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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   3 January [1860]

Down Bromley Kent

Jan. 3d. —

My dear Hooker

I have finished your Essay.1 As probably you would like to hear my opinion though a non-Botanist, I will give it without any exaggeration. To my judgment it is by far the grandest & most interesting Essay on subjects of the nature discussed I have ever read. You know how I admired your former essays,2 but this seems to me far grander. I like all the part after p. xxvi better than the first part; probably because newer to me.3 I daresay you will demur to this, for I think every author likes the most speculative parts of his own productions. How superior your essay is to the famous one of Brown (here will be sneer first from you).—4

You have made all your conclusions so admirably clear that it would be no use at all to be a Botanist (sneer nor 2.). By Jove it would do harm to affix any idea to the long names of outlandish orders,—one can look at your conclusions with the philosophic abstraction with which a mathematician looks at his

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&c &c    I hardly know which parts have interested me most; for over & over again I exclaimed this beats all. The general comparison of Flora of Australia with rest of world strikes me (as before) as extremely original, good & suggestive of many reflexions

p. xxxiii Orders next most abundant in species in S. Africa, & yet several of these orders being most abundant in S. E corner seems to weaken your remarks on affinity of S.W corner & S. Africa, but I suppose I cannot weigh affinity of the different orders.— By the way I call that affinity between S.W. corner & S. Africa, a nasty ugly inexplicable fact.—5

The invading Indian Flora very interesting; but I think the fact you mention towards close of Essay that the Indian vegetation in contradistinction to Malayan vegetation is found on low & level parts of Malay Isd. greatly lessens the difficulty which at first (p. L) seemed so great.6 There is nothing like one’s own hobby Horse, I suspect it is same case as of Glacial migration & of naturalised productions of productions of greater area conquering those of lesser: of course the Indian forms would have greater difficulty in seizing on the cool parts of Australia.—7 I demur to your remarks (p. L) as not “conceiving anything in soil climate or vegetation of India” which could stop the introduction of Australian plants.— Towards close of Essay (p. civ) you have admirable remarks on our profound ignorance of cause of possible naturalisation or introduction; I would answer p. L. by a later page. viz p. civ.—8

Your contrast of SW & SE. corners is one of the most wonderful cases I ever heard of (do you not rather too much pass over Eyere’s intermediate deserts?);9 you show the case with wonderful force.

Your discussion on mixed invaders of S.E. corner (& of N. Zealand) is as curious & intricate a problem as of the races of man in Britain. Your remark on mixed invading Flora keeping down or destroying an original Flora which was richer in number of species, strikes me as eminently new & important.10

I am not sure whether to me the discussion on N. Zealand Flora is not even more instructive. I cannot too much admire both. But it will require long time to suck in all the facts. Your case of the largest Australian orders having none or very few species in N. Zealand is truly marvellous. Anyhow you have now demonstrated (together with no mammals in N. Zealand) (bitter sneer nor. 3.) that N. Zealand has never been continuously or even nearly continuously united by land to Australia!!

At p. Lxxxix is only sentence (on this subject) in whole Essay at which I am much inclined to quarrel, viz that no theory of transoceanic migration can explain &c &c.—11 Now I maintain against all the world that no man knows anything about power of transoceanic power of migration. You do not know whether or not the absent orders have seeds which are killed by sea-water like almost all Leguminosæ & like another order which I forget. Birds do not migrate from Australia to N. Zealand, & therefore flotation seems only possible means; but yet I maintain that we do not know enough to argue on question; especially as we do not know the main fact whether seeds of Australian orders are killed by sea-water.

The discussion on European Genera profoundly interesting; but here alone I earnestly beg for more information viz to know which of these genera are absent in Tropics of world, ie confined to Temperate regions.— I excessively wish to know, on the notion of Glacial migration, how much modification has taken place in Australia: I had better explain when we meet, & get you to go over & mark the list.—12 (N.B with respect to Glacial migration my remark is simple, & in the spirit of Agassiz, it must be true, for Nature does not lie.)13 What capital lists you give of temperate forms in S. Africa & Fuegia!

The list of Naturalised plants extremely interesting; but why at the end in the name of all that is good & bad do you not sum up & comment on your facts? Come, I will have a sneer at you in return for the many which you will have launched at this letter. Should you have remarked on the number of plants naturalised in Australia & U. States under extremely different climates, as showing that climate is so important; & that the considerable sprinkling of plants from India, N. America & S. Africa as showing that the frequent introduction of seed is so important? With respect to “abundance of unoccupied ground in Australia” do you believe that European plants introduced by man now grow on spots in Australia, which were absolutely bare? But I am an impudent dog. One must defend one’s own puny theories, against such cruel men as you.

I daresay this letter will appear very conceited, but one must form an opinion on what one reads with attention, & in simple truth I cannot find words strong enough to express my admiration of your Essay.

My dear old friend | Yours affecly | C. Darwin

I received half-an-hour ago your note.14 Sir J. Richardson might have added to his exploded fallacies the Quinarian System, in which he formerly believed.15 I can quite sympathise in the old not being ever staggered. To stagger any one quite satisfies me.—

I differ about Saturday R. One cannot expect fairness in a Reviewer, so I do not complain of all other arguments besides the G. Record being omitted. Some of the remarks about the lapse of years are very good, & the Reviewer gives me some good & well deserved raps,—confound it I am sorry to confess the truth. But it does not at all concern main argument.—16

That was a nice notice in G. Chronicle. I hope & imagine that Lindley is almost a convert.—17 Do not forget to tell me if Bentham gets at all more staggered.18

With respect to Tropical plants during Glacial period, I throw in your teeth your own fact at base of Himalaya on possibility of the coexistence of at least forms of Tropics & Temperate regions. I can give parallel case for animals in Mexico.— Oh my dearly beloved puny child how cruel men are to you.—19

I am very glad you approve of Geographical Chapters.

P.S. | Lenny has got the Measles & it is sure to run like wild-fire through the house, as it has been extraordinarily prevalent in village. If your Boy Willy has not had measles, I fear it will not be safe for you to bring him here.—


The ‘essay’ was the introduction to Hooker’s Flora Tasmaniæ (Hooker 1855–60). It was also issued separately in December 1859 (Hooker 1859). There are copies of both works in the Darwin Library–CUL; the text of Hooker 1859 was extensively annotated by CD. CD and Hooker discussed the work at length during its composition (see Correspondence vol. 7).
CD refers to the introductory essay of the Flora Indica (Hooker and Thomson 1855) and a similar introduction to Hooker’s Flora Novæ-Zelandiæ (Hooker 1853–5). CD’s annotated copies of these works are in the Darwin Library–CUL. In both essays Hooker discussed his views on the species question and on other leading problems in botany. See Correspondence vols. 5 and 6.
CD had read the first part of Hooker’s essay in proof-sheets (see Correspondence vol. 7). The rest of the essay discusses the plants of Australia in detail (Hooker 1859, pp. xxvii–cxxviii).
CD refers to Robert Brown’s essay on the Australian flora (Brown 1814), which Hooker praised in his essay (Hooker 1859, p. i).
Hooker listed the ‘orders’ (‘families’ in modern terminology) of plants that were highly characteristic of the Australian flora, but not entirely confined to it, and recorded the geographical area in which they were next most abundant. In seven orders out of the total of eight, this area was South Africa. CD marked the passage in his copy and wrote ‘Curious’ beside it in pencil (Hooker 1859, p. xxxiii). Hooker also listed the regions of Australia in which these orders were represented by most species. Four of the six listed had most species in the south-west; two had most in the south-east (Hooker 1859, p. xxxiv).
Hooker listed the Indian species found in Australia (Hooker 1859, pp. xlii–l). He believed that to account for the presence of Indian plants in Australia by proposing transoceanic migration failed to explain the lack of a reciprocal Australian contribution to the Indian flora (Hooker 1859, p. l). CD believed that Hooker’s remark about Indian plants being found in Malaysia, which is nearer to Australia than India, was evidence for such a northward migration (Hooker 1859, p. civ). CD explained the absence of Australian plants in India by arguing that natural selection would favour species that were products of a larger land-area and had therefore been subjected to more intense competition.
CD wrote a note to this effect in his copy of Hooker 1859, p. liv: ‘Indian Tropical plants formed in big area & fitted for Tropics & not for temperate parts have invaded & almost exterminated Australian Flora of Tropics.—’
In his essay (Hooker 1859, p. l), Hooker remarked how curious it was that Australian tropical species could grow in India if planted there, yet they had not become established by natural means. On p. civ, Hooker remarked that the future of the Australian flora depended upon its power to compete with immigrant species from the north, and he observed that the more widely distributed plant forms of the northern hemisphere tend to spread and the more peculiar southern forms to die out. CD’s ‘answer’ was presumably that Australian forms were less successful in the ‘struggle for existence’ when in competition with Indian species.
In noting the remarkable difference between the flora of south-west Australia compared with that of the south-east, Hooker suggested that the difference was all the more difficult to explain because of the continuous land connection (Hooker 1859, p. li). Next to this passage, CD wrote in his copy: ‘Eyre’s desert between’. The desert, which CD believed acted as a barrier, was named after the Australian explorer Edward John Eyre.
Hooker 1859, p. liv. CD marked the passage in his copy of the work and noted: ‘One intermediary dominant form might well destroy several closely allied representative species.’
The sentence was marked by CD in his copy. In the margin, he wrote: ‘You do not know effect of Salt-Water on the seeds.—’
CD commented in his copy (Hooker 1859, p. xcv): I wish I knew which of these genera are not found in lowland Tropics & include species representative of those fd in Northern Europe *or N. Asia [added] for on Glacial view these have been modified since Glacial period. (next page 38 identical species are given) It has always been my greatest fear that there has been so much modification since Glacial, that it wd. upset view.—   Some few genera may formerly have been mundane & Tropical & not now so.— The list referred to in the letter is tipped into Hooker 1859 following p. xcvi. It is headed ‘Notes for Hooker’ and was later dated ‘Ap 8th 1860’. Hooker wrote a few comments on the list.
An allusion to a remark attributed to Louis Agassiz that had become a joke between CD, Hooker, and Asa Gray (see Correspondence vol. 6, letters to Asa Gray, 1 January [1857] and [after 15 March 1857]).
Hooker’s letter has not been found.
CD refers to John Richardson, the Arctic explorer and zoologist, who had apparently discussed Origin with Hooker. Richardson had collaborated with William Swainson, a leading advocate of the quinarian system of classification, in describing the birds collected during John Franklin’s second polar expedition of 1824.
An anonymous review of Origin appeared in the Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art, 24 December 1859, pp. 775–6. The reviewer singled out the geological arguments that CD put forward in the exposition of his theory, in particular the vast amount of time required for the gradual transition from one species to another. He criticised CD’s calculations concerning the time required for the deposition of various formations and particularly for the denudation of the Weald (Origin, pp. 285–7), stating that ‘in this delicate part of his case he has committed some manifest errors, and allowed himself assumptions to which he would scarcely have resorted had his need been less urgent.’ (p. 776).
CD believed that the review of Origin in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 31 December 1859, pp. 1051–2, had been written by the editor, John Lindley. It was printed in the opening columns of the Gardeners’ Chronicle that were normally reserved for the editor’s comments. In fact, Hooker was the author (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 [January 1860]). The reviewer stated (p. 1052): In fine, whatever may be thought of Mr. Darwin’s ultimate conclusions, it cannot be denied that it would be difficult in the whole range of the literature of science to find a book so exclusively devoted to the development of theoretical inquiries, which at the same time is throughout so full of conscientious care, so fair in argument, and so considerate in tone.
George Bentham, who worked closely with Hooker at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was one of the foremost botanists of the period. CD was anxious to know his opinion of Origin, particularly since Bentham had given great thought to the species question and had previously maintained the fixity of forms. See Correspondence vol. 7, letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 December [1859], and letter from J. D. Hooker, [20 December 1859].
CD refers to his belief in a former cold period during which northern plants migrated south through the tropics, a view set out in detail in Origin, pp. 365–82. Hooker discussed the possibility of European species having migrated through the tropics to Australia in Hooker 1859, pp. cii–cv, concluding that such an occurrence was unlikely. CD’s comment about the flora at the foot of the Himalayas alludes to a phenomenon described in Hooker 1854a, p. 109, and cited by CD in Origin, p. 378.


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.

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

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.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1855–60. Flora Tasmaniæ. Pt 3 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. 2 vols. London.

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.


High praise and detailed comments on JDH’s introductory essay to Flora Tasmaniae, which CD has now finished reading.

Disagrees on power of transoceanic migration. Advocates glacial transport of plants.

CD’s response to reviews of Origin in Saturday Review [8 (1859): 775–6] and John Lindley’s in Gardeners’ Chronicle [but see 2651].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 1
Physical description
ALS 11pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2635,” accessed on 24 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8