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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   20 January [1859]1

Down Bromley Kent

Jan. 20th

My dear Hooker

I shd. very much like to borrow Heer at some future time, for I want to read nothing perplexing at present, till my abstract is done.—2 Your last very instructive letter shall make me very cautious, on the hyper-speculative points we have been discussing.—3

When you say you cannot master the train of thoughts I know well enough they are too doubtful & obscure to be mastered.— I have often experienced what you call the humiliating feeling of getting more & more involved in doubt, the more one thinks of the facts & reasoning on doubtful points. But I always comfort myself with thinking of the future & in the full belief that the problems, which we are just entering on, will some day be solved; & if we just break the ground, we shall have done some service, even if we reap no harvest.—

I quite agree that we only differ in degree about means of dispersal, & that I think a satisfactory amount of accordance.— You put in very striking manner the mutations of our continents, & I quite agree; I doubt only about our oceans.—4

I, also, agree (I am in very agreeing frame of mind) with your argumentum ad hominem, about highness of Australian Flora from number of species & genera; but here comes in a superlative bothering element of doubt, viz the effects of isolation.—5

The only point in which I presumptously rather demur is about the status of the naturalised plants in Australia. I think Müller speaks of them having spread largely beyond cultivated ground;6 & I can hardly believe that our Europæan plants would occupy stations so barren that the native plants could not live there: I shd require much evidence to make me believe this.—

I have written this note merely to thank you, as you will see it requires no answer.—

I have heard to my amazement this morning from Phillips that Geolog. Council have given me the Wollaston medal!!!7

Ever yours | C. Darwin


Dated by CD’s reference to having received the Wollaston Medal (see n. 7, below and following letter).
CD may be referring to Oswald Heer’s work on the fossil plants of Madeira (Heer 1857), which he had previously borrowed from Charles Lyell (Correspondence vol. 6, letter to Charles Lyell, 3 May [1856]). He recorded having read the paper in August 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 20).
CD refers to the letter from J. D. Hooker, [26 December 1858]. It is now incomplete, but the main points can be discerned from CD’s reply (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 31 December [1858]).
See Correspondence vol. 6 for CD’s correspondence with Hooker, Charles Lyell, and others on the various means of dispersal of plants and animals, including the question of former land-bridges.
CD had corresponded with Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von Mueller about naturalised plants in Australia (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to F. H. J. von Mueller, 8 December [1857]). The letter in which Mueller described the spread of cultivated plants has not been found. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 November [1858].
John Phillips was president of the Geological Society in 1858 and 1859. The Wollaston Medal, named after William Hyde Wollaston, was presented annually and was the society’s highest award. CD received the medal by proxy at the anniversary meeting in February 1859.


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


At work on abstract.

Continues argument on effectiveness of dispersal. Has doubts about relationship of isolation to highness of Australian flora. Questions about survival of European plants introduced in Australia.

CD receives the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 2
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2401,” accessed on 23 May 2024,

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