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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [21 December 1862]1



My dear Darwin

I have nothing worth bothering you with a letter about, but feel impelled to write—apropos of nothing! I saw Erasmus the other evening looking as young & blithe as anything—2 I never saw him looking half so well. He told me you were but poorly. I am longing to run down & see you, but not yet for some weeks, I have promised to go to Paris with Bentham for a week or so after 15th. January about Gen. Pl.3 I throttled off Welwitschia at the Linnæan the other night. there was a good meeting & they all seemed pleased— I have sent it to press.4

If you want any information about Australia & its savages, a capital man is now about Kew who has collected plants well & lived amongst & observed natives shrewdly from K.G.S. to Sharks bay, & W. up to Wide bay.5

What shall I do with the African bees & comb?— If I hear nothing I shall send it by next Thursday’s Carrier; so do not write on purpose.6

I am actually reading de Tocquevilles Democracy in America,7 it appears to me a most able book, though I do not at all agree with it. (bigger fool you, you may so, & double big fool I am to say so) but I cannot help it. He assumes that D. in America was a success— Now I never regarded America as having cohesion enough to be pronounced either a success or a failure: there has been hitherto far too much freedom of motion there, too little “struggle for existence”—to develop any settled Govt. at all, & it is impossible to predicate what shape the existing introduced form of Govt. would take in 100 years, even if this war had not stepped in to confound all calculations. Democracy has persisted in America, because there has been no cause for its overthrow—just as Monarchies might persist indefinitely (though they persist under much greater disadvantages. Specialization I conceive to be a dominant law governing everything, & I cannot see how either a Democracy or a Republican form of Govt can resist the effects of Natural Selection— In short I regard a pure Democracy as visionary as a country peopled by one invariable species.— This with me is no question of what is good or bad, but of what must ever be.—& I do hold that a Govt must always eventually get into the hands of an individual, or a family, or a class—or there is no truth in Nat: Selection. Q.E.D. as you say.

My boy Willy8 is back from school, a standing protest against the “Origin of Species”   I do not know one quality of my wifes9 or my own that he inherits. He cares for no one thing in life, I mean naturally, as Music. or Nat Hist. or even seeing things, has neither Memory Sensation or judgement;—“Like I was” he is very young of his age, & I suspect there is a great deal in that— Per contra, he is a very good amiable generous & most conscientious child, extremely fond of us all & of his brothers & sisters especially—& is only not docile because it is impossible to fix his attention. I cannot find out any one thing he is learning at School, he can give no account of himself or his time whatever, of course he is at bottom of his classes, but that I do not mind. he has no pride, nor mischief, no vice,—no emulation no pursuit & no taste—& is quite indifferent to lollypops!— In the others I can trace everywhere family vices & virtues— The most wonderful thing to me is that not one has an atom of ear, & whereas I could sing in tune at 3 years old, I do not find that these have the smallest ear for music, or care—to hear it.

Ever Yours affec | Jos D Hooker

I send Dawsons most unsatisfactory letter10


The date is established by the reference to J. D. Hooker 1863a (see n. 4, below); the Sunday following 18 December 1862 was 21 December.
CD’s elder brother, Erasmus Alvey Darwin, lived at 6 Queen Anne Street, London.
Hooker refers to George Bentham and to Genera plantarum (Bentham and Hooker 1862–83). Hooker and Bentham left for a ten-day trip to Paris on 17 January 1863 (Jackson 1906, p. 193).
J. D. Hooker 1863a. Hooker read the first part of his monograph on the Angolan plant Welwitschia before the Linnean Society of London on 16 January 1862, concluding at a subsequent meeting of the society on 18 December 1862. The number of the Transactions of the Linnean Society of London in which the paper appeared was published on 30 January 1863 (Raphael 1970, p. 76).
The reference is to the botanical collector Augustus Frederick Oldfield, who had returned to Britain from Australia earlier in the year (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [27 or 28 December 1862] and R. Desmond 1994). In his letter of 4 November [1862], CD had asked Hooker for assistance in tracing a reference to Australian aborigines preparing and eating poisonous plants during times of famine (see also letter to J. D. Hooker, [10–]12 November [1862]).
The bees and honeycomb had been acquired for CD in West Africa by the botanical collector Gustav Mann (see letters from J. D. Hooker, 20 August 1862 and nn. 8 and 9, and [14 December 1862]). A weekly carrier service between Down and London was operated by George Snow.
Tocqueville 1836. In 1862 Henry Reeve published a new edition of his translation of Tocqueville 1836 (Reeve trans. 1862).
The letter from John William Dawson has not been found. However, see letters from J. D. Hooker, 2 November 1862 and 7 November 1862, and letters to J. D. Hooker, 4 November [1862] and [10–]12 November [1862]. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 December [1862].


Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

Jackson, Benjamin Daydon. 1906. George Bentham. London: J. M. Dent. New York: E. P. Dutton.

Raphael, Sandra. 1970. The publication dates of the Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, series 1, 1791–1875. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 2: 61–76. [Vols. 10,11]

Tocqueville, Charles Alexis Henri Maurice Clérel de. 1836. De la démocratie en Amérique. 4th edition. 2 vols. in 1. Paris: Charles Gosselin.


"Throttled off" Welwitschia paper at Linnean Society [Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond. 24 (1863): 1–48].

Has read Tocqueville’s Democracy in America [1835–40] – disagrees with it. Tocqueville says democracy in America is a success. Democracy has persisted because there has been no cause for its overthrow (i.e., no struggle for existence, too much mobility).

Sends J. W. Dawson’s unsatisfactory letter.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 80–2
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3856,” accessed on 19 May 2024,

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