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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   11 May [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

May 11th

My dear Hooker

I am really grateful to you for your two very long letters, which must have cost you much time.2 I will just allude to the first; the several facts you give me are very valuable, especially the marvellous one on Primrose & cowslip.— At some future time, I shd. be particularly obliged for Drege,, ie if it be not in Linnean Socy.—3 By the way what a noble interest you take in Linnean: I was extremely glad to hear at Council of R. Soc. that the Linnean will get rooms in B.H.4 (By the way I feel pretty certain of medal for Sir J. Richardson, though he has not yet been proposed.)5

(Many thanks for Forbes map, which I shall pick up when next in London.).—6

I have written to Mr Crowe & repeated what you say.

In regard to Huxley; I shd. think his chance was so good if Owen is not on Committee (& his real claims I have not for a moment ever doubted about), that I will call when next in London on Ld. Overstone & speak about it: if you can interest Murchison I shd. think he wd. be invaluable.7 I would, also, with pleasure write to Mr Crawfurd, if you think fit & I do not meet him soon.— I will, also, speak to Sir P. Egerton, when I see him next at Council of R. Socy.—8

Now for a more important! subject, viz my own self: I am extremely glad you think well of a separate “Preliminary Essay” i.e. if anything whatever is published; for Lyell seemed rather to doubt on this head; but I cannot bear the idea of begging some Editor & Council to publish & then perhaps to have to apologise humbly for having led them into a scrape. In this one respect I am in the state, which according to a very wise saying of my Father’s, is the only fit state for asking advice, viz with my mind firmly made up, & then, as my Father used to say, good advice was very comfortable & it was easy to reject bad advice.— But Heaven knows I am not in this state with respect to publishing at all any preliminary essay. It yet strikes me as quite unphilosophical to publish results without the full details which have led to such results.

It is a melancholy, & I hope not quite true view of your’s that facts will prove anything, & are therefore superfluous! But I have rather exaggerated,, I see, your doctrine. I do not fear being tied down to error, i.e. I feel pretty sure I should give up anything false published in the preliminary essay, in my larger work; but I may thus, it is very true, do mischief by spreading error, which as I have often heard you say is much easier spread than corrected. I confess I lean more & more to at least making the attempt & drawing up a sketch & trying to keep my judgment whether to publish open. But I always return to my fixed idea that it is dreadfully unphilosophical to publish without full details. I certainly think my future work in full would profit by hearing what my friends or critics (if reviewed) thought of the outline.—

To anyone but you I shd. apologise for such long discussion on so personal an affair; but I believe, & indeed you have proved it by the trouble you have taken, that this would be superfluous.

Your’s truly obliged | Ch. Darwin

Pray thank Mrs. Hooker for her little note about Mr Gosse’s book.—9

P.S | What you say (for I have just reread your letter) that the Essay might supersede & take away all novelty & value from my future larger Book, is very true; & that would grieve me beyond everything. On the other hand, (again from Lyell’s urgent advice) I published a preliminary sketch of Coral Theory & this did neither good nor harm.—10 I begin most heartily to wish that Lyell had never put this idea of an Essay into my head.11


Letter from J. D. Hooker, 7 May 1856. The other one, now missing, was a response to the letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 May [1856].
Burlington House, Piccadilly. The Linnean Society had lobbied the government since November 1854 with the proposal that it should be accommodated in Burlington House along with the Royal Society and the Geological, Astronomical, and Antiquarian Societies. The Linnean’s request was granted by the Treasury in a letter, dated 22 May 1856, addressed to the president of the Royal Society and forwarded to Thomas Bell in time for the anniversary meeting on 24 May (Gage and Stearn 1988, pp. 50–1). CD had attended the meeting of the council of the Royal Society on 8 May (Royal Society council minutes).
CD nominated John Richardson for a Royal Medal in June 1856 for his work in natural history and physical geography. Richardson received the medal in November (Royal Society council minutes).
See letters to J. D. Hooker, 7 May 1856, n. 13, and 9 May [1856].
Philip de Malpas Grey-Egerton was a member of the Royal Society council with CD.
CD probably refers to P. H. Gosse 1856, a guide to the seaside town of Tenby, which had been published in April 1856 (Publishers’ Circular, 15 April 1856, p. 164). CD was planning a visit to Tenby (see letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 11 May [1856]).
CD had presented this paper, ‘On certain areas of elevation and subsidence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, as deduced from the study of coral formations’, at a meeting of the Geological Society of London on 31 May 1837 (Collected papers 1: 46–9). He subsequently published Coral reefs in 1842.
See letter from Charles Lyell, 1–2 May 1856. On 14 May, CD followed Lyell’s advice and began writing his ‘species sketch’ (‘Journal’; Appendix II).


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Coral reefs: The structure and distribution of coral reefs. Being the first part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1842.

Forbes, Edward. 1856. Map of the distribution of marine life, illustrated chiefly by fishes, molluscs and radiata; showing also the extent & limits of the homoiozoic belts. Pp. 99–102 of vol. 4 of Johnston, Alexander Keith, ed., The physical atlas of natural phenomena. 2d ed. 4 vols. Edinburgh and London.

Gosse, Philip Henry. 1856. Tenby: a sea-side holiday. London.


CD is unsure about JDH’s recommendation that he publish a separate "Preliminary Essay". It is unphilosophical to publish without full details.

CD will work for Huxley’s admission to Athenaeum.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 162
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1874,” accessed on 21 February 2024,

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