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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   [20 February 1860]1



My dear Hooker

If you come to Club on Thursday do pray come in good time & agree to sit together & I will say so, if anyone asks me to sit with them, & do you say same.2

I have just read the very curious case by Harvey on the Begonia.3 I suppose of course a wild plant? Considering how often monsters are sterile (as with peloric flowers) & likewise non-inherited, Harveys supposition seems rather bold; but he overlooks that as he omits in all probability not that all the offspring would be similarly characterised, so Natural Selection would have to come in to preserve the new form.—

Here is the evil of an abstract; in my fuller M.S. I have discussed a very analogous case viz of a normal fish like an extremely monstrous Gold Fish. Also I have discussed such cases as the Aspicarpa with two kinds of flowers, & have speculated on the degraded flowers alone being preserved, so that a new genus might thus be suddenly formed.4 If my memory is right I have such a case amongst the Campanulaceæ. I remember asking Bentham whether any Leguminosæ existed having degraded flowers alone like those borne on certain Leguminosæ together with perfect flowers.—5 I write all this to ask you to keep this subject in mind.6

As the “Origin” now stands Harvey’s is a good hit against my talking so much of insensibly fine gradations; & certainly it has astonished me that I shd be pelted with the fact that I had not allowed abrupt & great enough variations under nature.7 It would take a good deal more evidence to make me admit that forms have often changed by saltum.—

Have you seen Wollaston’s attack in Annals?8 The stones are beginning to fly. But theology has more to do with these two attacks than science.

I much enjoyed the day Henslow spent here.—9

Yours affecty— | C. Darwin


Dated by the endorsement and the reference to William Henry Harvey’s article in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (see n. 3, below). The Monday following the publication of Harvey’s letter was 20 February.
Because of illness, CD was unable to attend the meeting of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society on 23 February 1860 (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [23 February 1860]).
Harvey’s letter was printed in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 18 February 1860, pp. 145–6.
Natural selection, pp. 318–21.
See Correspondence vol. 6, letters to George Bentham, 30 November [1856] and 3 December [1856].
Hooker published a response to Harvey’s letter in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 25 February 1860, pp. 170–1. Hooker pointed out that Harvey was wrong in believing that the particular Begonia in question illustrated the abrupt formation of a new species; rather it was ‘a good instance of how slow and partial such a change is at the commencement’. He further suggested that if the modified form were subjected to natural selection, ‘there are prodigious odds against its ultimate success’ (ibid., p. 171).
John Stevens Henslow visited Down from 14 to 16 February 1860 (Emma Darwin’s diary).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

[Wollaston, Thomas Vernon]. 1860a. Review of Origin of species. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 5: 132–43. Reprinted in Hull 1973, pp. 127–40. [Vols. 6,7,8]


Comments on W. H. Harvey’s article on a monstrous Begonia [Gard. Chron. 18 Feb 1860].

Is astonished at being attacked for not allowing great and abrupt variations under nature. More evidence needed to make CD admit that forms have often changed "by saltum".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
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Source of text
DAR 115: 41
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2705,” accessed on 27 February 2021,

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