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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [15 March 1863]1



Dr. Darwin

I have written to Sclater who got me the 4 Potato tubers to get you some.2 I have given 2 to our Pleasure Ground Keeper, & 2 to our Bot. Garden man, & shall watch results carefully.3

I will see to the Poplars, & report.4

I have been having a long correspondence with Lyell, & have given him quite as deflagrating a yarn as I sent you—& likened him to the Theologians!—adding that I had always hitherto classed him as the sole sexagenarian philosopher who could change his opinion on good ground—5 He proposes some alterations of the two obnoxious passages, which will at any rate do justice to the hypothesis as he states it,—which the former ones did not.6 Lyell dwells, & with reason on the fact that he makes as many converts whether he withholds or gives his own opinion. I tell him perhaps more, as people like to draw their own inferences but that is not the particular point we as his friends now look to.

He has written to me also about the date of publication of the Australian Essay, as preceding your Origin,7—in this matter he has got into a fix by giving said Essay a prominence which in the history of the discussion it (& its author) do not deserve— I have such an extreme aversion to intrude myself personally into such matters, & such an abomination of reclamation, that I cannot set him right, even did the plan of his book now admit of his giving the Essay less prominence— As it is I am ashamed of seeing it paraded with an italicised heading, just as you & the “Origin” are.—& an importance given to its priority of publication which it never dreamt of claiming—8 Had I really believed that your “Origin” would have been out so soon after it I really think I should have delayed the Fl. Tasmaniae, rather than antedated you—but though I knew you were actually printing the Origin, I knew how long it had been delayed,—I knew how uncertain your health was—, & I was working myself to death to get the Tasmania Flora & its (for me) gigantic Expenses off my hands.9 As it is, Lyell seems to think me entitled to a goodly share of the credit, of establishing though not originating

1. because of your over-generous acknowledgement of assistance from me in the Origin.10

2. Because it was my making him eat the leek of variation, that so stupified his senses that he was enabled to swallow Origin, & apply selection (as gastric juice)11

3. Because I forced the card of non-reversion of varieties.12

4. Because I first applied many of your results to the classn. & descripn of one Flora & country. in a way intelligeable to him.

5. Because he understood my arrangement of the subject better than yours—at least so he said—some 18 mo. ago.

All this is no reason for putting me in the same category with you as propounder of the doctrine, which his work seems to me too much to do.— However I have not alluded to this subject to him—nor should I, if he had been as careful never to mention my name, as Huxley13 would seem to be. not that he really is so in the least I am sure.

I am grieved about this Falconer affair, F. is so cruelly impracticable & churlish when his prejudices are touched or priority overlooked;14 & he has a most mischievous backer in Dr Percy,15 who he makes a great friend of. I really do not know the merits of the case, & am so dissatisfied myself with the confused & confusing elements of the first XII Chapters, that I can form no opinion whether he is right or wrong in saying that due credit is not given to himself Prestwich & J. Gunn.—16 I do hope that he (F.), will not write a pamphlet & add another scandal to Science.17 I have a great mind to see & talk to him, but he is the very devil to discuss a matter of the kind with.—

I have finished Lyell & am enchanted with the Glacial chapters, Language & the whole treatment of the origin & development subjects (with above qualifications.) it certainly is a grand book on the whole, & well worthy of Lyells Scientific Reputation. He never rises to the magnificence of Huxleys language, nor to the sublimity of some of the passages in Hs. little book on the Position of Man, which one can read 1000 times with fresh delight.18 By the way surely the last few pages of Huxley are not clear, I do not see how he can logically throw away all the evidence of the two simioid human skulls as worth nothing, after his admissions regarding them.19

I go to Lubbocks for next Sunday & if I can will walk over to Down20

More Cameroon’s Mt Plants are coming, which will enable me to complete my paper & discuss the cold period quoad tropical African Mts & Flora—21 Were the Bees & combs worth anything?22 Another man is getting you some in Luando. (Mr Monteiro)23

I have been plagued always at intervals ever since I was 18 with heart symptoms, but less this last 4 years (after a very bad bout) & latterly (2 years) hardly at all—dull pain over region—palpitations,—pain on left shoulder,—tingling in arms & fingers,—fainting feeling,—pricking of pins, & at other times worms crawling in region of heart—& so on.24 I never could connect them with any physical or physiological condition, or use or abuse of functions, cerebral digestive or sexual—except that they were, if anything, worst when I was costive— All my friends relations & acquaintances have heart complaint! so think nothing of it— they were a horrible nuisance—especially the feeling of fainting—for which I have rushed to stimulants, more than once.

Ever Yours affection. | J D Hooker.


The date is established by the relationship between this letter, the letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 [March 1863], and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 March [1863]; the intervening Sunday was 15 March 1863.
Alexander Williamson and John Smith.
CD had asked Hooker to make observations on pollination mechanisms in poplars (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 [March 1863]).
Hooker apparently refers to his letter to CD of [1 March 1863], in which he criticised Charles Lyell’s refusal to publicly commit himself concerning CD’s theory in Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a), calling it an ‘abandonment’ of his ‘high position’ in science. The reference is to Lyell’s private acceptance of transmutation, of which he had previously been one of the most influential critics in Britain (see Bartholomew 1973).
The passages referred to in C. Lyell 1863a, which evidently related to CD’s theory, have not been identified; however, some of the changes made by Lyell in the second and third editions of this work are noted in Grayson 1985. See also letter to Charles Lyell, 12–13 March [1863] and n. 17.
Hooker’s introductory essay to Flora Tasmaniæ (J. D. Hooker 1859) was published on 29 December 1859 (Taxonomic literature); Origin was published on 24 November 1859 (Freeman 1977). However, in C. Lyell 1863a, p. 417, Lyell referred to Hooker’s essay having been published ‘a few months before the appearance of the “Origin of Species.’” See also n. 9, below, and letter to Charles Lyell, 6 March [1863] and n. 35.
In chapter 21, ‘On the origin of species by variation and natural selection’ (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 407–23), Lyell included a separate section, headed ‘Dr. Hooker, on the theory of “Creation by variation” as applied to the vegetable kingdom’, in which he discussed J. D. Hooker 1859.
Hooker was mistaken in his recollection (see n. 7, above, letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 March [1863] and n. 3, and letter from J. D. Hooker, [24 March 1863]). He was apparently misled by an erroneous statement on the first page of J. D. Hooker 1859, which stated that the essay was reprinted from the ‘first volume of Dr. Hooker’s “Flora of Tasmania,” published in June, 1859’. Hooker’s Flora Tasmaniæ (J. D. Hooker 1860a) was published in parts, but that containing the introductory essay was not published until 29 December 1859 (Taxonomic literature); the introductory essay itself was dated 4 November 1859. In subsequent editions of Antiquity of man the publication date of Hooker’s essay was given as December 1859.
In C. Lyell 1863a, p. 417, Lyell referred to CD’s description of Hooker as one who had, for fifteen years, aided him ‘in every possible way by his large stores of knowledge and his excellent judgment’ (Origin, p. 3).
Lyell argued that Hooker’s extensive travels, his particular study of geographical variation, and his practical knowledge of classification, meant that there was no one ‘better qualified by observation and reflection to give an authoritative opinion on the question, whether the present vegetation of the globe is or is not in accordance with the theory which Mr. Darwin has proposed’ (C. Lyell 1863a, p. 418). The reference to leeks is an allusion to Shakespeare’s Henry V, 5.1.1–59 (Wells and Taylor eds. 1988), in which Captain Fluellen forces Ensign Pistol to eat a leek as a penance for his mockery of the symbol of Welsh nationality.
In C. Lyell 1863a, p. 420, Lyell referred to Hooker’s assertion in J. D. Hooker 1859, p. viii, that ‘species which have remained immutable for many generations under cultivation, do at length commence to vary, and having once begun, are thereafter peculiarly prone to vary further’.
Hugh Falconer’s response to what he considered to be Lyell’s failure to give due acknowledgment in C. Lyell 1863a to his own work and that of Prestwich, was published in the Athenæum, 4 April 1863, pp. 459–60.
T. H. Huxley 1863b.
The third chapter of T. H. Huxley 1863b (pp. 119–59), entitled ‘On some fossil remains of man’, was confined to a discussion of the fragmentary fossils of human skulls found in caves in the Meuse valley, Belgium, in the 1830s, and in the Neanderthal valley, near Düsseldorf, Prussia, in 1857. After describing the specimens at length, and comparing them with modern skulls, Huxley concluded that they were truly human, and did not represent an approach to that ‘lower pithecoid form’ from which the human species had descended (pp. 155–9). Huxley used this conclusion to argue that it was necessary to ‘extend by long epochs the most liberal estimate that has yet been made of the antiquity of Man’.
John Lubbock lived at Chislehurst, a village about five miles north of Down; Hooker visited CD from Lubbock’s house on 22 March 1863 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [24 March 1863]).
In 1861, Hooker had begun preparing a list of the plants collected in the Cameroons mountains and islands off the coast of West Africa by Gustav Mann. Hooker gave his first reports on the collection to the Linnean Society in March 1861 and June 1862 (J. D. Hooker 1861, Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 6 (1862): cvi). Hooker’s findings provided support for CD’s view that temperate plants had migrated to tropical regions during a global glacial period (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, [5 May 1862], letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 May [1862] and n. 6, letter from J. D. Hooker, 9 June 1862, and Origin, 4th ed., p. 445). Hooker read a further paper on the subject to the society on 5 November 1863 (J. D. Hooker 1863b). Hooker discussed the significance of his findings for CD’s theory of migration during a global cold period in J. D. Hooker 1863b, p. 181.
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 March [1863]. Hooker had written to Mann, who was collecting in West Africa for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in August 1862, asking him for specimens of African bees and honeycombs to assist CD in writing his account of bees from different localities in Variation 1: 297–9 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 August 1862). See also letter to T. W. Woodbury, 15 March [1863], and letter from T. W. Woodbury, 17 March 1863.
Hooker had written in March 1862 to ask Joachim John Monteiro, a mining engineer and zoologist residing in Luanda, Angola, to try to obtain specimens for CD (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 August 1862).


Bartholomew, Michael J. 1973. Lyell and evolution: an account of Lyell’s response to the prospect of an evolutionary ancestry for man. British Journal for the History of Science 6 (1972–3): 261–303.

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

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.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1859. On the flora of Australia, its origin, affinities, and distribution; being an introductory essay to the flora of Tasmania. London: Lovell Reeve.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Taxonomic literature: Taxonomic literature. A selective guide to botanical publications and collections with dates, commentaries and types. By Frans A. Stafleu and Richard S. Cowan. 2d edition. 7 vols. Utrecht, Netherlands: Bohn, Scheltema & Holkema. The Hague, Netherlands: W. Junk. 1976–88.

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


JDH battling with Lyell over treatment of species question in Antiquity of man. Distressed by Lyell’s raising false priority issue between JDH and CD. Falconer involved in a priority squabble.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 117–20
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4040,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

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