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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   2 November 1862


Nov 2/62

Dear Darwin

Oliver has I believe written to you about Lythrum seeds,1 if not to be had elsewhere I will get it from continent by letter, if you will tell me when you want them.

The Masdevallia is all safe.2 We have no Potatoes at all, I wish we had!—sometimes we grow a few on waste ground.— not a cob of Indian corn ripened this shady year.3

I will have the Desmodium & Mimosa plants raised for you. & Oxalis sensitiva also—.4 I am stupified at the idea of your 5 forms of Lythrum & [INFINITY] intercrossings to make, your work looks to me like a “Binomial theorem” if you remember that delightful mathematical affair that always got bigger by terms & never ended.5

Asa Gray seems busy with Cypripedium— ours are coming into flower, so if you want a fight I can I hope supply you with weapons!.6 Did I tell you how deeply pleased I was with Grays notice of my Arctic Essay, it was awfully good of him, for I am sure he must have seen several blunders.7 He tells me that Dr Dawson is down on me8 & I have a very nice Lecture on Arctic & Alp plants from Dr. D with sup critique on the Arctic Essay which he did not see till afterwards.9 He has found some mare’s nests,10 in my Essay & one very venial blunder in the tables—11 he seems to hate Darwinism—12 he accuses me of overlooking the Geolog. facts & dwells much on my overlooking subsidence of temp. America during glacial period,—& my asserting a subsidence of Arctic America, which never entered into my head—13 I wish however, if it would not make your head ache too much, you would just look over my first 3 pages & tell me if I have outraged any Geological facts or made any oversights.14 I expounded the whole thing twice to Lyell15 before I printed it with map & tables, intending to get (& thought I had) his imprimatur for all I did & said,: but when here three nights ago I found he was as ignorant of my having written an Arctic Essay as could be! & so I suppose he either did not take it in, or thought it of little consequence. Hector approved of it in toto.16 I need hardly say that I set out on Biological grounds & hold myself as independent of theories of subsidence as you do of the opinions of Physicists on heat of Globe!! I have written a long screed to Dawson

By the way do you see the Athenæum notice of L. Bonapartes Basque & Finnish language—17is it not possible that the Basques are Finns left behind after Glacial period, like the Arctic plants!.18 I have often thought this theory would explain the Mexican & Chinese national affinities

I am plodding away at Welwitschia by night & Genera Plantarum by day—19We had a very jolly dinner at Club on Thursday.20

We are all well. | Ever yours | J D Hooker

CD annotations

1.1 Oliver … them. 1.3] cross in margin, pencil
3.1 I will … also—. 3.1] cross in margin, pencil
4.8 he seems … period,— 4.10] cross in margin, pencil
5.2 is it … affinities 5.4] scored pencil


Daniel Oliver’s letter has not been found, but see the letter to Daniel Oliver, 13 October [1862] and n. 12, and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 November [1862] and n. 9. In his letter to Hooker of 27 [October 1862], CD mentioned that Oliver had promised to arrange for seed of Lythrum hyssopifolia to be reserved for him at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 [October 1862] and nn. 5 and 6. Oxalis sensitiva is a synonym of Biophytum sensitivum.
During the summer, Asa Gray had carried out at CD’s request, observations and experiments on several species of the orchid genus Cypripedium, sending CD his notes on the subject (see letters to Asa Gray, 10–20 June [1862] and 1 July [1862]). In a letter to Hooker of 13 October 1862, which is at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Asa Gray letters: 307), Gray reported that he had decided to publish the substance of his observations in A. Gray 1862b, rather than waiting until he had repeated the experiments the following year. Referring to CD’s observations in Orchids on the pollination mechanisms of British species of Cypripedium, Gray continued: Darwin’s hypothesis is wrong for our species. If I could draw, I would publish a set of figures to illustrate my view of Cypripedium fertilization,— and a pretty paper it would make. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 November [1862] and n. 10.
Gray reviewed Hooker’s paper on the distribution of Arctic plants (J. D. Hooker 1861a) in the July number of the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1862d).
John William Dawson discussed Hooker’s views on palaeogeography in a letter to Gray of 19 September 1862, which is preserved at the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (see Sheets-Pyenson 1992, p. 15). Gray apparently forwarded this letter to Hooker with his own letter of 15 October 1862, which is at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Asa Gray letters: 308); in his letter, Gray reported: ‘your confident expectation that somebody will yet cut your Arctic Essay up by the roots is likely to be verified!’ He had, he stated, lent Dawson a copy of J. D. Hooker 1861a, ‘which he mastered and returned to me in a week or so.’ He continued: ‘You see you blunder about the distribution of common Canadian plants—as well as in geology! Expect a severe blast from Canada this winter.’
Hooker refers to Dawson’s lecture on ‘Alpine and Arctic plants’, delivered before the Young Men’s Christian Association of Montreal in February 1862 (Dawson 1862a). No copy of Dawson 1862a has been located that includes a supplementary critique of J. D. Hooker 1861a. Hooker probably refers to Dawson’s review of the work in the October 1861 issue of Canadian Naturalist and Geologist (Dawson 1862b); a version of this review may also have been issued with some copies of Dawson 1862a.
Mare’s nest: ‘an illusory discovery, esp. one that is much vaunted and displays foolish credulity’ (OED).
Dawson 1862b, p. 343; the reference is to J. D. Hooker 1861a, p. 275.
While praising Hooker’s paper as ‘a most valuable summary of the Arctic Flora’, Dawson stated (Dawson 1862b, p. 335): [geologists will] find themselves obliged to dissent … from the assumption, for it is nothing more, of the unlimited variation of species in a Darwinian sense, which pervades the paper, notwithstanding the positive geological testimony to the permanence of several of these throughout a great lapse of geological time. In conclusion, Dawson criticised Hooker’s treatment of the ‘intricate’ problem of the geographical distribution of Arctic plants (pp. 343–4), stating: We believe that he has not sufficiently weighed some of the elements for its solution, and has been disposed instead to lean on the hypothesis, which however specious and apparently useful in explaining difficulties, has not yet been proved by a single tangible fact, that under certain circumstances two real species may spring from one.
Dawson 1862b, pp. 335, 341–3.
CD’s annotated copy of the number of the Transactions of the Linnean Society of London in which J. D. Hooker 1861a appeared is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
James Hector was surgeon and geologist to the government exploring expedition of British North America between 1857 and 1860 (DNB).
The anonymous review of Louis Lucien Bonaparte’s privately printed pamphlet (Bonaparte 1862) appeared in the Athenæum, 1 November 1862, pp. 559–61.
In J. D. Hooker 1861a, Hooker sought to explain the current distribution of Arctic plants on the basis of migrations that had occurred during and after the Pleistocene glacial period.
J. D. Hooker 1863a and Bentham and Hooker 1862–83.
The Philosophical Club of the Royal Society of London met once a month on a Thursday (Bonney 1919, p. 2).


Bonaparte, Louis Lucien. 1862. Langue Basque et langues Finnoises. London.

Bonney, T. G. 1919. Annals of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society written from its minute books. London: Macmillan.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

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.

Sheets-Pyenson, Susan. 1992. Index to the scientific correspondence of John William Dawson. Stanford in the Vale, Oxfordshire: British Society for the History of Science.


Stupefied by CD’s five forms of Lythrum.

Asa Gray busy with Cypripedium. JDH offers some to CD if he wants to challenge Gray.

J. W. Dawson’s review of JDH’s paper on Arctic plants.

Louis Lucien Bonaparte’s views on Basque and Finnish language [Langue basque et langues finnoises (1862)] suggest to JDH that Basques are Finns left behind after the glacial period, like the Arctic plants!

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 66–7, 70
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3792,” accessed on 23 May 2024,

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