skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   4 February [1861]

Down Bromley Kent

Feb 4th

My dear Hooker

I was delighted to get your long, chatty letter & to hear that you are thawing towards science.1 I almost wish you had remained frozen rather longer; but do not thaw too quickly & strongly. No one can work long like you used to do. Be idle; but I am a pretty man to preach, for I cannot be idle, much as I wish it, & am never comfortable except when at work. The word Holiday is written in a dead language for me, & much I grieve at it.—

We thank you sincerely for your kind sympathy about poor Etty, who about a fortnight ago had three terrible days of sickness & was given loads of calomel, which I always dread.2 She has now come up to her old point & can sometimes get up for an hour or two twice a day.— Poor George has literally every tooth in his head, except a few lower incisors decayed: they have all gone suddenly together & been stopped & drawn by Mr Woodhouse & I fear this points to some deep flaw in his constitution, which was formerly indicated by his intermittent pulse.3 Never to look to the future, or as little as possible, is becoming our rule of life.— What a different thing life was in youth, with no dread in the future;—all golden, if baseless, hopes.—

With respect to Athenæum I answered for increase in number of members; I knew nothing of crowding & did not like paying £3〃s10. d.0 for each luncheons & about 3.3.0 has been my private tariff for benefits derived from Athenæum. I am sorry to have anything said against the splendid Library. As half the 100 would be elected by Committee; I looked at the result as raising the standard of Club.—4

I am glad to hear that you have been touching up your Arctic paper;5 I shall be very curious to read that attentively. I am sorry for you, though you do not seem sorry for yourself, for your long job over the Cryptogamia collection.6

With respect to Nat. Hist. Review,7 I can hardly think that Ladies would be so very sensitive about “Lizards guts”; but the publication is at present certainly a sort of Hybrid; & original illustrated papers ought hardly to appear in a Review. I doubt it’s ever paying; but I shall much regret if it dies.8 All that you say seems very sensible: but could a Review in strict sense of word be filled with readable matter?

I have been doing little, except finishing the new Edit. of Origin,9 & crawling on most slowly with my volume on “Variation under Domestication,”10—& how much to give under each head puzzles me dreadfully.— I have, however, in preparation for Drosera in the summer, been trying a few little experiments with C. of Ammonia, on the secreting Hairs of Primula Sinensis;11 & I find that the matter in the heads


is easily acted on, & segregates into spheres, with very small doses of the ammonia; & what surprises me is that a more prolonged dose causes the spheres to become re-diffused into opake granular matter.12 I long to be at Drosera again: I cannot persuade myself that it is the weight of 1/78,000 of a grain of solid substances which causes such plain movement; nor that it is in most of the cases the chemical nature; & what it is, stumps me quite.

Do you remember a tall Silver Fir in the field in front of this House. It was so ugly we have grubbed it up. The hole was 3 ft. 6 inches in diameter with touching roots extending much further. Rings of growth 110.— It seems to have been planted on little mound of made earth; & I have got several pounds of this earth from exactly under centre in a sort of cone, where it is hardly possible seeds could have got for last 60 or 80 years. I have saved this earth on purpose to spite you about seeds germinating. And I have a great advantage, for if any come up in my study it will be good case; if none do (as I rather fear) then I shall say there were no seeds in earth!13

I had a long letter about a week ago from Asa Gray, but I did not send it, thinking you would not care for it, as it almost wholly is on Design & quasi theological. He tells me that two of my opponents are gone almost demented: Bowen denying that any deviation is ever inherited; & Agassiz maintaining that Greek Latin & Sanscrit are not affiliated but, like the races of men, are autochthonous!14 It is impossible to argue better for us.—

Thanks for offer of Richardson Polar R. but I sincerely hope it is not worth my reading.15 I admire Framley as much as you can do.—16 I presume you have read “Woman in White”:17 we read it to the children, & they were so interested. Did I recommend “Olmsteads Journey in Back Country”:18 it interested me extremely.—

I am glad to hear so good an account of your Willy.19 A lull after a gang of children is very pleasant.

Ever yours affectionately | C. Darwin


Hooker’s letter has not been found. CD refers to Hooker’s resolution, expressed in the letter from J. D. Hooker, [26 November – 4 December 1860] (Correspondence vol. 8), to restrict his activities with the aim of reducing the stress under which he worked. See also L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 534–7.
See letters to Asa Gray, 23 [January 1861], and to W. E. Darwin, [24 January 1861].
CD took George Howard Darwin to London on 28 January 1861, returning the next day. There is an entry in CD’s Account book (Down House MS) on 24 February 1861 that reads: ‘Woodhouse George’s Teeth £.17.s.17’. Alfred J. Woodhouse, a dentist at 1 Hanover Square, is listed in the 1861 Post Office London directory.
The Athenaeum Club had circulated a questionnaire among its members asking whether, to meet its pressing financial needs, they would prefer to increase the annual subscription fees from 6 to 7 guineas or to expand the club’s membership by 200. In the event of increasing the number of members, an election committee was to recommend 100 new members, with the remaining 100 to come from the existing waiting list. The membership voted for the latter proposal: additional members were elected and the entrance fee for new members was raised from 25 to 30 guineas ([Cowell] 1975, pp. 23, 127).
CD refers to Hooker’s paper on the distribution of Arctic plants, read at a meeting of the Linnean Society on 21 June 1860 and published in 1861 (Hooker 1861). See L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 26–31.
This is probably a reference to Hooker’s work on the cryptogamic collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
See letter to T. H. Huxley, 3 January [1861].
CD had learned about the proposed changes in the editorial programme of the Natural History Review from Thomas Henry Huxley, the new general editor of the periodical. See Correspondence vol. 8, letter from T. H. Huxley, [before 14 December 1860].
The third edition of Origin was published in April 1861 (Freeman 1977, p. 78).
According to his ‘Journal’ (Appendix II), CD was at work on chapter 3 of Variation, which covered ‘Pigs—Cattle—Sheep—Goats’.
CD intended to carry on with experiments on insectivorous plants, particularly species of Drosera, that he had begun the previous summer (see Correspondence vol. 8). He was especially interested in the phenomenon of inflection of the leaf hairs in response to mechanical and chemical stimuli, and in the molecular process of ‘aggregation’ that occurred in the fluid within the gland cells of the tentacles after stimulation. His investigations were continued over fifteen years and were eventually published in Insectivorous plants (1875).
CD summarised the results of his experiments to determine the effect of carbonate of ammonia on the leaves of Primula sinensis in Insectivorous plants, pp. 348–50. His notes on this investigation, carried on in January and February 1861, are in DAR 54: 12–20.
Hooker had long been sceptical of CD’s claim that ancient seeds could retain their vitality and germinate. See especially Correspondence vol. 5, letters to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 13 November [1855], and to J. D. Hooker, 14 November [1855].
Asa Gray’s letter has not been found, but see the letter to Charles Lyell, 2 February [1861], in which an extract from it is quoted.
William Henslow Hooker, the Hookers’ eldest son, was 8 years old.


Collins, William Wilkie. 1860. The woman in white. 3 vols. London.

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

[Cowell, F. R.] 1975. The Athenaeum Club and social life in London, 1824–1974. London: Heinemann.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

Olmsted, Frederick Law. 1860. A journey in the back country in the winter of 1853–4. London: Sampson, Low, Son & Co.

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.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.

Richardson, John. 1861. The polar regions. Edinburgh.

Trollope, Anthony. 1861. Framley parsonage. 3 vols. London.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Changes in admission to Athenaeum.

Slowly working at his volume on Variation.

Experiments on insectivorous and "sensitive" plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115.2: 87
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3057,” accessed on 25 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9