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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [6 March 1863]1

Royal Gardens Kew

Thursday [Friday]

Dear Darwin

I am atrociously idle & prefer writing to you to anything else. What a bitter disappointment it must have been to put off the Lyells! but what could you do— pray God the Eczema has come out & relieved you ere this.2

Do not make “boiled greens” of your plants. Any of these tropical things that look sickly &c had better have a bell-glass over them, tilted at the bottom to let air in.3

Do not be in a hurry about repotting these tender little things, or you will lose them. The Sonerila likes a nice moist-warmth, but not too hot.—& perhaps screening from sun, but the art & mystery of screening is utterly unintelligable to me.

Falconer is working up to a state of savagery against Lyells book, & has arrived at a state of virtuous indignation about his treatment of Prestwich & Gunn’s labors, which is the prelude to an onslaught about his own I expect in regard to the bone caves.4 I hear that Lyell will answer Owen in tomorrows Athenæum—if so I will send it on by tomorrow’s post, & you can return it, by Mondays. if done with5

I must read the Aye-Aye paper6 but I hear that his onslaught on Nasmyth in 1851 (in I think the Med. Chirurg. review) is the masterpiece of Scientific vituperation & Billingsate, & well worth the perusal—7 perhaps I shall get it & if so will let you know.

We had a good meeting at Linnean last night, & a very long paper by F. Smith on Wallaces Hymenopt insects distribution, & the very dullest thing I ever heard.8 I do hope that Bates will write more & keep Entomology within the pale of Science—9

Wallace made a very few remarks worth all the paper.10

I doubt getting down on a Sunday to you—as I have promised to go to Lubbocks on the 21st. to meet Colenso!11

You must stick for a few months to your Variation book & take the experiments mildly.12

I have 4 tubers of the Wild Potato— how shall I proceed with them?13 My life is too great a worry to experiment properly. & I cannot bring mind or time to bear upon it. I do assure you that without joking Wedgewoods are an unspeakable relief to me—14 I look over them every Sunday morning—& poke into all the little 2d. hand shops I pass in London seeking medallions. The prices of vases are quite incredible— I saw a lovely butter-boat, & was quite determined to go up to 30/ for it,—at the dirtiest little pig stye of a subterranean hole in the wall of a shop you ever were in,—the price was £25. All this amuses me vastly—& is an enjoyable contrast to grim science. No Lady enjoys bonnets more heartily!

Ever my dear Darwin | Yours affect | J D Hooker

CD annotations

End of letter: ‘Athenæum | Falconer | Wild Potato— | [‘Treviranus’15 pencil del ink] | Lyell | Huxley | Poplar’ pencil


The letter is dated by Hooker’s reference to F. Smith 1863 (see n. 8, below); Hooker wrote ‘Thursday’ in error.
Because of ill health, CD had been obliged to cancel the planned visit to Down of Charles and Mary Elizabeth Lyell; CD found that eczema relieved him of other symptoms (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 March [1863]).
In his letter to Hooker of 5 March [1863], CD mentioned that he had had difficulty in cultivating some of the hothouse plants sent from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
In a letter published in the Athenæum, 4 April 1863, pp. 459–60, Hugh Falconer objected to several aspects of Lyell’s Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a). His principal objection was that Lyell had failed properly to acknowledge the work by Joseph Prestwich on the age of the Quaternary deposits of the south of England, and his own work on ossiferous caves in which human artefacts had been found. Falconer also criticised Lyell for including, under Falconer’s authority, but without his permission, a list of fossil species found on the Norfolk coast by John Gunn and others. For discussions of Falconer’s attack on Lyell, see Bynum 1984, Grayson 1985, and L. G. Wilson 1996a.
Hooker refers to Richard Owen’s letter, published in the Athenæum on 21 February 1863, pp. 262–3, protesting about Lyell’s treatment of him in Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a); Lyell’s reply was published in the Athenæum on 7 March 1863, pp. 331–2. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 [March 1863].
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 March [1863] and n. 19. The reference is to Owen 1862c.
Billingsgate: ‘Scurrilous vituperation, violent abuse’ (OED). Hooker apparently refers to an anonymous review of Alexander Nasmyth’s posthumous work on the development, structure, and diseases of the teeth (Nasmyth 1849), which appeared in the British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review in April 1850 ([Owen] 1850b); the review harshly denounced Nasmyth’s work. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 January [1863] and n. 4.
Frederick Smith’s paper on the geographical distribution of the aculeate Hymenoptera collected by Alfred Russel Wallace in the Malay Archipelago (F. Smith 1863) was read at a meeting of the Linnean Society on 5 March 1863.
Since his return from South America in 1859, Henry Walter Bates had published two papers on the insect fauna of the Amazon valley in the Transactions of the Linnean Society (Bates 1860 and 1861).
Wallace’s remarks are not recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society.
In his letter to Hooker of 5 March [1863], CD expressed a hope that Hooker might visit Down, if he could ‘spare a Sunday’. Hooker refers to the bishop of Natal, John William Colenso, the first part of whose book on the Pentateuch (Colenso 1862) had sparked religious controversy concerning rational biblical criticism. John Lubbock lived at Chislehurst, about five miles north of Down; Hooker visited CD from Lubbock’s house on 22 March 1863 (see letters from J. D. Hooker, [15 March 1863] and [24 March 1863]).
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 March [1863] and n. 4; the reference is to Variation.
The specimens of South American wild potato were some of those brought back by Alfred Newton from his visit to the Americas (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 [March 1863], letter from J. D. Hooker, [15 March 1863], and letter from Alfred Newton, 21 March 1863). In November 1862, while preparing a draft of the part of Variation dealing with ‘Facts of variation of Plants’, CD had unsuccessfully sought ‘odd varieties’ of potato from Hooker, with the intention of growing a few plants of each for comparison (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 [October 1862], letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 November 1862, and Appendix II).
Hooker had begun to collect Wedgwood ware in 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, [27 or 28 December 1862]).
Ludolph Christian Treviranus had sent CD two copies of the numbers of the Botanische Zeitung containing Treviranus 1863a, asking him to forward one set to Hooker (see letter from L. C. Treviranus, 12 February 1863, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 [March 1863]).


Bates, Henry Walter. 1860. Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley. Diurnal Lepidoptera. [Read 5 March and 24 November 1860.] Transactions of the Entomological Society of London n.s. 5 (1858–61): 223–8, 335–61.

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

Grayson, Donald K. 1985. The first three editions of Charles Lyell’s The geological evidences of the antiquity of man. Archives of Natural History 13: 105–21.

Nasmyth, Alexander. 1849. Researches on the developement, structure and diseases of the teeth. London: John Churchill.

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.


Lyell’s position on mutability.

Directions for care of hothouse plants.

Falconer hostile to Lyell’s book.

JDH’s Wedgwood ware collection.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 114–16
Physical description
ALS 6pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4036,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11