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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   5 June [1860]

Down Bromley Kent

June 5th

My dear Hooker

It is a pleasure to me to write to you, as I have no one to talk to about such matters as we write on.—   But I seriously beg you not to write to me, unless so inclined; for busy as you are & seeing many people, the case is very different between us.—

Sir H. Holland came down on Sunday, & consoled us about no immediate cause of anxiety, but feared her recovery would be very slow.1 And on Monday she was so weak & exhausted that we were very unhappy & anxious; but our Bromley Doctor thinks her rather better today.2 It is a miserable long illness.—

I enclose letters (for I had unfortunately written to Harvey before your last letter came, but I begged him not to answer me) from Harvey & from (received today) A. Gray, for the chance of your liking to see them.3 In the note which you forwarded to me from A. Gray, he begs you & me to give him any hint about Owen’s article in Edinburgh, or other Review.—4 You will not be the man to do that. I had already made comments on Owens review, & remarked how basely ungenerous, I thought his treatment of you.—

Have you seen Haughton’s coarsely-abusive article of me in Dublin Mag. of Nat. History.5 It outdoes even N. British & Edinburgh in misapprehension & misrepresentation.6 I never knew anything so unfair as in discussing cells of Bees, his ignoring the case of Melipona which builds combs almost exactly intermediate between Hive & Humble-bee.—7 What has Haughton done that he feels so immeasurably superior to all us wretched naturalists & to all political economists, including the great philosopher Malthus?8

This Review, however, & Harveys letter have convinced me that I must be a very bad explainer. Neither really understand what I mean by natural selection.— I am inclined to give up attempt as hopeless.— Those who do not understand, it seems, cannot be made to understand.—

By the way, I think, we entirely agree, except perhaps that I use too forcible language about selection. I entirely agree, indeed would go almost further than you, when you say that climate (ie variability from all unknown causes) is “an active handmaid influencing its mistress most materially.”— Indeed I have never hinted that Natural selection is “the efficient cause to the exclusion of the other” ie variability from climate &c. The very term selection implies something, ie variations or differences, to be selected.— You speak of adaptation being rarely visible though present in plants: I have just recently been looking at common Orchis, & I declare I think its adaptations in every part of flower quite as beautiful & plain, or even more beautiful, than in Woodpecker. I have written & sent notice for Gardeners’ Ch. on curious difficulty in Bee Orchis,9 & shd. much like to hear what you think of the case. In this article I have incidentally touched on adaptation to visits of insects; but the contrivance to keep the sticky glands fresh & sticky beats almost everything in nature. I never remember having seen it described; but it must have been, & as I ought not in my book to give the observation as my own, I shd. be very glad to know where this beautiful contrivance is described.—10

A Revd. Mr Dunns wrote N. British Rw. as I hear from Lyell, who heard from Chambers.—11

Hopkins of Cambridge has article in Fraser just published;12 he speaks of me in kindest manner personally, but evidently thinks me an illogical & rash blunderer. According to his standard of proof all we naturalists had better shut up shop, & never attempt to reason. He says there is no difference between my view & Lamarcks.—

I am much puzzled about the upshot of the cowslip case; some few of the capsules on the so-called male plants, judging from external feeling, are swelling as well as on female plants.13 It would be best possible case of transition to have the male plants producing a few, but markedly fewer seeds than females; but the case wd. require very good evidence. It would be catching a plant in actual transition from hermaphrodite to unisexual condition.— If both so-called males & females plants produce an equal or nearly equal number of seeds, how very strange the specified differences will be, especially that of size of pollen-grains:—14

How does your book progress (I mean your general sort of book on Plants);15 I hope to God you will be more successful than I have been in making people understand your meaning. I should begin to think myself wholly in wrong, & that I was an utter fool, but then I cannot yet persuade myself that Lyell, & you & Huxley, Carpenter, Asa Gray & Watson &c are all fools together. Well time will show, & nothing but time. Farewell.

I hope Mrs. Hooker goes on well16 | Yours affect | C. Darwin


The London physician Henry Holland had been called in to examine Henrietta Emma Darwin, who had been ill with ‘remittent Fever’ since late in April (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 7 May [1860]).
Probably Edward Augustus Williams, a surgeon in Bromley. He is listed in CD’s Address book (Down House MS). See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 11 May [1860].
Neither the letter from William Henry Harvey nor that from Asa Gray has been found. The one from Harvey was a reply to information forwarded to Harvey via Hooker (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 20 May [1860]).
Gray was writing an article about CD’s book and its reviewers (see letter to Asa Gray, 22 May [1860]). CD refers to [R. Owen] 1860a.
[Haughton] 1860b.
[Duns] 1860 and [R. Owen] 1860a.
A long section in Samuel Haughton’s anonymous review, headed ‘The causes of variation assigned are not adequate to produce the effects ascribed to them’, criticised CD’s explanation of the formation of bees’ cells ([Haughton] 1860b, pp. 30–1). Haughton referred to the absence of any apparently intermediate stage between the cells of the humble-bee and the hive-bee, ignoring the case of Melipona discussed by CD in Origin, pp. 225–8. CD marked this section extensively in his copy of [Haughton] 1860b (Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL).
Haughton, referring to natural selection, stated: ‘this notable argument is borrowed from Malthus’ doctrine of Population, and will, no doubt, find acceptance with those Political Economists and Pseudo-Philosophers who reduce all the laws of action and human thought habitually to the lowest and most sordid motives.’ ([Haughton] 1860b, p. 27). Haughton refers to Thomas Robert Malthus.
See preceding letter.
CD briefly described his observations of the ‘sticky glands’ of Ophrys apifera in his ‘big book’ on species (Natural selection, pp. 67–8). Although this species seemed to offer one of the best examples of continual self-fertilisation, the presence of viscid discs in the flower of the bee orchis indicated to CD that insects might occasionally effect cross-pollination. This point, however, was not developed in Orchids.
[Duns] 1860. CD wrote ‘Revd M    Dunns’ on his copy of the review (Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL). CD also refers to Charles Lyell and Robert Chambers.
See letters to J. D. Hooker, 7 May [1860], 11 May [1860], and 14 May [1860]. The results of CD’s experiments are recorded in his Experimental book, pp. 55–7 (DAR 157a).
Further observations led CD to reverse his designation of ‘male’ and ‘female’ plants when he found that the short-styled plants, which he originally labelled ‘male’, produced more seeds than the long-styled. See his paper ‘On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations’, Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96, reprinted in Collected papers 2: 45–63.
See letters to J. D. Hooker, 12 March [1860] and 12 July [1860].
Frances Harriet Hooker had given birth to the Hookers’ fifth child, Brian Harvey Hodgson Hooker, on 27 May 1860.


[Duns, John.] 1860. On the Origin of species. North British Review 32: 455–86.

Hopkins, William. 1860. Physical theories of the phenomena of life. Fraser’s Magazine 61: 739–52; 62: 74–90.

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.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

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.


CD’s response to criticism of natural selection. Exasperated at not being understood. He tries to narrow the gap between himself and JDH.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 60
Physical description
ALS 10pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2821,” accessed on 10 June 2023,

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