skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   [after 26] November [1862]1


Nov. 20th

My dear Hooker

Your last letter has interested me to an extraordinary degree, & your truly parsonic advice “some other wise & discreet person” &c, amused us not a little.—2 I will put a “concrete” case to show what I think A. Gray believes about crossing & what I believe.—3 If 1000 pigeons were bred together in cage for ten 1000 years, their number not being allowed to increase by chance killing, then from mutual intercrossing no varieties would arise; but if each pigeon were a self-fertilising hermaphrodite a multitude of varieties would arise. This I believe is common effect of crossing, viz the obliteration of incipient varieties.4 I do not deny that when two marked varieties have been produced; their crossing will produce a third or more intermediate varieties. Possibly or probably with domestic varieties, with strong tendency to vary, the act of crossing tends to give rise to new characters; & thus a third or more races, not strictly intermediate, may be produced. But there is heavy evidence against new characters arising from crossing wild forms; only intermediate races are then produced.— Now do you agree thus far? if not, it is no use arguing, we must come to swearing, & I am convinced I can swear harder than you. [THEREFORE] I am right. Q.E.D.—

If the number of 1000 pigeons were prevented increasing, not by chance killing, but by, say, all the shorter-beaked birds being killed, then the whole body would come to have longer beaks. Do you agree?

Thirdly, if 1000 pigeons were kept in hot country, & another 1000 in cold country, & fed on different food & confined in different size aviary & kept constant in number by chance killing, then I shd. expect as rather probable that after ten 1000 years, the two bodies would differ slighty in size, colour & perhaps other trifling characters. This I shd. call the direct action of physical conditions.5 By this action I wish to imply that the innate vital forces are somehow led to act rather differently in the two cases. Just as heat will allow or cause two elements to combine, which otherwise would not have combined.— I shd. be especially obliged if you would tell me what you think on this head.—6

But the part of your letter which fairly pitched me head over heels with astonishment; is that where you state that every single difference which we see might have occurred without any selection. I do & have always fully agreed; but you have got right round the subject & viewed it from an entirely opposite & new side, & when you took me there, I was astounded. When I say I agree, I must make proviso, that under your view, as now, each form long remains adapted to certain fixed conditions & that the conditions of life are in long run changeable; & 2d, which is more important that each individual form is a self-fertilising hermaphrodite, so that each hair-breadth variation is not lost by intercrossing. Your manner of putting case would be even more striking than it is, if the mind could grapple with such numbers— it is grappling with eternity— think of each of a thousand seeds bringing forth its plant, & then each a thousand. A globe stretching to furthest fixed star would very soon be covered. I cannot even grapple with idea even with races of dogs, cattle, pigeons or fowls; & here all must admit & see the accurate strictness of your illustration.—

Such men, as you & Lyell thinking that I make too much of a Deus of N. Selection is conclusive against me.—7 Yet I hardly know how I could have put in, in all parts of my Book, stronger sentences. The title, as you once pointed out, might have been better.8 No one ever objects to agriculturalists using the strongest language about their selection; yet every breeder knows that he does not produce the modification which he selects. My enormous difficulty for years was to understand adaptation, & this made me, I cannot but think rightly, insist so much on N. Selection. God forgive me for writing at such length; but you cannot tell how much your letter has interested me, & how important it is for me with my present Book in hand to try & get clear ideas.9 Do think a bit about what is meant by direct action of physical conditions. I do not mean whether they act; my facts will throw some light on this. I am collecting all cases of “bud-variations in contradistinction to ‘seed-variation’” (do you like this term for what some gardeners call “sports”):10 these eliminate all effect of crossing.— Pray remember how much I value your opinion, as the clearest & most original I ever get.—

Very sincere thanks to you & Oliver for the Books—: Planchon has been very useful:11 they shall be all returned by Rail the first day, probably Tuesday, on which I send to Bromley.—

I see plainly Wellwitschia will be a case of Barnacles.—12

Please do not send Oxalis sensitiva.13

I have another plant to beg, but I write on separate paper, as more convenient for you to keep.14 I meant to have said before, as excuse for asking for so much from Kew; that I have now lost two seasons, by accursed nurserymen not having right plants, & sending me the wrong instead of saying that they did not possess.—

Ever yours | My dear Hooker | C. Darwin


Although CD wrote ‘Nov. 20th’, this letter is evidently a reply to the letter from J. D. Hooker, 26 November 1862 (see n. 2, below).
On CD’s views respecting blending inheritance, see Vorzimmer 1963.
Hooker’s reply to this letter has not been found; however, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 12 [December 1862].
The reference has not been traced, but see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Charles Lyell, 21 August [1861].
CD had resumed work on Variation in the spring, after several months spent writing Orchids (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)).
CD prepared a draft of chapter 11 of Variation, ‘On bud-variation, and on certain anomalous modes of reproduction and variation’ (Variation 1: 373–411), between 21 December 1862 and 23 January 1863 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)).
CD refers to Bonafous 1836, volumes 6 and 7 of the London Journal of Botany (containing Planchon 1847–8), and possibly to volume 1 of the Technologist (containing Wray 1861a), sent to him from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 [November 1862], and letter from Daniel Oliver, 25 November 1862). Daniel Oliver was librarian at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (List of the Linnean Society of London 1862).
See letter from J. D. Hooker, 26 November 1862 and n. 12. Oxalis sensitiva is a synonym of Biophytum sensitivum.
The enclosure has not been found.


Bonafous, Matthieu. 1836. Histoire naturelle, agricole et économique du maïs. Paris and Turin.

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

List of the Linnean Society of London. London: [Linnean Society of London]. 1805–1939.

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.

Planchon, Jules Emile. 1847–8. Sur la famille des Linnes. London Journal of Botany 6 (1847): 588–603; 7 (1848): 165–86, 473–501, 507–28.

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

Vorzimmer, Peter James. 1963. Charles Darwin and blending inheritance. Isis 54: 371– 90.


Discusses differences between Asa Gray’s view and his own on crossing. A common effect is the obliteration of incipient varieties. There is heavy evidence against new characters arising from crossing wild forms, "only intermediate races are then produced". Innate vital forces are somehow led to act differently as a result of direct effect of physical conditions. Astonished by JDH’s statement that every difference might have occurred without selection. CD agrees, but JDH’s manner of putting it astonished him. CD says, "think of each of a thousand seeds bringing forth its plant, and then each a thousand … I cannot even grapple with idea". Responds to JDH’s and Lyell’s feeling that he made too much of a deus ex machina out of natural selection. [Letter actually dated 20 Nov but is certainly after 3831.] [wrong field?]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 172
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3834,” accessed on 3 February 2023,

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