skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   15 and 22 May [1863]

Down Bromley Kent.

May 15th

My dear Hooker

Your letter received this morning interested me more than even most of your letters;1 & that is saying a good deal.—

I must scribble a little on several points. About Lyell & Species you put the whole case, I do believe, when you say that he is “half-hearted & whole-headed”.2 I wrote to A. Gray that when I saw such man as Lyell & he refuse to judge, it put me in despair; & that I sometimes thought I shd. prefer that Lyell had judged against modification of species, rather than profess inability to decide;3 & I left him to apply this to himself.— I am heartily rejoiced to hear that you intend to try to bring L. & F. together again: but had you not better wait till they are a little cooled? you will do science a real good service. Falconer never forgave Lyell for taking the Purbeck bones from him & handing them over to Owen.—4

I was so glad to see the curious & most beautiful Clianthus (you beggar to make a man’s wife & daughter laugh outrageously at him with your “wriggles”):5 if you shd. look at flower again, I think from analogy & from what I saw of the packing of the pollen, that you will find that hairy pistil grows & brushes masses of pollen to apex of keel, & the insects, whilst sucking move the keel up & down & force pollen & stigma on to hairy abdomen: by thus gently working I brushed all the pollen out of keel by its apex.—

With respect to Island Floras, if I understand rightly, we differ almost solely how plants first got there:6 I suppose that at long intervals, from as far back as later Tertiary periods, to the present time plants occasionally arrived (in some cases perhaps aided by different current from existing currents & by former islands) & that the old arrivals have survived little modified on the islands, but have been greatly modified or become extinct on the continents. If I understand, you believe that all islands were formerly united to continents & then received all their plants & none since; & that on the islands they have undergone less extinction & modification than on the continents.— The number of animal-forms on islands very closely allied to those on continents, with a few extremely distinct & anomalous, does not seem to me well to harmonise with your supposed view of all having formerly arrived or rather having been left together on the island.—

May 22d. I have been very bad & chiefly confined to bed;7 but will amuse myself by writing a little more to you. With respect to Bates & Wallace having distinct views on species during their Journey; what does astonish me is the extreme poverty of observation on this head in Wallace’s book; with one discussion on very dissimilar Birds feeding alike showing, as it seemed to me, complete misunderstanding of the economy of nature.8

Will you ask Oliver for reference, if he can, to Nageli on relation of vessels & leaves;9 it is just the point I was driven to.— I failed hopelessly; but found to my surprise that leaves arranged at angles, which do not naturally occur, stand in as perfect symmetry with other leaves (viz at intersection of the two diagonals of a rhomb, formed by joining the two two leaves above & two below) as do the leaves placed at the real angles from each other.10 There is some curious law to be made out about these angles which all go on convergng to an imaginary angle.—

You have given excellent counsel to Bates & I hope he will follow it; what an old malignant fool Dr Grey is; but I never care an atom for his malignacy; it never makes me angry, & I believe your explanation is right; one gets used to it.11

Have you seen the Anthropological Review: there are some clever articles; with a fierce attack on Huxley.—12

Please remember & tell me name of Hot-House plant (& if possible send flower of) with two coloured anthers.—13

All my work is at wretched standstill, with everlasting sickness & devilish headachs—

Goodnight | My dear old friend. | C. Darwin

The more I think of the “Sad Case” the cleverer it seems.—14 Where is Huxley: is he alive? I sometimes think that my days of scientific work are very rapidly drawing to a close.— Goodnight dear old friend.—


CD refers to Charles Lyell’s discussion of species transmutation in Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a). See also letter to Charles Lyell, 6 March [1863] and n. 7, and letter from Charles Lyell, 11 March 1863 and n. 2.
Hugh Falconer and Richard Owen. Bones of early fossil mammals from the middle Purbeck beds at Durlstone Bay near Swanage, Dorset, were excavated in the 1850s, the first find being described by Owen (Owen 1854). In 1857, Lyell was instrumental in encouraging Samuel Husband Beckles to undertake further excavations of the beds (see C. Lyell 1857, pp. 13–14, and K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 238–9). Beckles sent the fossils directly to Lyell as they were unearthed, and Lyell transferred these and other finds from the area to Falconer, who made the initial determinations (see Falconer 1857b, p. 261, and Correspondence vol. 6, letter to J. D. Dana, 5 April [1857] and nn. 7–8). It was intended that when the collection was completed the Purbeck fossils would be transferred to Owen for description and publication (Falconer 1857b, p. 262). Lyell apparently transferred the fossils to Owen earlier than had been arranged. Owen published descriptions of the fossils in 1871 (Owen 1871).
See letter from J. D. Hooker, [13 May 1863]. CD refers to Clianthus dampieri, an Australian legume, of which Hooker sent a specimen for CD to examine the pollination mechanism. Hooker wrote that he supposed that it required a ‘Darwinian waggle of the keel’ for the pollen to adhere to the stigma in this species. CD’s ‘wriggling’ out of theoretical difficulties had been a joke between the two friends over a number of years (see, for example, letter from J. D. Hooker, [28 March 1863] and n. 3).
Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) for 1863 records: ‘Ch. taken with pain in bowells’ (15 May); ‘very unwell’ (16 May); ‘Ch very unwell with pain’ (17 May); ‘pain left & sickness came on’ (19 May); ‘Ditto’ (20 May); ‘sick in mg’ (21 May).
Henry Walter Bates and Alfred Russel Wallace went on an expedition to South America in 1848 to gather species and collect natural history specimens; Wallace returned to England in 1852, after leaving Bates’s expedition in 1850. Bates returned in 1859. Bates’s narrative of his travels (Bates 1863) was notable for its use of Darwinian theories of natural selection (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [17 April 1863] and n. 15, and letter from J. D. Hooker, [13 May 1863]). CD also refers to Wallace 1853, pp. 83–5.
See letter from J. D. Hooker, [13 May 1863] and n. 13. Daniel Oliver was librarian and assistant in the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, of which Hooker was assistant director (R. Desmond 1994, List of the Linnean Society of London). The reference is to the first part of Nägeli 1858–68, pp. 39–156.
CD also discussed this observation with Asa Gray (see letter to Asa Gray, 11 May [1863]). CD had been pursuing research on phyllotaxy since February 1863; his experimental notes are in DAR 51: 1–32. See also memorandum from G. H. Darwin, [before 11 May 1863].
See letter from J. D. Hooker, [13 May 1863] and n. 25. John Edward Gray was the keeper of the zoological collections at the British Museum.
The first number of the Anthropological Review appeared in May 1863 and carried an anonymous review of Thomas Henry Huxley’s Man’s place in nature (T. H. Huxley 1863b), and a pseudonymous letter to the editor regarding Huxley’s work from the physical anthropologist Charles Carter Blake (Anthropological Review 1 (1863): 111); both adversely criticised Huxley, and Blake’s contribution was particularly hostile (Anthropological Review 1 (1863): 107–17, 153–62). The Anthropological Review was the journal of the Anthropological Society of London, which, as a body, tended towards anti-Darwinian and polygenist beliefs (see Stocking 1987, pp. 248–52).
CD refers to Lagerstroemia (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [24 May 1863]). CD wanted to pursue his research on dimorphism by experimenting on a plant possessing two differently coloured sets of anthers, having hypothesised that the structure and colour of stamens might be a better guide to the occurrence of functional dimorphism than the length of stamens and pistils alone (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 [August 1862] and n. 14, and letter to Daniel Oliver, 2 September [1862], and this volume, letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 April [1863]). CD’s experimental notes on L. indica, dated August 1863, are in DAR 109: B116–17, and his findings are summarised in DAR 27.2: 17 v. These observations were published in Forms of flowers, pp. 167–8.
The reference is to a squib (Anon. 1863a), part of which appeared in Public Opinion 3 (1863): 497–8 (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix VIII).


Bates, Henry Walter. 1863. The naturalist on the River Amazons. A record of adventures, habits of animals, sketches of Brazilian and Indian life, and aspects of nature under the equator, during eleven years of travel. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

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

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.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

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

Nägeli, Carl Wilhelm von. 1858–68. Beiträge zur Wissenschaftlichen Botanik. 4 pts in 1 vol. Leipzig: Wilhelm Englemann.

Owen, Richard. 1854. On some fossil reptilian and mammalian remains from the Purbecks. [Read 7 June 1854.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 10: 420–33.

Owen, Richard. 1871. Monograph of the fossil mammalia of the Mesozoic formations. London: Palaeontographical Society.

Stocking, George W., Jr. 1987. Victorian anthropology. New York: The Free Press. London: Collier Macmillan.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1853. A narrative of travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, with an account of the native tribes, and observations on the climate, geology, and natural history of the Amazon valley. London: Reeve.


The Lyell–Falconer squabble.

Discusses island vs continental floras and their degree of modification.

Critical of Wallace.

CD’s observations on phyllotaxy.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 193
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4167,” accessed on 20 April 2024,

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