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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   30 [July 1858]1

Norfolk House | Shanklin | I. of Wight

Friday 30th

My dear Hooker

Will you give enclosed scrap to Sir William to thank him for his kindness;2 & this gives me an excuse to amuse myself by writing to you a note, which requires no answer.—

This is a very charming place & we have got a very comfortable house. But alas I cannot say that the sea has done Etty or Lenny much good. Nor has my stomach recovered all our troubles. I am very glad we left home, for six children have now died of Scarlet Fever in Down.—

We return on the 14th of August.

I have got Bentham & am charmed with it, & William (who has just started for a tour abroad) has been making out all sorts of new (to me) plants capitally.3 The little scraps of information are so capital. By Jove it will take the wind out of poor Babby’s (as my son call him) sails.4 How curious the different estimation of number of species!5 The English names in the analytical Keys drive us mad: give them by all means but why on earth make them subordinate to the Latin; it puts me in a passion.— Willy charged into the Compositæ & Umbelliferæ like a hero & demolished ever so many in grand style.—

I have been comparing your list of vars. from Bentham6 with the Book & am delighted to see that you have tabulated not only the recorded varieties but varying species; this I have never been able to do except with Webbs Canaries island;7 & it will be a very useful addition to give on your authority in my list; but I must consult you about some of the figures which I cannot quite reconcile.8 I pass my time by doing daily a couple of hours of my Abstract & I find it amusing & improving work. I am now most heatily 9 obliged to you & Lyell for having set me on this; for I shall, when it is done, be able to finish my work with greater ease & leisure.— I confess I hated the thought of the job; & now I find it very unsatisfactory in not being able to give my reasons for each conclusion.—

It will be longer than I expected—it will take 35 of my M.S. folio pages to give an abstract on variation under domestication alone;10 but I try to put in nothing which does not seem to me of some interest & which was once new to me. It seems a queer plan to give an abstract of an unpublished work; nevertheless I repeat I am extremely glad I have begun in earnest on it.

I hope you & Mrs Hooker will have a very very pleasant tour.

Farewell my dear Hooker | Yours affect. | C. Darwin


The first Friday after the Darwin family moved into Norfolk House (‘Journal’; Appendix II).
See following letter.
Bentham 1858. According to the catalogue of CD’s library made in 1875 (Darwin Library–CUL), CD owned two copies of this work. Only one has been located: an annotated copy that came from the collection of Francis Darwin is in the Cambridge University Library. William Erasmus Darwin had become interested in field botany while being tutored in Norfolk (see letter to W. E. Darwin,14 [May 1858]).
Charles Cardale Babington was the author of a rival British flora (Babington 1843). CD’s copy of the third edition (Babington 1851) is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
George Bentham remarked that two earlier botanical works contained 1571 and 1708 species, respectively. The number in Bentham 1858 was reduced to 1285 (Bentham 1858, p. xiii).
The list, compiled by Hooker, was mentioned in the letter from J. D. Hooker, 13–15 July 1858, and was perhaps forwarded to CD with that letter. It is in DAR 100: 168 and comprises a tabulation of Bentham 1858 to show the number of species with varieties.
Webb and Berthelot 1836–50 had been tabulated by CD for his study of large and small genera. In his species book, CD drew up a table giving the results of all his calculations (Natural selection,pp. 149–51) and evidently intended to include Hooker’s calculations on Bentham 1858, for Bentham’s name heads his lists of sources. The calculations were not, however, incorporated into the table. In a brief description of his use of Webb and Berthelot 1836–50, CD stated that he included variable species, as well as species that possessed forms designated varieties (ibid., p. 170).
At the bottom of Hooker’s tabulation (see n. 6, above), CD wrote in pencil, with reference to one of the entries: ‘This must be variable sp. not distinct vars. for Carex has only 2 var. species’.
A slip for ‘heartily’.
This became chapter 1 of Origin, pp. 7–43.


Babington, Charles Cardale. 1843. Manual of British botany, containing the flowering plants and ferns arranged according to the natural orders. London: John Van Voorst.

Babington, Charles Cardale. 1851. Manual of British botany, containing the flowering plants and ferns arranged according to the natural orders. 3d edition. London: John van Voorst.

Bentham, George. 1858. Handbook of the British flora; a description of the flowering plants and ferns indigenous to, or naturalized in, the British Isles. London: Lovell Reeve.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Six children have died of scarlet fever in Down village.

Writing abstract is amusing and improving work. Thanks JDH and Lyell for setting him to it.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 247
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2314,” accessed on 9 February 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7