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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   5 February 1864


Feby 5/64.

Dear Darwin

Unfortunately I could not be at the Linnæan last night to hear Scott’s paper,1 but I told Bentham of it, who, after it was read, spoke from the chair warmly in its praise, I shall ask to have it “referred” to me, & keep up the poor fellows steam.2

We are so glad to hear that you have some relief from your vomiting (do you actually throw up, or is it the retching) & pray for a recurrence of Rheumatism which is the most convincing proof that nothing is organically wrong.3

I am keeping up a sharp look out for climbing plants for you— did you get Flagellaria?4 if not I think we can send it now to you. Herewith goes the tropical Duckweed, Pistia Stratiotes. Drosera is sleeping now,5 we want skillful cultivation for these things, & in that we are, entre nous, most miserably behind-hand.

What on earth makes you make such a fuss about my going to Algiers;— I think I may say I am not going—for several reasons, 1) April is rather too late to start—& Christy (who was to be my fellow traveller) cannot go sooner—6 2) We are about to have Smith, our Curator, invalided, how to replace him at all, with a man possessing all the required attainments & virtues is a problem; & when solved I shall have all the work of keeping him straight for some time to come—7 this is confidential at present— Poor Smith is nearly blind, & our cultivation & collections of rare & interesting plants have been rapidly declining for years.

3d. I have spent all my money on Wedgwood portraits!8

I think we ought to fight for the Danes,9

I have received a request for subscription for Colenso during trial & to allow my name to be published;10 I shall do the first, not the last, as my poor mother would so take it to heart—& I really think it would be wiser not to make a party cry of it yet, which it is sure to be if names are bruited about apropos of it.11

Pinus Excelsa, one of the noblest conifers of the Himalaya, ranging from Assam to Affghanistan, has turned up in Macedonia! where one small forest of it exists on one mountain range, in the N.W. extreme, close to Austria (Mt “Pindrus”)12   It was discovered by Grisebach 30 years ago but badly described,13 & refound last year.

I have got into a confounded correspondence with Hewett Watson, who first affected to want my leave to criticise my Arctic Essay14 in a manner of which he says “I fear your usual good nature will probably not enable you to bear it—”15 rather cool this!

I answer him that I should be most glad he did criticise it, & in any way he likes; but that, considering his attainments, leisure, ability & precedents, I tell him “as a friend” that I think it strange that he does not himself, write a separate essay, & treat my views with what severity he thinks proper in the course of it— he will thus avoid all suspicion of criticising for the sake of fault finding—do a real service to science, & smash me, if I am smashable, far more effectually. I have also hoped, that he will send his smasher to a “well edited periodical”

He affects to misunderstand this, accuses me of a wish to stifle discussion &c &c &c & adds, that if he does it now, it must be with “increased freedom of language” from the feeling that he is writing against one who holds such sentiments—16 I have answered that I wish him to go ahead; that I thank him for warning me of the tone he proposes to adopt, & regret that our private correspondence should influence his treatment of the subject—17

The fact is, he first wanted to frighten me, & now that he finds that won’t do, he wants to pick a quarrell & bully— The tone of his letters is quite insufferable, but I have not shown that I feel or see this.—

I am grinding away at the N. Z. Flora18 & Gen. Plantarum.19

My wife20 is but poorly, last week her legs all swelled up so that she could hardly walk across the room— No other bad symptoms; but I suspect it has something to do with her defective heart or circulation.

CD annotations

7.4 names … of it.] crossed pencil
8.1 Pinus Excelsa … year. 8.4] ‘G. Distribution’ pencil
9.1 I have … sake of 10.5] crossed pencil


John Scott’s paper (Scott 1864a) was read at a meeting of the Linnean Society on 4 February 1864.
George Bentham was president of the Linnean Society. CD had been urging Hooker to take notice of Scott 1864a (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [25 January 1864] and nn. 5 and 6).
For CD’s request for a big duckweed and Drosera, see letter to J. D. Hooker, [27 January 1864] and nn. 9 and 17.
See letter to J. D. Hooker, [27 January 1864] and n. 15. Hooker probably refers to Henry Christy (see also letter from J. D. Hooker, 30 August 1864). Hooker did not travel to North Africa until 1871 (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 90).
On John Smith (1798–1888) and his retirement from Kew, see R. Desmond 1965, R. Desmond and Hepper 1993, p. 18, and R. Desmond 1995, pp. 221, 430, 439. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [26 or 27 April 1864] and n. 23.
Hooker collected Wedgwood ware and was especially interested in medallions (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from J. D. Hooker, [24 March 1863] and n. 13).
Hooker refers to a defence fund for John William Colenso, the bishop of Natal (see letter from E. A. Darwin, 1 February [1864] and nn. 3 and 5).
On the general reluctance of subscribers to have their names published, see Bates 1892, p. lxxiv. Hooker’s mother was Maria Hooker.
Hooker read an account of the discovery of Pinus excelsa (a synonym of Picea abies var. abies, the common spruce) on Mount Peristeri in Macedonia at the meeting of the Linnean Society on 3 March 1864 (J. D. Hooker 1864b). CD’s unbound copy of the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) for 12 December 1864, containing the annotated article, is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Hooker refers to August Heinrich Rudolf Grisebach, and to his description of the pine that he named Pinus Peuce in Grisebach 1843–4, 2: 349–50 (see J. D. Hooker 1864b, p. 146). Hooker mentioned Pinus excelsa in J. D. Hooker 1854, 1: 256 n. and 2: 45, and in the introductory essay to J. D. Hooker and Thomson 1855.
Hewett Cottrell Watson had written to Hooker that he wished to criticise his ‘application of Forbes-Darwinism to Arctic botany’ in Hooker’s essay ‘Outlines of the distribution of Arctic plants’ (J. D. Hooker 1860; see letter from Hewett Cottrell Watson to J. D. Hooker of 28 January 1864, Director’s correspondence, vol. 105, document 213, Library and Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew). Watson was referring to Hooker’s application of CD’s theory of plant migrations during a former cold period to explain existing distribution patterns (see J. D. Hooker 1860, pp. 253–4, and Origin, pp. 365–82); CD’s work expanded on Edward Forbes’s theory that the southern migration of northern species in the northern hemisphere took place during cold periods before and during glacial epochs, and that they survived on mountain tops and at high elevations as the ice receded (Forbes 1846). In 1846, Watson had accused Forbes of plagiarising Watson 1843 for the ideas published in Forbes 1845 and Forbes 1846 (see Watson’s editorial comments in the Phytologist 2 (1846): 483–4, Watson 1847–59, 1: 465–72, and Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Charles Lyell, 20 November [1860] and n. 9). For Watson’s work on plant geography, see Egerton 1979, Browne 1983, pp. 65–8, and DSB. Watson had been a supporter of CD’s theory and a friendly critic of natural selection (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 7, letter to J. D. Hooker, [22 November 1859] and n. 7, and Correspondence vol. 8, letter from H. C. Watson, [3? January 1860]; for CD’s published response to Watson’s criticisms of his theory, see Origin 3d ed., pp. 141–2).
Watson added to this statement: ‘… unless, indeed, you can take comfort in the thought,— “I am a Hooker: it is only a Watson who criticises me’”. He then wrote that it would be useless for him simply to express disagreement since the ‘botanical public would uninquiringly assume that a Hooker is more likely to be right’ (letter from Hewett Cottrell Watson to J. D. Hooker of 28 January 1864, Director’s correspondence, vol. 105, document 213, Library and Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew). For Hooker’s earlier, generally positive opinion of Watson and his work, see Correspondence vol. 3, letter from J. D. Hooker, [before 3 September 1846], and his 1846 testimonial included in an obituary for Watson in the Journal of Botany n.s. 10 (1881): 259. On Watson as a controversialist, see DNB.
In his letter of 1 February 1864 to J. D. Hooker (Director’s correspondence, vol. 105, document 214, Library and Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Calendar no. 4400a) Watson wrote: I do accept the glacial hypothesis in a very limited sense, comparatively with Mr Darwin & yourself. It is a vera causa now in restricted action. But to my judgment, you & D. exaggerate it almost to parody or burlesque. Of course, it is quite possible that you are right, & that I take too narrow a view. The botanical world in general would perhaps say “probable” rather than “possible”,— at any rate it soon will say so, if the arctic essay remains unchallenged, as it yet is, I suppose, in this country—
Hooker’s reply to H. C. Watson of 5 February 1864 is in the Director’s correspondence, vol. 105, document 215, Library and Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Watson evidently did not publish a criticism of J. D. Hooker 1860 until 1868, when the first volume of Watson 1868–70 was printed (see Watson 1868–70, 1: 75–6; for Watson’s criticism of Darwin’s theory in the same volume, see pp. 43–59). CD’s annotated copy of Watson 1868–70 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 850–2). For Hooker’s and CD’s reactions to Watson’s criticisms, see the letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 November 1868, and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 November [1868] (Calendar nos. 6471 and 6476).


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John Scott’s paper [see 4332] read at Linnean Society; praised by George Bentham.

Himalayan pine in Macedonia.

JDH is in a quarrel with H. C. Watson.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 100: 161; DAR 101: 180–1, 201
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4401,” accessed on 5 December 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12