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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [29 June 1854]1



My dear Darwin

I did give the Chloroform as before & with the best effect, though the Doctor was horribly prejudiced against it: & he having delv’d. 3–4000 women without it that is perhaps not to be wondered at.2 I cannot say I was uneasy or alarmed about Frances These things (unlike gales of wind) loose their effects on me.

I am at hammer & tongs about high & low because of the position of Coniferæ & the consequent developements of the Carboniferous Flora.3 I maintain that Coniferæ are genuine Dicotyledons & not degraded ones, that their being a link between Exogens & Cryptog’s is pure fallacy (for which we are more indebted to the a priori reasonings of Geologists than to naturalists) & that they are evidence that nature had during the Carboniferous period attained the developement of the highest type of vegetation now existing viz the Dicotyledonous. I do not know how this will chime in with your Elastic theory of creations & perfections & imperfections. The position of Coniferæ in the Dicot. series I do not pretend to give. I can shew good cause for considering the wood as the highest type of Exogenous developement; & I do not think that the ovary being open is of the importance that is attached to it— I have no objection to divide the Dicots into Gymnosperms & Angiosperms & consider G. as a whole below A, but I regard this as a temporary arrangement subject to revision.

I am much edified by your information of the Zoologists opinion of what is high & low,4 as I do not know where to get these opinions else, & it appears evident to me that except we come to some clear definite understanding on such points all Geological agreement & reasoning will be unsound, or lost.

Perhaps you can tell me where the subject is treated of in Relation to Botany. My opinion has always coincided with yours, & perhaps “specialization of organs to Functions as shewn by departure from the Archetype” is the best way of putting it.

I am puzzled about parallel series, I hold no such thing in the V. K.5 but I find Forbes says in his Brit. Mollusks6 that Mollusca are higher than some Articulata & lower than others. This puzzles me, is the Molluscous type higher (as R Jones has it)7 than the Articulata or lower as Carpenter8 & others put it. Parallelism is impossible in my mind. I have been having a long correspondence with Lyell on the subject.— I am aware that we may not be able in our present state of knowledge to say which is highest; i.e. whether we should attach greater importance to the nervous, digestive, or circulatory system, but are we not approaching the laws. If the Molluscous Archetype is the highest then every mollusc howevever arrested in developement is above the highest Articulata. I have illustrated it to Lyell by saying that every annual achlamydeous leafless Exogen is higher in natures eyes than the grandest Palm or Dracæna. The type whether we judge by its being Exogenous, or Dicotyled. or Exorhizal, or Acramphibryous is above that of an Endogen, Monocot, Coleorhizal &c.

My wife is doing capitally well. I return to Kew on Saturday.

Ever Yrs | J D Hooker.

P.S. have you any rich friends who would care to take a copy of the works referred to in the enclosed Prospectus?— it is to be one of the most superb illustrated works ever published, & I want rich horticulturalists to subscribe.9

CD annotations

0.3 My dear … because 2.1] crossed ink
2.7 existing] ‘existing’ added ink
2.9 The position … give. 2.10] scored pencil
3.1 I am … lost. 3.4] crossed ink
5.2 Mollusca … than others. 5.3] ‘Except man.’added pencil
5.2 some] ‘o’ added ink for clarity
5.9 every] ‘every’ added ink
5.10 I have … Dracæna 5.12] ‘(yes if degraded I shd. agree; but if never developed not agree)’ added ink
8.1 P.S… . subscribe. 8.3] crossed ink
Top of first page: ‘High & low’ brown crayon; ‘22’ brown crayon
After valediction: ‘Take the genealogy of a (Gentile) old Persian & Celt & place them along-side each other is only parallelism—both warriors both priest &c &c’ ink


The use of chloroform as a general anaesthetic during childbirth was controversial. See Correspondence vol. 4, letter to W. D. Fox, [May 1850], for the problems of administering chloroform.
Vegetable kingdom.
Forbes and Hanley [1848–]1853, 1: xi. The idea of a sequence or ‘progression’ in organisms from the simplest to the more complex during the history of the earth would be difficult to hold if it was shown that some groups of organisms were more complex than the simpler forms of the next group in the series, i.e., that there was more than one progressive series running in parallel.
Jones 1845–52, 1: 50, 53, 59.
Carpenter 1854, pp. 16–20, 59. An annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL. William Benjamin Carpenter espoused the idea of a single progressive sequence of organisms from the ‘more general to the more special’ (ibid., pp. 95–117). See also letter to S. P. Woodward, 6 May 1854, n. 4.


Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1854. Principles of comparative physiology. 4th edition. London: John Churchill.

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

Jones, Thomas Rymer. 1845–52. The natural history of animals; being the substance of three courses of lectures delivered before the Royal Institution of Great Britain. 2 vols. London.


JDH on "highness" of Coniferae: they are genuine Dicotyledons, not a link to cryptogams; that is a geologists’ fallacy. Thus they are highest plants in Carboniferous.

Does not agree with CD’s "elastic" species theory. Long correspondence with Lyell on this.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.9: 383
Physical description
ALS 8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1576,” accessed on 13 April 2024,

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