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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   14 March [1862]1

Down Bromley Kent

March 14th

My dear Hooker

Thanks for your letter:2 I agree with much of what you say about the amiable reciprocal feelings of nations; but Emma agrees with your last sentence that you wrote in a Mephistophelerian spirit. I think you are a bit too hard on Asa Gray; but he evidently tried to be as severe as he civilly could. I knew he was quite wrong about your indifference.—3

Thanks, also, for Photograph, which about a fortnight ago we were wishing for; but it does not give your expression & so by no means does you justice.—4

What a capital letter of Bates’:5 he is evidently a true thinker; it has made me very curious to see your letter; if it contains nothing personal relating to Bates or yourself, might I see it? If so, & you are writing, would you ask him to send it; or I would write; but I thought he might feel scruples without your permission in sending it.6

The point which you have been discussing is most difficult: I always come, after doubt, to your side. There is one pretty clear line of distinction;— when many parts of structure as in woodpecker show distinct adaptation to external bodies, it is preposterous to attribute them to effect of climate &c—but when a single point, alone, as a hooked seed, it is conceivable that it may thus have arisen. I have found the study of orchids eminently useful in showing me how nearly all parts of the flower are coadapted for fertilisation by insects, & therefore the result of n. selection,—even most trifling details of structure. I have just, by the way, been studying Mormodes ignea—; it is a prodigy of adaptation; but I had to examine 12 flowers in all sorts of ways, before I made out its mechanism.7

I should like to read Oliver’s paper, but I am so hard-worked with proofs &c, that I must give it up, till it appears in print.—8

It is real good news that you will try & come here in Easter;9 Emma desires to join me in hoping that Mrs. Hooker10 will come also; I fear we cannot take in your children, as all our Boys, & perhaps others, will be at home.

I am pleased to hear that you like Lubbock & Mrs. L.; he is a real good fellow & she is a charmer.—11

Farewell, my dear old fellow | Yours affectly.— | C. Darwin

Wallace will be home in a month or two.—12

Do not forget Lythrum, Saxifrages &c. Avoid Saxifrages with flexuous or woolly hair; but choose a plant with longest straight hairs.13


The year is established by the reference to Alfred Russel Wallace’s return to England (see n. 12, below).
The photograph was apparently enclosed with the letter from J. D. Hooker, [10 March 1862]: CD wrote ‘Photograph’ at the top of that letter (see CD annotations). For Hooker’s negative opinion of his photographic likeness, see the letter from J. D. Hooker, 17 March 1862.
CD had for some time been anxious to discover the mechanism by which the pollinia of this orchid are ejected, and had unsuccessfully sought specimens from various of his botanical correspondents (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [before 15 February 1862] and n. 3). In Orchids, p. 249 and n., CD thanked Sigismund Rucker for having lent him a plant of M. ignea, making reference to the fact that he had examined twelve flowers before making out ‘the meaning and action of the several parts.’ See also letter from D. F. Nevill, [c. 14 March 1862] and n. 3.
Oliver 1862b. See letter from J. D. Hooker, [10 March 1862] and n. 10.
See letter from J. D. Hooker, [10 March 1862]. According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) and the letter to H. W. Bates, 16 April [1862], Hooker stayed with the Darwins from 17 to 21 April 1862.
John and Ellen Frances Lubbock. See letter from J. D. Hooker, [10 March 1862]. In her Autobiography (DAR 246), Henrietta Emma Darwin recalled that CD was ‘fascinated’ by E. F. Lubbock, who was reported to be a ‘beautiful and fascinating creature’.
Alfred Russel Wallace arrived back in England in the spring of 1862, having spent eight years in the Malay Archipelago (Wallace 1905, 1: 385).
CD had enclosed with the letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 February [1862], a list of specimens he needed for experiment; he wished to see specimens of Lythrum in order to investigate what he believed to be ‘a magnificent case’ of trimorphism in the genus, and of Saxifraga for his research into insectivorous plants. Having observed that minute flies were caught in the hairs of S. umbrosa, CD had concluded that, while this species apparently did not derive nutriment from the dead flies, some of the more hairy saxifrages might do so (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 May [1861]).


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

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.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1905. My life: a record of events and opinions. 2 vols. London: Chapman & Hall.


Thinks JDH is a bit hard on Asa Gray.

Bates’s letter is that of a true thinker. Asks to see JDH’s to Bates. Point raised in it is most difficult. "There is one clear line of distinction; – when many parts of structure as in woodpecker show distinct adaptation to external bodies, it is preposterous to attribute them to effect of climate etc. – but when a single point, alone, as a hooked seed, it is conceivable that it may thus have arisen." His study of orchids shows nearly all parts of the flower co-adapted for fertilisation by insects and therefore the result of natural selection. Mormodes ignea "is a prodigy of adaptation".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 150
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3472,” accessed on 23 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10