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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   23 [April 1861]1

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Hooker

I was very glad to get your letter this morning (to which I wrote brief answer), though it contained so melancholy an account of poor dear & honoured Henslow.2 How strange & pathetic an account you give of his mental state; & how his kind feelings shine out.3 He truly is a model to keep always before one’s eyes. How I wish his sufferings were closed in the long & tranquil sleep of death. It must be very depressing to you, & I am glad you can read & think on other subjects.—

I quite agree with what you say on Lieut. Hutton’s Review (who he is, I know not):4 it struck me as very original: he is one of the very few who see that the change of species cannot be directly proved & that the doctrine must sink or swim according as it groups & explains phenomena. It is really curious how few judge it in this way, which is clearly the right way. I have been much interested by Bentham’s paper in N.H.R;5 but it would not of course from familiarity strike you, as it did me. I liked the whole,—all the facts on the nature of close & varying species. Good Heavens to think of the British Botanists turning up their noses & saying that he knows nothing of British plants!6 I was, also, pleased at his remarks on classification, because it showed me that I wrote truly on this subject in the Origin.—7 I saw Bentham at Linn. Socy. & had some talk with him & Lubbock & Edgeworth, Wallich several others.—8 I asked Bentham to give us his ideas of species: whether partially with us or dead against us, he would write excellent matter. He made no answer, but his manner made me think he might do so, if urged; so do you attack him.9 Everyone was speaking with affection & anxiety of Henslow.—

I dined with Bell at Linn. Club,10 & liked my dinner: though it must be confessed they are rather a poor set of muffs, & I sat by the muffiest, viz Miers.—11 But dining out is such a novelty to me that I enjoyed it. Bell has a real good heart.— I liked Rolleston’s paper, but I never read anything so obscure & not self-evident as his “cannons”.12 I had a dim perception of the truth of your profound remark, that he wrote in fear & trembling “of God, man & monkeys”, but I would alter it into God, man, Owen & monkeys.—13 Huxley’s letter was truculent & I see that everyone thinks it too truculent;14 but in simple truth I am become quite demoniacal about Owen, worse than Huxley, & I told Huxley that I shd. put myself under his care to be rendered milder.15 But I mean to try to get more angelic in my feelings; yet I never shall forget his cordial shake of the hand when he was writing as spitefully as he possibly could against me.16 But I have always thought you have more cause than I to be demoniacally inclined towards him.—17 Bell told me that Owen says that the Editor mutilated his article in Edinburgh R.18 & Bell seemed to think it was rendered more spiteful by Editor; perhaps the opposite view is as probable: Oh dear this does not look like becoming more angelic in my temper.

I had splendid long talk with Lyell (you may guess how splendid, for he was many times on his knees with elbows on sofa & rump high in air) on his work in France: he seems to have done capital work in making out age of the celt-bearing beds; but the case gets more & more complicated. All, however, tends to greater & greater antiquity of man. The shingle beds seem to be estuary deposits.—19

I called on R. Chambers at his very nice house in St John’s wood & had very pleasant half-hour’s talk:20 he is really a capital fellow. He made one good remark & chuckled over it, that the Laymen universally had treated the controversy on the Essays & Review, as a merely professional subject & had not joined in it, but had left it to the Clergy.—21

I shall be anxious for your next letter about Henslow.

Farewell with sincere sympathy | My old friend | C. Darwin

P.S. We are very much obliged for London R.22 We like reading much of it, & the science is incomparably better than in Athenæum. You shall not go on very long sending it, as you will be ruined by pennies & trouble. But I am under a horrid spell to the Athenæum & Gardeners Chron, both of which are intolerably dull, but I have taken them in for so many years, that I cannot give them up. The Cottage Gardener for my purpose is now far better than G. Chronicle23


Dated by the relationship to the letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 [April 1861] and by an entry in the diary of Charles James Fox Bunbury (see n. 3, below).
Hooker’s letter has not been found. For CD’s reply, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 [April 1861].
In a diary entry of 24 April 1861, Charles James Fox Bunbury recorded an account of a recent visit to Henslow by Adam Sedgwick (Bunbury ed. 1891–3, Middle life 3: 264–5): Henslow is, it seems, inevitably dying: the doctors give no hope of his life, though he has lingered much longer than had been expected: but his intellect is perfectly clear, and he is in the most cheerful and delightful frame of mind, not merely resigned but happy to die.
Hutton 1861. See letter to F. W. Hutton, 20 April 1861. Frederick Wollaston Hutton was a young army officer with an interest in geology. He was a good friend of the geologist Andrew Crombie Ramsay, whom CD counted among the supporters of his theory (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 March [1860]).
Bentham’s paper, ‘On the species and genera of plants, considered with reference to their practical application to systematic botany’, was published in the April issue of the Natural History Review (Bentham 1861a). Although it was stated that the paper was extracted from one read before the Linnean Society of London on 15 November 1858, Bentham later related to Francis Darwin a slightly different account of its history (LL 2: 294): On the day that [CD’s and Alfred Russel Wallace’s] celebrated paper was read at the Linnean Society, July 1st, 1858, a long paper of mine had been set down for reading, in which, in commenting on the British Flora, I had collected a number of observations and facts illustrating what I then believed to be a fixity of species, however difficult it might be to assign their limits … Most fortunately my paper had to give way to Mr. Darwin’s, and when once that was read, I felt bound to defer mine for reconsideration; I began to entertain doubts on the subject, and on the appearance of the ‘Origin of Species,’ I was forced, however reluctantly, to give up my long-cherished convictions, the results of much labour and study, and I cancelled all that part of my paper which urged original fixity, and published only portions of the remainder in another form, chiefly in the ‘Natural History Review.’ In a note appended to his copy of this issue in the Darwin Library–CUL, CD wrote: ‘Bentham on Classification   Excellent’.
Bentham held the view, as did CD, that classification was a matter of convention. In Bentham 1861a, p. 133, Bentham wrote: in nature there are no two individuals exactly alike in every respect. In all collections of individuals even when the immediate offspring of one parent, peculiarities will be found common to some and not to all. The species or collection of individuals thus defined, becomes, therefore, as arbitrary as the genus or collection of species, and reduces the rules of classification in the one case, as in the other, to little more than rules of convenience.
CD attended a meeting of the Linnean Society of London on Thursday, 18 April 1861. He refers to John Lubbock, Michael Pakenham Edgeworth, and George Charles Wallich.
Since the publication of Origin, CD and Hooker had been interested in learning Bentham’s opinion of CD’s views on the origin of species. See Correspondence vol. 7, letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 December [1859], and letter from J. D. Hooker, [20 December 1859]; and ibid., vol. 8, letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 March [1860].
Thomas Bell was president of the Linnean Society.
John Miers was a specialist on the flora of South America.
In Rolleston 1861a, George Rolleston set out nine points of discrepancy between the human and the simian brain and suggested criteria to determine the value of these points as differentiating characteristics (Rolleston 1861a, p. 206).
Rolleston had dissected the brain of an orang-utan and identified what he took to be the hippocampus minor, which Richard Owen maintained was present only in the brains of humans. On this point, Rolleston’s findings agreed with the view of Thomas Henry Huxley, who, in opposition to Owen, claimed that there were no essential differences between the brains of humans and the higher apes. Rolleston, although stating that the simian brain did not show ‘those sharply differentiating characteristics which have been supposed to put it into a position of such marked inferiority to that of man’, did not express clear support for Huxley’s position (Rolleston 1861a, p. 215).
The reference is to an exchange of letters between Huxley and Owen printed in recent numbers of the Athenæum. See letter to T. H. Huxley, 1 April [1861]. Huxley’s second letter, published in the 13 April issue (p. 498), referred to Owen’s ‘very serious errors respecting matters of anatomical fact’.
CD refers to his meeting with Owen soon after the publication of Origin. See Correspondence vol. 7, letters to Charles Lyell, [10 December 1859], and to Richard Owen, 10 December [1859] and 13 December [1859].
For CD’s opinion that Owen had snubbed Hooker by focusing primarily on Origin and not discussing Hooker 1859 on its own merits in his review ([R. Owen] 1860b), see Correspondence vol. 8, letters to Asa Gray, 25 April [1860], and to J. D. Hooker, 26 April [1860].
The editor of the Edinburgh Review, in which [R. Owen] 1860b was published, was Henry Reeve. Thomas Bell had earlier told Hooker that Owen acknowledged authorship of the review (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter from J. D. Hooker, [20 April 1860]).
CD visited Charles Lyell during his recent stay in London (see letter to Charles Lyell, 12 April [1861] and n. 6).
Essays and reviews (1860), which comprised seven essays (six by liberal clergymen) addressing the implications of recent scholarship for traditional religious interpretations, had recently been severely attacked by the Church establishment. For a more detailed consideration of the controversy surrounding this work, see Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix VI.
Hooker had sent CD the most recent issue of the London Review and Weekly Journal of Politics, Literature, Art and Society (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 [March 1861]).
Beginning with the number of 2 April 1861, the Cottage Gardener and Country Gentleman began a new series under the title Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener, and Country Gentleman. A journal of horticulture, rural and domestic economy, botany and natural history. CD had subscribed intermittently to the journal since 1855 and regularly since January 1860. His copies are in the Darwin Library–CUL. There are numerous references in Variation to the journal as a source of information about various domesticated plants and animals.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Essays and reviews. London: John W. Parker. 1860.

Hutton, Frederick Wollaston. 1861. Some remarks on Mr Darwin’s theory. Geologist 4: 132–6, 183–8.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

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.

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


Lieut. F. W. Hutton’s original review [Geologist 4 (1861): 132–6, 183–8] understands that mutability cannot be directly proved.

CD met Bentham at Linnean Society and asked him to write up his views on mutability.

Opinion of Owen.

Conversation with Lyell on antiquity of man.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 91
Physical description
ALS 9pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3098,” accessed on 18 April 2024,

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