness of seedlings to light is marvellous.—2

I have read Wallace with the greatest interest & admire it extremely; but I cannot swallow or digest all his conclusion;3 perhaps my brain-digestion is weak from old age. I can hardly credit that the opening of one or two N. & S. sea-channels across Europe & Asia wd. warm Arctic regions enough for them to support such organisms as they formerly supported. It stumps me to believe that northern plants travelled down Andes to Fuegia,—thence to the supposed Antarctic continent, &c thence by insular halting places to S. Australia & (I think to) C. of Good Hope. That they shd. have been subjected to such a series of changes & retained the same specific character is to me almost incredible.4 But what I most object to is that seeds have been blown from one mountain-summit to another distant one. Wallace argues from dispersal to oceanic islands; but in this case we have sea-currents, & birds with dirt on feet & base of beak & seeds in stomach.5 No bird wd fly directly from the tops of the Alps to the tops of the Pyrenees, & fancy seeds being often thus blown & not merely to the tops, but to where a debacle had recently occurred. I still remain convinced that when same species inhabits distant mountain-summits, they must formerly have inhabited intermediate low-lands,—6 Though Wallace argues very well against several former glacial periods & almost convinced me, I feel inclined to admit them, as the sole means of explaining the temperate forms at the C. of Good Hope. How I wish you had time to take up this great subject again. It pleased me to see how well Wallace appreciates your work.—7

I feel inclined to abide by view where oceans now extend, they have always (ie since Silurian times) nearly extended, & so with continents; but it is an awfully perplexing subject.—

I was delighted with Pagets Essay;8 I hear that he has occasionally attended to this subject from his youth. I thought he made too much of the symmetry of decay in leaves.— I am very glad he has called attention to galls— this has always seemed to me a profoundly interesting subject; & if I had been younger would take it up.—9 By Jove his essay will have borne good fruit if it gives you a pathologist.—10

Frank shall answer about Nobbe, when he comes home.—11

What word could I use for zig-zag which you hate so much?12

With hearty thanks | farewell my dear Hooker. | Yours ever | Ch. Darwin

Reading this over again I do not think I have expressed strong enough admiration of Wallace’s book.— His weakness is want of sound judgment, as it appears to me,— videlicet Spiruatilism.—13


Hooker had commented on Movement in plants in his letter of 22 November 1880.
CD had sent Alfred Russel Wallace notes on his new book, Island life (Wallace 1880a; see letter to A. R. Wallace, 3 November 1880 and enclosure.
On the existence of large inland seas and their warming effects, see Wallace 1880a, pp. 82, 92–4, 504; on the importance of mountain chains as a means of migration for plants from the northern to the southern hemisphere, see ibid., pp. 480–91. See also letter from A. R. Wallace, 8 November 1880.
On wind as a means of seed dispersal, see Wallace 1880a, pp. 248–9. See also letter from A. R. Wallace, 8 November 1880 and n. 7.
For CD’s theory of migration across lowlands, see Origin 6th ed., pp. 338–40.
Wallace’s book was dedicated to Hooker and cited Hooker’s work on geographical distribution (especially J. D. Hooker 1859) throughout.
Hooker had praised James Paget’s lecture (Paget 1880; see letter from J. D. Hooker, 22 November 1880. For CD’s comments on the lecture, see the letter to James Paget, 14 November 1880.
On symmetry of decay in leaves, see Paget 1880, pp. 611–12; on galls, ibid., pp. 649–51; for CD’s interest in galls, see the letter to James Paget, 14 November 1880 and n. 6.
Hooker had mentioned the possibility of appointing a vegetable pathologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 22 November 1880).
Francis Darwin was in Cambridge (letter from Francis Darwin, [11 or 12 November 1880]). Hooker was interested in purchasing a copy of Nobbe 1876 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 22 November 1880 and n. 15).
Videlicet: to wit, namely (Latin). See letter from J. D. Hooker, 22 November 1880 and n. 7.


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.

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.

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

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.


Admires Wallace’s Island life.

Criticises: 1. His view of similar plants on distant mountains – CD prefers previous low-land connections to Wallace’s summit–summit dispersal;

2. Source of warmth for ancient Arctic climate;

3. Origin of S. Australian flora.

CD’s favourite cases in Movement in plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 95: 496–9
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12841,” accessed on 4 December 2023,