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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   9 May [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

May 9th

My dear Hooker

Read & return the enclosed from Consul Crowe (a friend of Col. Sabine) & send me whatever answer you think fit & I will write civilly to Mr. Crowe.—2

With respect to Huxley,3 I was on point of speaking to Crawfurd & Strezlecki (who will be on committee of Athenæum) when I bethought me of how Owen would look & what he would say.4 Cannot you fancy him, with a red face, dreadful smile & slow & gentle voice, asking, “Will Mr Crawfurd tell me what Mr. Huxley has done, deserving this honour; I only know that he differs from, & disputes the authority of Cuvier, Ehrenberg & Agassiz as of no weight at all”.—5 And when I began to consider what to tell Mr Crawfurd to say, I was puzzled, & could refer him only to some excellent papers in R. Trans. for which the medal had been awarded.6 But I doubt with an opposing faction, whether this would be considered enough, for I believe real scientific merit is not thought enough, without the person is generally well known; now I want to hear what you deliberately think on this head: it would be bad to get him proposed & then rejected; & Owen is very powerful.—

Lastly, & of course especially, about myself; I very much want advice & truthful consolation if you can give it. I had good talk with Lyell about my species work, & he urges me strongly to publish something.7 I am fixed against any periodical or Journal, as I positively will not expose myself to an Editor or Council allowing a publication for which they might be abused.

If I publish anything it must be a very thin & little volume, giving a sketch of my views & difficulties; but it is really dreadfully unphilosophical to give a resumé, without exact references, of an unpublished work. But Lyell seemed to think I might do this, at the suggestion of friends, & on the ground which I might state that I had been at work for 18 years, & yet could not publish for several years, & especially as I could point out difficulties which seemed to me to require especial investigation. Now what think you?. I shd. be really grateful for advice. I thought of giving up a couple of months & writing such a sketch, & trying to keep my judgment open whether or no to publish it when completed.8 It will be simply impossible for me to give exact references; anything important I shd. state on authority of the author generally; & instead of giving all the facts on which I ground any opinion, I could give by memory only one or two. In Preface I would state that the work could not be considered strictly scientific, but a mere sketch or outline of future work in which full references &c shd. be given.— Eheu, eheu, I believe I shd. sneer at anyone else doing this, & my only comfort is, that I truly never dreamed of it, till Lyell suggested it, & seems deliberately to think it adviseable.

I am in a peck of troubles & do pray forgive me for troubling you.—

Yours affectiy | C. Darwin

Emma desires her best thanks to Mrs. Hooker for her kind note received this morning.


Dated by the relationship to the letter from J. D. Hooker, 7 May 1856.
John Rice Crowe was British consul-general in Norway, 1843–75. He and CD had previously corresponded about seeds washed up on the coast of Norway (Correspondence vol. 5, letter from J. R. Crowe, 27 September 1855, and letter to J. R. Crowe, 9 November 1855). Edward Sabine was treasurer of the Royal Society of London.
Hooker was attempting to get Thomas Henry Huxley elected to the Athenæum (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 7 May 1856).
John Crawfurd, Paul Edmund de Strzelecki, and Richard Owen. Huxley’s relationship with Owen had sharply deteriorated in recent months (A. Desmond 1982).
Huxley had roundly criticised Louis Agassiz’s theory of ‘progressive development’ of living forms through geological time and Georges Cuvier’s application of his principle of ‘the physiological correlation or coadaptation of organs’ in two Friday evening lectures held at the Royal Institution (T. H. Huxley 1855 and 1856a). He had previously described Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg’s researches as ‘wonderful monuments of intense and unremitting labour, but at least as wonderful illustrations of what zoological and physiological reasoning should not be’ (T. H. Huxley 1851, p. 436).
Huxley had received the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1852 for his paper on the anatomy and physiology of Medusae (T. H. Huxley 1849).
CD had made an appointment to see Lyell on 8 May (see letter from Charles Lyell, 1–2 May 1856, and letter to Charles Lyell, 3 May [1856]).
A note inserted in the front of CD’s copy of A. de Candolle 1855, volume 1 (Darwin Library–CUL), indicates CD’s intentions: ‘When this read skim over (make index) Review Hooker N. Zealand &c & Fl. Antarctica *& Galapagos [added pencil] Skim my own portfolio Then read my own old sketch, & write Essay’.


Candolle, Alphonse de. 1855. Géographie botanique raisonnée ou exposition des faits principaux et des lois concernant la distribution géographique des plantes de l’époque actuelle. 2 vols. Paris: Victor Mason. Geneva: J. Kessmann.

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

Desmond, Adrian. 1982. Archetypes and ancestors: palaeontology in Victorian London, 1850–1875. London: Blond & Briggs.

Huxley, Thomas Henry. 1849. On the anatomy and the affinities of the family of the Medusæ. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London pt 2: 413–34. [Reprinted in Foster and Lankester eds. 1898–1903, 1: 9–32.]


Lyell urges CD to publish a sketch of species theory; CD asks JDH’s opinion on best course.

Concerned about opposition, particularly by Owen, to Huxley’s admission to Athenaeum.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 161
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1870,” accessed on 25 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6