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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   26 [February 1860]

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Hooker

Your answer to Harvey seems to me admirably good.1 You would have made a gigantic fortune as a Barrister.—   What an omission of Harveys about the graduated state of the flowers! But what strikes me most, is, that surely I ought to know my own Book best, yet by Jove you have brought forward ever so many arguments, which I did not think of! Your reference to classification (viz I presume to such cases as Aspicarpa) excellent; for the monstrous Begonia no doubt in all details wd. be Begonia.— 2 I did not think of this; nor of the retrograde step from Separated sexes to an hermaphrodite state; not of the lessened fertility of the monster.—3 Proh pudor to me.—

The world would say what a Lawyer has been lost in a mere Botanist! Farewell my dear master in my own subject.—

Your affect | C. Darwin

I am so heartily pleased to see that you approve of the Ch on Classification.—

I wonder what Harvey will say.4 But no one, hardly, I think, is able at first to see when he is beaten in an argument.—   I shall want some time to hear a little more about the Crassulaceæ.5

I wonder when we shall ever meet.—


The reference is to Hooker’s article in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 25 February 1860, pp. 170–1, entitled ‘The monstrous Begonia frigida at Kew, in relation to Mr. Darwin’s theory of natural selection’. It was a response to a previous piece written by William Henry Harvey. See letter to Charles Lyell, 18 [and 19 February 1860].
After explaining the origin of the monstrous begonia, Hooker stated (Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 25 February 1860, p. 171): Instead of this being a case which (according to Dr. Harvey) ‘was not contemplated by Mr. Darwin’s hypothesis,’ it is one of a class which he had specially in view; it is a beautiful illustration of the truth and wisdom of his chapter on classification.
Harvey had argued that the change from single-sexed to hermaphrodite flowers was so great that the monstrous begonia should be considered an entirely new species. Hooker countered this argument by stating that, according to CD’s views, the switch would lead to self-fertilisation and a consequent loss of vigour in the progeny (ibid.).
For Harvey’s response to Origin, see letters from W. H. Harvey, 24 August 1860 and 8 October 1860.
In the concluding section of his article in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, Hooker stated that the begonia was not unusual in presenting abnormalities like those under discussion: the genus Sempervivum also offered ‘another most curious instance of the conversion of stamens into carpels’ (ibid.). Sempervivum belongs to the family Crassulaceae.


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.


Applauds JDH’s reply [25 Feb 1860] to W. H. Harvey in Gardeners’ Chronicle.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 43
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2715,” accessed on 2 March 2021,

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