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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   27 May [1855]

Down Farnborough Kent

May 27th

My dear Hooker

It is such a pleasure to me to write to you that I must at once answer your note. You will have seen my report in the Gardeners Chron.—1 I did not follow your suggestion of making a mere report, as I thought a bit of discussion wd. make it more interesting; I did not care about being a little rash in speculating in a temporary publication like a newspaper.— We are come to a complete split on the philosophy of extension of continents: have not I been audacious in attacking poor dear Forbes’ theory?2 You did not quite understand me in supposing that I meant only branches of trees; I meant whole plants: I must, however, try whether a herbaceous plant with fully ripe seeds will float, for a few weeks in sea-water.—3 What gave me great confidence in this notion of the fruit floating (which by the way partly answers the objection of dioecious plants, requiring seeds of both sexes) was, after writing to you, getting some gaping pods of laburnum &c &c heads of Compositæ, & putting them in salt-water, & how beautifully they close:4 I was perfectly astonished at the way the heads of a Dandelion & Colts-foot shut itself up.—

When we meet, I shd. like to know what you think of the landing of the seeds, which I remember you thought a great difficulty. All I want to show, or ever in most sanguine moments expected to show is the possibility in the long course of ages of a few plants being transported by currents. The real interesting thing would be to get a list of the Azores plants, & try & get the seeds of as many as I could, & test them; & by Jove I will!

Can you give me reference to Watson’s Paper5 or best list of the plants of this archipelago?— I am astonished at my own audacity in the way I have attacked E. Forbes & his followers; but is it not well that a word shd. be said on the other side. When such men as Wollaston, speaks of Madeira “as the sure & certain witness” of the Miocene continent.—6

I am extremely glad to hear that Carpenter appreciates your essay;7 because it raises C. in my estimation, & he already stood very high from the manner in which he has done his Comparative Physiology.—8

You ask about my Photograph; I have been done at the Club; but if I really have as bad an expression, as my photograph gives me, how I can have one single friend is surprising.9 My Brother has a large drawing of me, by Lawrence,10 of which he has had some photographs made & no doubt, if anyone really wished, others could be made.—

I wish I cd get some Saxifrage seed: I have tried two seedsmen in vain.—

Perhaps you will be so kind, if in your power tell me where list of Azores plants can be found. I am trying your list;11 but many of your plants are tender, & I fear I shall fail for want of hot-house: & the seedsman could not spare me many seeds of many of the kinds. Have you Hedysarum gyrans at Kew? I have tried to get a plant in vain. Is it easily propagated (I know absolutely nothing about it, it may be most precious or most common) if it be common I shd. like to have a specimen, (i.e. if I cd. keep it alive in House) to try one of my very most foolish experiments with.—

Is Viola tricolor with only 4 sepals to calyx & only 4 petals to flower, (without the petal with the spur) a curiosity, I found one the other day,—only a single flower.— (now it is dry, the calyx looks as if it had 5.) do not notice this without it interests you, for it does not interest me.—12 But I will enclose it.—

Forgive this long note— Do not be irate with my audacity on seed-transportal & believe me my very dear Hooker | Ever yours | C. Darwin

When will the new Edit. of your Journal come out?.13


See letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 21 May [1855].
CD refers to Edward Forbes’s explanation of the origin of the British flora in which plants were thought to have migrated to Britain over former land-bridges and continental extensions (Forbes 1846). CD had previously criticised Forbes’s views in Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [13 March 1846]. He believed that the geological evidence for such changes was inconclusive and that plants and animals were able to migrate over the ocean without any need for changes in land levels. See Browne 1983. Hooker had favoured Forbes’s theory in J. D. Hooker 1853–5, 1: xxii–xxv.
The results were disappointing to CD. See letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 21 November [1855].
Hewett Cottrell Watson had botanised in the Azores in 1842. His results were summarised in Watson 1843–4 and Watson 1847.
Wollaston 1854, pp. xiii–xiv.
The introductory essay to J. D. Hooker and Thomson 1855 included a strongly worded critique of the way that science was taught in Britain and a plea that physiology should be considered an essential part of botany (J. D. Hooker and Thomson 1855, pp. 13–18). William Benjamin Carpenter must have seen an advance copy of the work since it was published in July (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 374).
Principles of general and comparative physiology (Carpenter 1839). An annotated copy of the fourth edition (Carpenter 1854) is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
CD’s photograph for the Literary and Scientific Portrait Club was taken by Maull and Polyblank. It is reproduced in this volume facing p. 448.
Samuel Laurence made a sketch and a finished drawing of CD, both in chalk, in 1853. The drawing is reproduced in this volume facing p. 128.
See letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 21 May [1855], n. 2.
CD’s interest in Viola tricolor and other species of violas was mainly related to the phenomenon of the reversion of cultivated forms to the wild state and to the origin of the different varieties. See Variation 1: 368–9.
The second edition of Himalayan journals (J. D. Hooker 1854a) was published on 10 December 1855 (Publishers’ Circular, 8 December 1855, p. 473).


Browne, Janet. 1983. The secular ark. Studies in the history of biogeography. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.

Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1839. Principles of general and comparative physiology. London: John Churchill.

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–.

Forbes, Edward. 1846. On the connexion between the distribution of the existing fauna and flora of the British Isles, and the geological changes which have affected their area, especially during the epoch of the Northern Drift. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, and of the Museum of Economic Geology in London 1: 336–432.

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.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

Watson, Hewett Cottrell. 1843. The geographical distribution of British plants. 3d edition. Pt 1 (no more published). London: Printed for the author.

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1854. Insecta Maderensia; being an account of the insects of the islands of the Madeiran group. London: John van Voorst.


CD’s seed paper in Gardeners’ Chronicle [Collected papers 1: 255–8];

CD attacks Forbes’s "Atlantis".

Considers solutions to floating problem. Decides to test Azores seeds.

Photographs and drawings of CD.

Plant movement experiments with Hedysarum gyrans.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 132
Physical description
ALS 10pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1688,” accessed on 31 January 2023,

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