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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   7 August [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Aug. 7th

My dear Hooker

Your last letter pleased & cheered me much, as indeed yours always do.—   Etty came home last night, not much tired: her abdomen my wife thinks certainly less hard & swollen, which of course is our dreadful fear; & certainly she gains a very little strength.—

I return Watsons nice letter not at all cantankerous:2 I have not yet read Cybele-supplement.3 The “conspious zoologist”, who says nat. selection does not apply to plants must be J. E. Gray.—4 By the way Owen has sent me a copy of one of his Reports, which he never did before!5 so he does not want to split with me, only to have malignant pleasure of sneering at me anonymously.

The Editor of Athenæum has inserted Asa Grays capital answers to Agassiz & Co.—6 Rudolph Wagner, has sent me German pamphet in which he says truth probably lies half-way between Agassiz & self.—7 It is curious how many will go half-way or quarter way,—all such I look at as booked to go further; for I observe none even hint why they do not go further.

I will gratefully send my notes on Drosera when copied by my copyer: the subject amused me much, when I had nothing to do.—8

I am convinced that your Listera discovery is the key-stone to understand the structure of many orchids.—9 I enclose abstract of facts of two cases. I never so well realised M. Edwards saying “niggard in innovation & prodigal variety”—10 observe what little change would convert Epipactis to Orchis: the temporary or non-congenital point of attachment in working down to base of pollinia; & to viscous matter (at least greater part) does not come out of the rostellum.11 It is very idle of me thus to amuse myself; but how I shd. like to examine a few forms in other divisions. I suspect that the slow movement in one direction which I find in all pollinia of Orchis, would explain the springing out of pollinia in Catasetum. Could you lend me a plant in bud & bloom of Catasetum? Have you any orchids, (not very rare) with irritable labellum? Malaxis is rare at Hartfield, but when there again I could get you some plants; & if you wished much for them, I could perhaps ask a surgeon there (who found my specimens) to search for you;12 but if you do not care much perhaps it wd. be better to wait & not ask this favour— Would you like to see my curious movement in pollinia of O. pyramidalis? if so I could send some in tin—by Post: it would not take five minutes to see the movements.—

If you keep to your good intention of answering the Bishop,13 I have put a few notes about blunders in detail—though whether they will be of any use I know not.—

I agree to all what you say about Daubeny’s paper.14

I am sorry about your ear; but can hardly sympathise with you not having tooth out.—

Farewell | C. Darwin

I hope your poor Baby will improve.—

Can you tell me name of plant, which grew a foot or two in height in my Father’s garden, with little white flowers on branching stem, & the flowers of which used to catch a multitude of flies by their proboscis. I must try & get this plant to observe it, with respect to intercrossing.—15

Please answer this sometime

On reflexion I fear the Catasetum do not grow in pots & would not bear even for short time temperature of sitting room & would be too precious to lend me.— Could I buy any Green-house orchids in flower do you suppose?

I am sillily & very idly interested in them.—

I have just had note from Huxley that Von Baer goes a great way with me.16 It seems that he has written on subject, from Geograph. Distribution grounds, before having read my Book. Von Baer counterweighs Owen + Agassiz. The latter has attacked me fiercely but not well.—17


The year is given by the reference to the Athenæum (see n. 6, below).
The letter from Hewett Cottrell Watson has not been found.
Watson 1860. The book was a supplement to Watson’s Cybele Britannica (Watson 1847–59). CD’s copy of the entire work is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
John Edward Gray, keeper of zoology in the British Museum, did not admit the possibility of transmutation, linking CD’s theory with the discredited views of Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet de Lamarck (Gunther 1975, pp. 453–5). CD reported Gray’s initial, sarcastic response to his views in a letter to Hooker in November 1859 (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 December [1859]).
Probably R. Owen 1859b, a report delivered at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science entitled ‘On the orders of fossil and recent Reptilia, and their distribution in time’. There is an annotated copy in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL, bound in sequence with other pamphlets received during 1860.
CD had forwarded an extract from the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 4 (1860): 411–15, sent to him by Asa Gray, to William Hepworth Dixon, the editor of the Athenæum. The extract was printed in the Athenæum, 4 August 1860, p. 161. See also letters to J. D. Hooker, [17 July 1860], to Asa Gray, 22 July [1860], and to Charles Lyell, 30 July [1860]. In the extract, Asa Gray defended CD’s views against the critical remarks made at a meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences by John Amory Lowell, Francis Bowen, and Louis Agassiz. Gray stated that ‘he had no doubt that variation and natural selection would have to be admitted as operative in nature, but were probably inadequate to the work they had been put to.’ (Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 4 (1860): 411). CD’s copy of the offprint is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL and is marked: ‘This has been printed in Athenæum’.
Wagner 1860b. There is a copy of the pamphlet in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
CD hoped to show that there was a gradation in the structure of the reproductive organs of orchids from the simplest to the most complex. Hooker, in his paper on the rostellum of Listera, had pointed out the close structural relationship and apparent gradation of form between these structures in different orchid species (Hooker 1854b, p. 263).
CD cited this remark by Henri Milne-Edwards in his ‘big book’ on species (Natural selection, p. 354) and in Origin, p. 194. His source was Milne-Edwards 1851, p. 9. An annotated copy of this work is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
CD stated that different species of orchid differ as to whether or not the pollinia are congenitally attached to the rostellum (see Orchids, pp. 314–15). CD described the gradations and alterations in the forms of attachment of the pollinia in Orchids, pp. 314–33, concluding his discussion with the observation that: ‘An ancient form, combining most of the characters, but in a less developed state, of Goodyera, Epipactis, and Spiranthes, would, by further slight modifications, give rise to the whole tribe of the Ophreæ.’ (Orchids, p. 333). The variability of Epipactis and its possible gradation towards the Ophreae is further discussed in Orchids, pp. 97–8.
William Wallis, a surgeon in Hartfield, Sussex, had provided CD with orchid specimens. See letters to J. D. Hooker, 29 July [1860], and to W. E. Darwin, [30 July 1860].
[Wilberforce] 1860. Hooker apparently abandoned his plan to answer Samuel Wilberforce in print.
Daubeny 1860. See letter to J. S. Henslow, 16 July [1860], and Appendix VI.
This and the following paragraphs were written on a separate slip of paper and enclosed with the letter. CD’s allusion to Karl Ernst von Baer confirms that the slip was a continuation of his letter (see preceding letter).
See preceding letter.
See following letter.


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 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.

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.

Watson, Hewett Cottrell. 1847–59. Cybele Britannica; or British plants and their geographical relations. 4 vols. London: Longman.

Watson, Hewett Cottrell. 1860. Part first of a supplement to the Cybele Britannica. London. [Vols. 8,9]

[Wilberforce, Samuel.] 1860. [Review of Origin.] Quarterly Review 108: 225–64.


Owen wants to be civil, and sneer behind CD’s back.

Those, like Rudolph Wagner, who want to go halfway on theory, are "booked to go further".

Anatomy of orchids.

Huxley says K. E. von Baer goes "a great way with me".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 72
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2892,” accessed on 16 December 2019,

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