skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [20 December 1859]1

Dear Darwin

A Gray sends enclosed & desires me to read it, before sending—2 I have no opinion upon the points discussed, being very ignorant of facts—& always fearing weakness of climatic evidence drawn from animals so very different from existing specifically & even generically.

I have had another talk with Bentham who is greatly agitated by your book— evidently the stern keen intellect is aroused & he finds that it is too late to halt between two opinions—how it will go we shall see. I am intensely interested in what he shall come to, & never broach the subject to him.—3

I finished Geolog Evidence chapters yesterday—they are very fine & very striking, but I cannot see they are such forcible objections as you still hold them to be I would say that you still in your secret soul underrate the imperfection of Geol. Record—though no language can be stronger or arguments fairer & sounder against it. Of course I am influenced by Botany & the conviction that we have not in a fossilised condition 1th of the plants that have existed, & that not 1100,000th of those we have are recognizable specifically.

I never saw so clearly put the fact that it is not intermediates between existing species we want but between these & the unknown tertium quid.

You certainly make a hobby of Nat. Selection & probably ride it too hard— that is a necessity of your case.— If improvement of the creation by variation doctrine is conceivable it will be by unburthening your theory of Nat. Seln. which at first-sight seems overstrained; ie to account for too much. I think too that some of your difficulties which you override by Nat Selection may give way before other explanations—but Oh Lord how little we do know & have known to be so advanced in knowledge by one theory— If we thought ourselves knowing dogs before you revealed Nat Selection, what d—d. ignorant ones we must surely be now we do know that law.

I hear you may be at the Club on Thursday.4 I hope so. Huxley will not be there so do not come on that ground.

Ever Yours affec | Jos D Hooker Kew Tuesday


Dated by the reference to CD’s intention to attend a meeting of the Philosophical Club on Thursday, 22 December 1859, and by the relationship to the letter to J. D. Hooker, 21 [December 1859].
The enclosure was a letter from Asa Gray that evidently dealt at some length with Gray’s theories of climatic change. See letters to Asa Gray, 21 December [1859] and 24 December [1859].
George Bentham many years later told Francis Darwin, in a letter dated 30 May 1882 (DAR 112), of his support of CD’s views: ‘I have been throughout one of his most sincere admirers, and fully adopted his theories and conclusions, notwithstanding the severe pain and disappointment they at first occasioned me.’ (LL 2: 294). In 1863, he publicly acknowledged his adoption of CD’s theory in his presidential address at the Linnean Society (Bentham 1863).


Bentham, George. 1863. [Anniversary address, 25 May 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): xi–xxix.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.


Forwards letter from Asa Gray.

Bentham is very agitated by Origin. CD over-emphasises natural selection. His theory accounts for too much and would be improved by unburdening it of natural selection.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 104: 180–1
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2589,” accessed on 2 March 2024,

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