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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   17–18 [June 1856]1

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Hooker

I was actually wishing much to hear what you thought on the two subjects, to which your note, received this morning is chiefly devoted.— I did not like to give up the time to form a very certain judgment to my own satisfaction, in Falconer v. Huxley. But the article struck me as very clever.—2 I rather lean to the Huxley side, & without Falconer can say that he could have told, without the knowledge of habits of any bears, that the Polar bear was carnivorous & the brown bear frugivorous from structure alone, I think Huxleys argument best.—3 But to deny all reasoning from adaptation & so called final causes, seems to me preposterous.4 But I am most heartily sorry at the whole dispute: it will prevent two very good men from being friends.— It was a pity that Falconer ludged in Owen into Huxley’s “id genus omne” & not fair; but I deprecate the contemptuous tone of Huxley on compilers &c. What is a Lecturer but a compiler?—5

I have been very deeply interested by Wollaston’s book,6 though I differ greatly from many of his doctrines. Did you ever read anything so rich, considering how very far he goes, as his denunciations against those who go further, “most mischievous” “absurd”, “unsound”. Theology is at the bottom of some of this. I told him he was like Calvin burning a heretick.—7 It is a very valuable & clever book in my opinion.— He has evidently read very little out of his own line: I urged him to read the New Zealand Essay.8 His Geology also is rather eocene, as I told him. In fact I wrote most frankly; I fear too frankly; he says he is sure that ultra!-honesty is my Characteristic: I do not know whether he meant it as a sneer; I hope not.—

Talking of eocene geology, I got so wrath about the Atlantic continent, more especially from a note from Woodward (who has published a capital book on shells) who does not seem to doubt that every island in Pacific & Atlantic are the remains of continents, submerged within period of existing species; that I fairly exploded & wrote to Lyell to protest & summed up all the continents created of late years by Forbes, (the head sinner!) yourself, Wollaston, & Woodward & a pretty nice little extension of land they make altogether!9 I am fairly rabid on the question & therefore, if not wrong already, am pretty sure to become so.—

I have just reread your note & it seems to me that there is great justness in your remarks on Huxley & the general question, being discussed as it has been discussed.—10

I have enjoyed your note much

Adios. | C. Darwin

P.S | 18th Lyell has written me a capital letter on your side,11 which ought to upset me entirely, but I cannot say it does quite.— Though I must try & cease being rabid & try to feel humble, & allow you all to make continents, as easily as a Cook does pancakes.—

P.S. | Just think of this question & tell me at Club,12 I believe N.W. portion of America is rather more temperate than middle parts of America & of Asia; are there, any plants there common to Europe & not found in middle parts of America & middle parts of Asia?


Dated by the reference to Falconer 1856 (see n. 2, below).
A reference to Hugh Falconer’s strongly worded defence (Falconer 1856) of Georges Cuvier’s palaeontological doctrines, which had been attacked by Thomas Henry Huxley in T. H. Huxley 1856a. For CD’s first response to the argument, see letter to J. D. Hooker, 21 [May 1856]. CD’s copy of Falconer 1856 is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Huxley had asked: ‘If bears were only known to exist in the fossil state, would any anatomist venture to conclude from the skull and teeth alone, that the white bear is naturally carnivorous, while the brown bear is naturally frugivorous?’ (T. H. Huxley 1856a, p. 191).
Huxley had insisted that the principle of physiological correlation or coadaptation of organs was a ‘utilitarian principle, [which though] valuable enough in physiology, helps us no further, and is utterly insufficient as an instrument of morphological research’ (T. H. Huxley 1856a, p. 192).
Huxley had referred to ‘compilers, and copyers, and popularizers, and id genus omne’ who handed down from ‘book to book, that all Cuvier’s restorations of extinct animals were effected by means of the principle of the physiological correlations of organs’ (T. H. Huxley 1856a, p. 190). In his defence of the validity of Cuvier’s methodology, Falconer cited Richard Owen’s work on the Stonesfield fossil mammals as showing beyond reasonable doubt that there were both placental and marsupial forms (Falconer 1856, pp. 91–2). Richard Owen was the most prominent advocate of the principle of the physiological correlation of parts. The word ‘ludged’ was a mistake for ‘lugged’, and in the manuscript it has been altered to ‘lugged’ in pencil by an unidentified hand.
This remark is not in an extant letter; but see letter to T. V. Wollaston, 6 June [1856].
CD refers to the introductory essay of J. D. Hooker 1853–5, in which J. D. Hooker had examined contemporary views about the variability and fixity of plant species.
In a letter to T. H. Huxley dated ‘June? 1856’ in L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 427, Hooker expressed his favourable opinion of Huxley’s critique of Cuvier: I have been dissipating the disconsolation of my solitude (rather fine that) by reading old Quarterlies [Quarterly Review] … and find in xli. 313 a passage that will amuse you and rile Falconer.— ‘Under the influence of this delusion “the necessary conditions of existence” the deservedly celebrated Cuvier is found asserting that any one who observes only the prints of a cloven hoof, etc., etc.,— it is worth your reading.
The Philosophical Club of the Royal Society met on 19 June 1856 (Bonney 1919). CD was in London from 18 to 21 June and attended the meeting (‘Journal’; Appendix II; Royal Society Philosophical Club minutes).


Bonney, T. G. 1919. Annals of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society written from its minute books. London: Macmillan.

Falconer, Hugh. 1856. On Prof. Huxley’s attempted refutation of Cuvier’s laws of correlation, in the reconstruction of extinct vertebrate forms. Annals and Magazine of Natural History n.s. 17: 476–93.

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.

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1856. On the variation of species with especial reference to the Insecta; followed by an inquiry into the nature of genera. London: John van Voorst.


Comments on Huxley–Falconer dispute [see "On the method of palaeontology", Ann. & Mag. Nat. Hist. 18 (1856): 43–54].

Wollaston’s On the variation of species [1856].

Has exploded to Lyell against the extension of continents.

Plants common to Europe and NW. America as result of temperate climate.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 170
Physical description
ALS 9pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1904,” accessed on 15 April 2024,

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