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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   26 November 1862

Royal Gardens Kew

Nov 26/62

Dr. Darwin

I return A Grays letter with a thousand thanks,1 I am very glad to see it—sorry too— how odd it is that men in his position have not learnt by experience that they are no judges of contemporaneous events.

He has made a great blunder in his criticism on Oliver, who was aghast (poor man) till I pointed it out.—2 breeding in does not favor variation, as he supposes,— he mistakes the “perpetuation of a variety”, for the “propagation of variation”— which is a totally different thing— close breeding will of course tend to preserve & multiply a variety in as much as every individual is a variety— (he forgets that the type is a myth.) whereas crossing tends to variation by adding differences to preexisting ones. I have several times caught A. Gray in lacking precision of thought—logic in short.

I shall look out for the Cypripeds for you if they come through us3   Au reste, his whole letter breathes an accursed spirit of jealousy of our strength, & Americas weakness.

The more I reflect, the more sure I am that America will never settle untill she has the equivalent of an Aristocracy (used in best sense) wherefrom to chuse able Governors & statesmen.4 There is no more certain fruits of your doctrines than this—that the laws of nature lead infallibly to an aristocracy, as the only security for a settled condition of improvement5 What has prevented America having one of same sort hitherto?, but the incessant pouring in of democratic* elements from the West—which has prevented the sorting of the masses, & frustrated all good effects of Natural Selection. *By a democracy in bad sense I mean a tendency to reduce the better to the worse level

By the way when you have any difficulties such as believing too much in action of physical conditions,6 you must do as the parsons tell their flocks—come to me or some other wise & discreet &c &c &c— you may as well talk to me of expressing the Glory of the Almighty as of ditto to Natural Selection. I am a jolly good neophyte. I do however calmly think that there is still amongst us some confusion of ideas between “action of Physical causes” & “Effects of Physical causes”.7

I am still very strong in holding to impotence of crossing with respect to origin of species— I regard variation as so illimitable in [animals]— You must remember that it is neither crossing nor N. Selection that has made so many divergent human individuals, but simply variation: Nat. Sel. no doubt has hastened the process, intensified it so to speak, has regulated the lines places &c &c &c. in which & to which the races have run & led, & the number of each & so forth;—but, given a pair of individuals with power to propagate, & infinite span to procreate in, so that not one be lost,—or that in short Nat. Sel. is not called on to play a part at all & I maintain that after n generations you will have extreme individuals as totally unlike one another as if Nat Sel. had extinguished half— If once you hold that Nat. Sel. can make a difference, ie create a character, your whole doctrine tumbles to the ground— N.S. is as powerless as physical causes to make a variation;—the law that “like shall not produce like” is at the bottom of all, & is as inscrutable as life itself. This it is that Lyell & I feel you have failed to convey with force enough to us & the public:8 & this is at the bottom of half the infidelity of the scientific world to your doctrine. You have not, as you ought, begun by attacking old false doctrines, that “like does produce like”   the first chapter of your book should have been devoted to this & to nothing else. But there is some truth I now see in the objection to you, that you make N.S. the “Deus ex machina.”9 for you do somehow seem to do it.—by neglecting to dwell on the facts of infinite incessant variation,— Your 8 children are really all totally unlike one another   they agree Exactly in no one property   how is this? you answer that they display the inherited differences of different progenitors—well—but go back, & back & back in time & you are driven at last to your original pair for origin of differences, & logically you must grant, that the differences between the original [MALE] & [FEMALE] of your species were = the su⁠⟨⁠m⁠⟩⁠ of the extreme differences between the most dissimilar existing individuals of your species!—or that the latter varied from some inherent law that had them. Now am not I a cool fish to lecture you so glibly—

No steps will be taken regarding Owen & I am glad of it— let his wickedness find him out of itself.10

I shall read Falconers paper with great interest.11

I shall not send Oxalis this weather—without you wish it.— it is of no value, but would disappoint you, I fear, these sensitive things want fine warm sunny weather12

It is no bore to write to you God knows, it is jolly good fun & what a relief from Welwitschia!13 I shall look at Lythrum tomorrow your drawing I mean, & description, a thousand thanks for it, I wanted much to know it.14

Huxley has just sent me his No 1. working mens lectures.15 The one only wise good & conservative thing I ever did was to hold out against lecturing for love or money or fame— it is equally admirable—whether you call it a horribly selfish act—or a ’cute sense of my own inability—, or piece of confounded lazyness—to all which motives I plead proudly guilty. & am your | dear friend

J D Hooker

PS. | Another Box of Welwitschia has arrived at Lisbon en route for me— I am fainting away—

CD annotations

5.6 “action] underl brown crayon
5.6 “Effects] underl brown crayon
6.10 If once … ground— 6.12] scored brown crayon
6.12 N.S. is … itself. 6.14] scored brown crayon


Gray had apparently sent Hooker, through CD, proof-sheets of the November 1862 number of the American Journal of Science and Arts, in which Gray’s notice on dimorphism in the stamens and pistils of flowers was published (A. Gray 1862e; see letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 [November 1862] and n. 1). For Gray’s comments on Daniel Oliver’s anonymous review of ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula ([Oliver] 1862c), and for CD’s reaction, see the letter to Asa Gray, 26[–7] November [1862] and nn. 20 and 21. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, [after 26] November [1862].
Hooker refers to Gray’s comment, in his letter to CD of 10 November 1862, that he might have to send specimens of the orchid Cypripedium to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, ‘where they may get out of the way before Hooker can turn them over to you.’
Hooker refers to his somewhat whimsical suggestion that the development of an aristocracy was the necessary consequence of natural selection (see letters from J. D. Hooker, [19 January 1862], [31 January – 8 February 1862], and [23 March 1862]). See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 [November 1862].
CD, Hooker, and Charles Lyell had corresponded extensively on this point (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter from J. D. Hooker, [20 December 1859], and Correspondence vol. 8, letter from J. D. Hooker, 8 June 1860, letters to J. D. Hooker, 29 [May 1860], 5 June [1860], and 12 [June 1860], letters from Charles Lyell, 15 June 1860 and 30 September 1860, and letters to Charles Lyell, 6 June [1860], 14 [June 1860], 17 June [1860], 28 [September 1860], and 3 October [1860]). See also Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Charles Lyell, 21 August [1861]. For Lyell’s view of natural selection and the question of ‘the variety-making power’, see also L. G. Wilson ed. 1970, pp. 55–6, 327–46, 458–9, and 515–16. CD responded to these criticisms in Variation 1: 6.
Deus ex machina: ‘A power, event, person, or thing that comes in the nick of time to solve a difficulty; providential interposition’ (OED).
In his letter of 27 [October 1862], CD asked Hooker to provide him with specimens of Oxalis sensitiva (a synonym of Biophytum sensitivum) for use in experiments on the sensitive reactions of plants. See also letters to J. D. Hooker, 3 November [1862] and [10–]12 November [1862], and letters from J. D. Hooker, 2 November 1862, 7 November 1862, and [15 and] 20 November [1862].
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 [November 1862]. Hooker refers to the work for his monograph on Welwitschia mirabilis (J. D. Hooker 1863a), which involved prolonged microscopical examination (see letters from J. D. Hooker, 20 August 1862 and [12 October 1862]). See also L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 23–6.
Hooker refers to the first part of T. H. Huxley 1862c, which was a report of the first in Thomas Henry Huxley’s course of six lectures to working men on ‘Our knowledge of the causes of the phenomena of organic nature’, delivered in the Museum of Practical Geology, London, in November and December 1862 (see letter from T. H. Huxley, 10 October [1862] and n. 3). The first lecture was entitled ‘The present condition of organic nature’.


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

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

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.

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


Returns Asa Gray letter. Gray has made a great blunder in his criticism of Oliver: he mistakes perpetuation of a variety for "propagation of variation". Confusion between "action of physical causes" and "effects of physical causes". Neither crossing nor natural selection has made so many divergent individuals, but simply variation. "If once you hold that natural selection can create a character your whole doctrine tumbles to the ground." CD’s failure to convey this, and the false doctrine that "like produces like" is at bottom of half the scientific infidelity to CD’s doctrine. There is something to the objection that CD has made a deus ex machina of natural selection since he neglects to dwell on the facts of infinite incessant variations.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 61–2, 77–8
Physical description
ALS 8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3831,” accessed on 21 June 2024,

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