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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [2 April 1864]1



Dear old Darwin

I wish I could see my way to aiding you in the matter of Scott2   You apprehend the real & only great difficulty in what you say of the position of such a person in relation to the Curator. & with our present Curator, Smith,3 it would be simply impossible— For the coming Smith4 I cannot speak, but feel sure that for many months to come the latter could not undertake any responsibility of the kind—having to learn first how to manage his own men— then too Scott must not only be under Smith but be more or less amenable to one of our foremen, who would carry out Smiths instructions in regard to his privileges.

As to my father,5 he would assuredly let me do what I pleased, in the firm conviction, that like other abortive schemes of your affectionate friend for the promotion of Scientific Horticulture, the whole thing would break down, directly,—& no harm come of it, if I guaranteed its safety to him. But then I could not guarantee that the Foremen would not take offence or be jealous, & that Scott would give no cause for complaint, either by expecting too much, or by interfering by word or deed where he had no business.— Gardeners are the very d—l, & where two or three are gathered together I would rather not be in the midst of them: it is difficult enough to play your part over them—

If we had, as you suppose, Gardeners at work at Kew without pay, it would be easily managed, but we never had such,6 & on the contrary refuse all who will not come & be paid; as it is, the ordinary workers are jealous of those who being better off come for their improvement, though we make no difference in our treatment of them; they are always asking for privileges that cannot be accorded to all—& the Foreman cannot bear amateurs— To cut a long story short I do not believe that Scott would undertake the work you want in such a garden as ours, or in any one indeed where he was not head.—

As to the importance of the points, to be worked out, I do not see how they can be exaggerated— an out of the way piece of ground could be found easily enough I dare say—& I should be proud of its unsightlyness—but I cannot see my way to his position except as my own personal protegee—& coming to me for all he wants, & I should be jolly well hated for my protegées sake. You see he must have tools, seed, plants, & the run of the gardens at all hours, private keys, hot-house accommodation, & his own way with heating, screening, watering & hundreds of details, & consequently be the handle of every jealous mischief-maker: & you might as well order your Lady’s-maid to treat the Governess with consideration, as the foremen to forward Scotts experiments. To give you a sample, we had our “Victoria” plants poisoned 2 years running,7 through the jealousy of our gardener, & have every reason to believe that we suffer much this way— Smith says our whole orchid collection was systematically poisoned for several years running—but pray let this go no further.—8

I have been 2 days at Isle of Wight & a beastly windy cold place it is, no worse perhaps than the rest of England, but no better— The rocks are paltry, the Trees contemptible, the sea muddy, the villages cockney, & the Geology confused— it is a wretched imitation of Jersey & Guernsey— I spent a day in Portsmouth harbor coming back with Charlie, in a boat with a fine breeze: the great ships are a grand sight & rather warmed me up to the old navy.9

I put to Tyndall your question about Glaciers & cold10—but he could not answer it.— I think you have an answer in the comparison of the outer Himal. ranges at 14–16,000 ft. where you have superabundant snow fall, & glaciers now at 15,000 ft. & the Tibetan ranges behind where with a greater elevation & much lower mean temp: & not half the snow fall the glaciers are much higher.11 I regard fall of winter snow as the greatest element of great glaciers, & when the snow fall is very great you seldom have a very low mean temperature. Frankland is far too ignorant to be trusted to read any thing about the subject in your Journals.12 I never met such ignorance of the elements of Meteorology & Phys. Geography, in a man who writes on such subjects.

In Sikkim you have huge glaciers down to 15000 ft, because the fall is so great, & the melting is almost wholly due to fog & rain in summer. In N.W. India 6–8° further north the glacier level is the same though there is not half the snow fall, partly because the climate is colder, but far more because there are no Summer rains & all the melting is due to the sun’s power direct. In Tibet, where you have very little fall, & a tremendous hot summer sun by day & cold nights the glacier level is up to 18000 ft.—13 In the S. Pole with cool summer & cool but not cold winters but with perennial deposition you have the whole S. Continent from 66–79 caked with glacier, & no land whatsoever uncovered by Snow. 14 In the N. Pole on the other hand with little fall, tremendous winter cold, & great day heat in summer, no spot has been found at the level of the sea covered with perpetual (non glacial) snow15—& at Disco16 the hills are said to be bare of Snow up to 4000 ft I think in summer

The whole problem is extraordinarily complicated. & I still hold with Lyell that a different disposition of sea & land may produce the glacial epoch17—with judicious wriggling I grant!

Ever my dear & well-bored friend | Yrs affec | J D Hooker

CD annotations

4.5 You see … running— 4.13] crossed pencil
End of letter: ‘On descent of Glaciers from cold & Dryness—’ pencil


The date is established by the endorsement. In 1864, 2 April was a Saturday.
In his letter of [1 April 1864], CD had asked for Hooker’s assistance in finding a place for John Scott at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, that would provide Scott with the opportunity to continue his botanical experiments.
John Smith (1798–1888). Smith retired from his post as curator at the end of April 1864 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 29 March 1864 and n. 4, and letter from J. D. Hooker, [26 or 27 April 1864] and n. 23).
John Smith (1821–1888) was soon to replace the elder John Smith as curator (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 29 March 1864 and n. 4).
William Jackson Hooker was director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
For CD’s query about gardeners working at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, without pay, see his letter to Hooker of [1 April 1864] and n. 6.
Hooker probably refers to plants in the Victoria House, which was well known for the giant South American waterlily, Victoria regia (now Victoria amazonica; see R. Desmond 1995, pp. 184–7).
The orchid collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, had diminished between 1850 and 1865 (see R. Desmond 1995, p. 158).
In his letter of 29 March 1864, Hooker mentioned his trip to the Isle of Wight from 30 March to 2 April with his son Charles Paget Hooker, aged 8. Hooker had served in the navy as assistant surgeon and botanist on the Antarctic voyage of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror under Captain James Clark Ross (DNB).
Aroused by Edward Frankland’s recently presented arguments on the glacial epoch (Frankland 1864a), CD had asked Hooker to put a question to John Tyndall on the causes of glacier advance (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 26[–7] March [1864] and nn. 14 and 15); CD thought that Frankland had overstated the importance of increased precipitation as a factor in glacial advance. Hooker met Tyndall on his trip to the Isle of Wight (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 29 March 1864).
Hooker observed the lower glaciers in the outer Himalayas during his botanical expedition to the region from 1847 to 1851 (see J. D. Hooker 1854, 2: 57, 115–16). For his discussion of the glaciers that descended no lower than 17,000 ft in the Tibetan ranges, see ibid., 2: 128–9, 133–6, and 180. See also Correspondence vol. 4, letters from J. D. Hooker, 13 October 1848 and 30 September 1849, and n. 13, below.
Frankland was a professor of chemistry at the Royal Institution of London (DNB; see also Russell 1996). The reference is to Journal of researches. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 26[–7] March [1864] and n. 15.
See n. 11, above. Hooker also discussed the effect of solar radiation, temperature, precipitation and its annual distribution, humidity, and evaporating winds on the snowline, or what he called the line of perpetual snow, in J. D. Hooker 1854, 2: 128–9 n., 169 n., and 394–6; he explained the relationship between the line of perpetual snow and glacial ice on p. 394 n.
Hooker had sailed south of 660 latitude on the Antarctic expedition from 1839 to 1843 (see J. D. Hooker 1844–7).
In ‘Outlines of the distribution of Arctic plants’ (J. D. Hooker 1860), Hooker’s discussions of plant distribution are interspersed with comments on the climate of the Arctic.
Disco (now ‘Disko’) is an island in the Davis Straits, off the west coast of Greenland.
Charles Lyell thought that an increase in the surface area of land in the temperate and Arctic regions, and a decrease in the surface area of land in the tropics, as a result of land upheavals and subsidence, had brought about the generally lower temperatures of the glacial epoch; his view that the relative positions of land and sea were the cause of major climatic changes was a central argument of his Principles of geology (see c. Lyell 1853, pp. 102–12, and Ospovat 1977). Lyell had referred to this notion most recently in Antiquity of man (Lyell 1863a, pp. 363–6). CD did not accept Lyell’s theory as a sufficient explanation of climatic change, arguing that there was not enough evidence of the great continental changes that Lyell described (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 10, letter to A. C. Ramsay, 5 September [1862] and nn. 8 and 9).


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

Desmond, Ray. 1995. Kew: the history of the Royal Botanic Gardens. London: Harvill Press with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1844–7. Flora Antarctica. 1 vol. and 1 vol. of plates. Pt 1 of The botany of the Antarctic voyage of HM discovery ships Erebus and Terror in the years 1839–1843, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross. London: Reeve Brothers.

Ospovat, Dov. 1977. Lyell’s theory of climate. Journal of the History of Biology 10: 317–39.

Russell, Colin Archibald. 1996. Edward Frankland: chemistry, controversy and conspiracy in Victorian England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


JDH explains why he cannot take Scott on at Kew.

John Tyndall cannot answer CD’s questions on glaciers. Edward Frankland’s ignorance. In JDH’s opinion, heaviness of winter snowfall is the greatest element in size of glaciers and this is a function of low mean temperature. Discusses descent of glaciers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 198–200, 203; DAR 104: 222
Physical description
AL 10pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4445,” accessed on 6 December 2022,

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