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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   [after 20 January 1857]1

Down Bromley Kent

My dear Hooker

Very many thanks for your note, all of which always give me pleasure. Dr. Daniel gives up assistance from Royal Soc. very pleasantly, & I am glad I am out of that scrape.—2

I have been glad to see A. Grays letter:3 there is always something in them, which shows that he is a very loveable man. He seems to come quite round to your view of A. de C.4

One must judge by one’s own light, however imperfect, & as I have found no other Book so useful to me, I am bound to feel grateful: no doubt it is in main part owing to the concentrated light of the noble art of compilation. I was aware that he was not first who had insisted on range of Monocots. (Was not R. Brown in Flinders)5 & I fancy I only used expression “strongly insisted on”—but it is quite unimportant.— If you & I had time to waste, I shd like to go over his Book & point out the several subjects, in which I fancy he is original.— His remarks on the relations of naturalised plants will be very useful to me—on the ranges of large Families seemed to me good, though I believe he has made great blunder in taking Families instead of smaller groups; as I have been delighted to find in A. Gray’s last paper.6 But it is no use going on.—

I do so wish I could understand clearly why you do not at all believe in accidental means of dispersion of plants.7 The strongest argument, which I can remember at this instant is A. de C. that very widely ranging plants are found as commonly on islands as over continents. It is really provoking to me that the immense contrast in proportions of plants in N. Zealand & Australia seems to me strong argument for non-continuous land; & this does not seem to weigh in the least with you.8 I wish I could put myself in your Frame of mind. In Madeira I find in Wollastons Books a parallel case with your N. Zealand case, viz the striking absence of whole genera & orders now common in Europe & (as I have just been hunting out) common in Europe in miocene periods.9 Of course I can offer no explanation why this or that group is absent; but if the means of introduction have been accidental, then one might expect odd proportions & absences.— When we meet, do try & make me see more clearly than I do, your reasons.—

I should, indeed, most heartily enjoy a dinner such as you describe at the Wellington.

Will you look at enclosed Memorandum & give me any light if you can. I do not want details only your opinion.—

My dear Hooker | Most truly yours | C. Darwin

What a time it takes to make out the truth as we see in the Glaciers!10

I am glad the Irish orchid is dished.—11



You know how I work subjects, namely if I stumble on any general remark, & if I find it confirmed in any other very distinct class, then I try to find out whether it is true, if it has any bearing on my work.—

The following perhaps may be important to me. Dr. Wight remarks that Cucurbitacea is a very isolated Family, & has very diverging affinities:12 I find strongly put & illustrated the very same remark in genera of Hymenoptera.— Now it is not to me at first apparent why a very distinct & isolated group, shd. be apt to have more divergent affinities than a less isolated group. I am aware that most genera have more affinities than in two ways, which latter perhaps is commonest case. I see how infinitely vague all this is. But I shd. very much like to know what you & Mr. Bentham (if he will read this) who have attended so much to the principles of classification think of this. Perhaps the best way would be to think of half-a-dozen most isolated groups of plants, & then consider whether the affinities point in an unusual number of directions.

C. Darwin

Very likely you may think the whole question too vague to be worth considering.—


Dated by the relationship to the letters to J. D. Hooker, 17 January [1857], and 20 January[1857].
See letters to J. D. Hooker, 17 January [1857] and 20 January [1857].
CD refers to a letter from Asa Gray addressed to both William Jackson Hooker and Joseph Dalton Hooker dated 5 January 1857 (Asa Gray, Kew Correspondence 1839/73 (137/8), Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew).
CD refers to Hooker’s criticism of Alphonse de Candolle’s Géographie botanique raisonnée (A. de Candolle 1855) in his review of the work ([J. D. Hooker] 1856). The review had been discussed by CD and Hooker in 1856 (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 October [1856]). In his letter to the Hookers (see n. 3, above), Gray had conceded that J. D. Hooker was correct ‘in saying that he [Candolle] has conceived no problem which had not already been put forward, and in that sense has not advanced the science at all.’ Gray went on to stress that Candolle ‘has none of your originality of mind, nor high intellectual activity, but is a mere worker—a very good one in his way.’ (Asa Gray, Kew Correspondence 1839/73 (137/8)).
R. Brown 1814. Robert Brown had been naturalist to the expedition to survey the Australian coast, 1801–5, under the command of Matthew Flinders.
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 15 March [1857], for an explanation of what is meant by ‘accidental’.
Hooker believed that geographical distribution of plants on the major land-masses in the southern Pacific was best explained by the assumption of a former land-bridge connecting the areas, an idea he had put forth in J. D. Hooker 1844–7 and 1853–5. See the earlier correspondence on this question (Correspondence vol. 5, letters to J. D. Hooker, 7 March [1855] and 5 June [1855], and letter from J. D. Hooker, [6–9 June 1855]).
Wollaston 1854 and 1856. As Thomas Vernon Wollaston remarked in the introduction of Insecta Maderensia, ‘the total absence of numerous genera (and even of whole families) which are looked upon as all but universal, constitutes one of the most striking features of our entomological fauna.’ (Wollaston 1854, p. x). See also letter from T. V. Wollaston, [12 April 1857].
‘American-’ has been interlined in pencil before ‘Irish’, possibly by Hooker.


Brown, Robert. 1814. General remarks, geographical and systematical, on the botany of Terra Australis. Appendix 3, pp. 533–613, in vol. 2 of Flinders, Matthew, A voyage to Terra Australis. 2 vols., and atlas. London.

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–.

Gray, Asa. 1856–7. Statistics of the flora of the northern United States. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 22: 204–32; 23: 62–84, 369–403.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1844–7. Flora Antarctica. 1 vol. and 1 vol. of plates. Pt 1 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: Reeve Brothers.

Wight, Robert. 1841. Remarks on the fruit of the natural order Cucurbitaceæ. Journal of Botany 3: 387–92.

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


CD finds Alphonse de Candolle very useful, though JDH has low opinion.

CD argues for accidental introductions explaining some odd distributions, e.g., New Zealand vs Australian plants.

CD’s method.

Diverging affinities in isolated genera.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 190
Physical description
ALS 12pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2033,” accessed on 20 April 2024,

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