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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   25 September [1853]

Down Bromley Kent

Sept. 25th

My dear Hooker

I have read your paper with great interest. It seems all very clear; & will form an admirable introduction to the N.Z. Flora,1 or to any Flora in the world. How few generalisers there are amongst systematists; I really suspect there is something absolutely opposed to each other & hostile in the two frames of mind required for systematising, & reasoning on large collections of facts.— Many of your arguments appear to me very well put: & as far as my experience goes, the candid way in which you discuss the subject is unique. The whole will be very useful to me, whenever I undertake my volume;2 though parts take the wind very completely out of my sails, for I have for some time determined to give the arguments on both sides, (as far as I could) instead of arguing on the mutability side alone.—

I shall like very much seeing the remainder. I really have nothing to say or gainsay; an expression of p. 21. & p. 22. (marked) rather puzzled me at first. In my own cirripedial work (by the way, thank you for the dose of soft solder, it does one, (or at least me) a great deal of good),3 —in my own work, I have not felt conscious that disbelieving in the permanence of species has made much difference one way or the other; in some few cases (if publishing avowedly on doctrine of non-permanence) I shd. not have affixed names, & in some few cases shd. have affixed names to remarkable varieties.4 Certainly I have felt it humiliating, discussing & doubting & examining over & over again, when in my own mind, the only doubt has been, whether the form varied today or yesterday 5 (to put a fine point on it, as Snagsby6 would say). After describing a set of forms, as distinct species, tearing up my M.S., & making them one species; tearing that up & making them separate, & then making them one again (which has happened to me) I have gnashed my teeth, cursed species, & asked what sin I had committed to be so punished: But I must confess, that perhaps nearly the same thing wd. have happened to me on any scheme of work.—7

I am heartily glad to hear your Journal is so much advanced: how magnificently it seems to be illustrated. An “Oriental naturalist”, with lots of imagination, & not too much regard to facts, is just the man to discuss species! I think your title of a “Journal of a Naturalist in the East” very good; but whether in the Himmalaya wd. not be better, I have doubted, for the East sounds rather vague.—8

I should much like to see your notice of the German’s views on geograph. distrib. consequent on emersion of river-barriers.—9

I have finished Esmond, but hardly begun on the other books: I like reading Esmond very much, on the principle that the worst novel is better than the best of other books; but I must say I think Esmond after the first vol. rather heavy, & the dear mistress rather mawkish.10

Farewell, good luck to your work,—whether you make the species hold up their heads or hang them down, as long as you don’t quite annihilate them or make them quite permanent; it will be all nuts to me;11 so farewell yours most truly | C. Darwin


The introductory essay to Flora Novæ-Zelandiæ, the second part of the Botany of the Antarctic voyage (J. D. Hooker 1853–5).
The work CD planned to write on his species theory when he finished his work on the Cirripedia.
The ‘dose of soft solder’, i.e., flattery (OED), is the acknowledgment in J. D. Hooker 1853–5, 1: xxii n., that: Mr. Darwin not only directed my earliest studies in the subjects of the distribution and variation of species, but has discussed with me all the arguments, and drawn my attention to many of the facts which I have endeavoured to illustrate in this Essay. I know of no other way in which I can acknowledge the extent of my obligation to him, than by adding that I should never have taken up the subject in its present form, but for the advantages I have derived from his friendship and encouragement.
That is, CD sometimes would have made varieties of what, according to traditional taxonomic practice, were species, and vice versa.
For CD, convinced of his evolutionary hypothesis, the problem was to establish a genealogical relationship in the development of varieties and species (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix II).
A character in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, which was published in parts from March 1852 to September 1853.
References to CD’s difficulty in deciding whether his specimens were species or merely varieties abound in the Cirripedia volumes. See, for example, the discussion of the genus Balanus and of Acasta spongites in Living Cirripedia (1854): 184–93 and 308, and Scalpellum maximum in Fossil Cirripedia (1851): 26. CD’s general point is that he would have had to grapple with similar taxonomic problems whether or not he believed in the impermanency of species.
The title finally decided upon was Himalayan journals; or, notes of a naturalist in Bengal, the Sikkim and Nepal Himalayas, the Khasia mountains, &c. (J. D. Hooker 1854a). The two volumes contain a total of ninety-two illustrations.
Probably the unsigned notice of Hoffmann 1852 in Hooker’s Journal of Botany and Kew Garden Miscellany 5 (1853): 408–14.
The history of Henry Esmond (1852) by William Makepeace Thackeray. On 24 September, CD noted: ‘Esmond. by Thackeray (Poor)’ (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 5).
Nuts to (a person): A source of pleasure or delight to one’ (OED).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Fossil Cirripedia (1851): A monograph on the fossil Lepadidæ, or, pedunculated cirripedes of Great Britain. By Charles Darwin. London: Palaeontographical Society. 1851.

Hoffmann, Hermann. 1852. Pflanzenverbreitung und Pflanzenwanderung, eine botanische geographische Untersuchung. Darmstadt: G. Jonghaus.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1853–5. Flora Novæ-Zelandiæ. 2 vols. Pt 2 of The botany of the Antarctic voyage of HM discovery ships Erebus and Terror, in the years 1839–1843, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross. London: Lovell Reeve.

Living Cirripedia (1854): A monograph of the sub-class Cirripedia, with figures of all the species. The Balanidæ (or sessile cirripedes); the Verrucidæ, etc. By Charles Darwin. London: Ray Society. 1854.

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.


Further response to MS of introductory essay to Flora Novae-Zelandiae.

Disbelieving in permanence of species has made little difference to CD in his barnacle work.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 150
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1532,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5