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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [26 or 27 April 1864]1

Royal Gardens Kew

Dear Old Darwin

It is indeed “dew in the desert” to see a letter written by you in ink—& in a much improved hand, I am glad to observe, & pat you on the back accordingly!—2 It is a pity that some of your friends do not take ill too, you will say, if that is to be the result.—

No doubt I am hard on Scott—3 I do not know him, & I can only judge from Balfour’s & his own letter.4 I shall not cease to wish I could help him: but the only thing for him is an easy gentlemans place—where he should make up his mind to do the drudgery cheerfully & like a man: & occupy the rest of his time with Science.

If the Hort. Soc. wanted an impregnator & experimenter he would be just the man.5 All our posts want useful public men. God knows, that like Scott, I would rather do pure science on half my income, but if I am given health tact & method to do good public service, & the opportunity withall, I should be morally guilty to refuse my services to the public as such.

This lofty exordium will prepare you for the answer to your question “what are you chiefly doing in Science”—“just nothing at all”. I am plodding away at the manual of N. Zealand Flora,6—such another work as Benthams Handbook of Brit. Flora,—7 I am groaning over a dreadful Nat Order, Melastomaceæ for Gen. Plant,—8 I am eyeing askance a bottle with beautiful young plants in spirits of Welwitschia;9—& I am ruminating over an Essay on N.Z. Flora.10 The visible results are that the said N.Z. Flora is printed as far as the Phænogams, that I yawn portentously over the Melastomaceæ;—that I see no prospect of cutting up my Welwitschias & that the N.Z. Essay has developed no new ideas as yet.

I should think that Leersia would grow in a pot set in a good deep pan of water.11

It would be curious to make out more concerning the rationale of action of pollen— thus—do the pollen grains of Auricula burst soonest on their own stigma or on that of Cowslip.—& sooner on the Cowslip than the cowslips own pollen grains do.—12 Do the pollen tubes develop quicker— is it that they beat the cowslip tubes in the race to the ovules—or do they reach afterwards but prevail at the micropyle. What in short is the rationale of prepotence.13 The fact that mechanical irritation of the stigma causes swelling of the ovary seems to me very surprizing & suggests the possibility of prepotence being due to a rapid production of p. tubes, & the irritation thereupon consequent.

I have certainly some curious facts connected with the variation of species in N. Zealand & the number of variable genera & species is astounding but I do not see my way yet to connecting this fact with your recent workings.14 I hope to do so yet,—I observe many of the species of some of the Genera rarely seed, & can fancy that the absence of insect life ergo of impregnation will account for much; but I have had no time to think the matter out, & my brains are getting very woolly. I hope I shall make something of the subject what is full of interest & novelty I am sure.

We go to Barlaston15 on the 7th.—then to York to see Backhouses Nurseries,16 then to Riply Castle, a Mrs Ingilbys,17 & perhaps to Teesdale18 for a few days before returning.

Will you kindly ask Henrietta19 if she will kindly tell us who there are of the Wedgwood family, at Barlaston—& who is who— Mr. W. writes one son is in Paris, another in Berlin, 2 in Russia!—20 Godfrey21 is the only one I know, & I like him immensely.

J. Smith of Sion house is our new Curator to be;22 they have pensioned our old Smith handsomely.—£183 pr annum—for life— he had only £160 & a house—23

Ever affec | J D Hooker


The date is established by the relationship between this letter, the letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 April [1864] and the letter from Emma Darwin to J. D. Hooker, [28 April 1864].
CD’s most recent letter (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 April [1864]) was the first written to Hooker in 1864 that had not been written in pencil or by an amanuensis.
Hooker refers to CD’s comment in the letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 April [1864] regarding Hooker’s view of John Scott’s character. For Hooker’s view of Scott, see letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 April 1864.
See enclosure to letter from J. D. Hooker, 6 April 1864, and letter from John Scott, 14 April [1864]. The reference is to John Hutton Balfour. CD had also sent Hooker a postscript to a letter of Scott’s from March 1864 (see letter to Daniel Oliver, 31 March [1864] and n. 5).
The Royal Horticultural Society employed gardeners to manage their gardens at Chiswick and Kensington (see Fletcher 1969).
Hooker had been working on the government-sponsored Handbook of the New Zealand flora (J. D. Hooker 1864–7) for over a year (see Correspondence vol. 11, letters from J. D. Hooker, 6 January 1863 and nn. 12 and 13, 26 August 1863 and 15 September 1863).
Hooker was working on the second volume of Bentham and Hooker 1862–83, a multi-volume work describing all known genera of seed plants. For the entry on Melastomaceae, see ibid. 1: 725.
Hooker described the genus Welwitschia in J. D. Hooker 1863.
A preface, dated 30 June 1864, was included in the first volume of J. D. Hooker 1864–7, pp. 1**–15**, tracing the history of plant-collecting in New Zealand. Hooker may have been considering writing an essay like his Introductory essay to the flora of New Zealand (J. D. Hooker 1853). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 December 1866, Calendar no. 5294.
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 April [1864]. Primula auricula, like the polyanthus, was a popular nursery flower; CD discussed experiments with polyanthus and P. auricula in ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula. See also Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Journal of Horticulture, [before 18 June 1861].
See the letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 April [1864], n. 8, for CD’s published notices of his experiment with the prepotent polyanthus pollen. In Cross and self fertilisation, pp. 388–400, CD discussed prepotent pollen under the heading ‘The Means which favour or ensure Flowers being fertilised with Pollen from a distinct Plant’ (ibid., p. 388). CD discussed the general principle of prepotency in the transmission of character in Variation 2: 65–71.
Hooker was evidently thinking of writing an essay on plant variation and distribution for J. D. Hooker 1864–7 (see n. 10, above).
Barlaston was the residence of Francis Wedgwood in near the Wedgwood potteries in Staffordshire (Freeman 1978).
James Backhouse & Son, nurserymen, florists, and seedsmen, had an establishment in Holgate, one mile south-west of York (Post Office directory Yorkshire 1867). James Backhouse (1794–1869) evidently ran the nursery with his son, James Backhouse (1825–90) (R. Desmond 1994).
Hooker probably refers to Elizabeth Ingilby, wife of Henry John Ingilby of Ripley Castle, West Riding, Yorkshire (Burke’s peerage 1870).
The Hookers visited Middleton, Teesdale, in County Durham, more than once; the area was known for botanical collecting (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from J. D. Hooker, 13 July 1865, and Jackson 1906, p. 202).
See letter from Emma Darwin to JDHooker, [28 April 1864]. Hooker was a collector of Wedgwood ware, including medallions, and had been invited by Francis Wedgwood to visit and look at portrait moulds by (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 6 April 1864).
Hooker refers to John Smith (1821–88) of Syon House (see letters from J. D. Hooker, 16 February 1864 and n. 22, and 29 March 1864 and n. 4).
On his promotion to curator in 1841, John Smith received £130 a year and a house (R. Desmond 1995, p. 154). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 29 March 1864 and n. 4, and R. Desmond 1965.


Bentham, George. 1858. Handbook of the British flora; a description of the flowering plants and ferns indigenous to, or naturalized in, the British Isles. London: Lovell Reeve.

Burke’s peerage: A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the United Kingdom. Burke’s peerage and baronetage. 1st– edition. London: Henry Colburn [and others]. 1826–.

Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

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

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Desmond, Ray. 1965. John Smith, Kew’s first curator. Kew Guild Journal 8: 576–87.

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.

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

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

Fletcher, Harold R. 1969. The story of the Royal Horticultural Society 1804–1968. London: Oxford University Press for the Royal Horticultural Society.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1853. Introductory essay to the flora of New Zealand. London: Lovell Reeve.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1864–7. Handbook of the New Zealand flora: a systematic description of the native plants of New Zealand and the Chatham, Kermadec’s, Lord Auckland’s, Campbell’s, and MacQuarrie’s Islands. 2 vols. London: Lovell Reeve & Co.

Jackson, Benjamin Daydon. 1906. George Bentham. London: J. M. Dent. New York: E. P. Dutton.

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


JDH on John Scott.

Curious about the rationale of pollen prepotence.

Working on variation in New Zealand flora.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 214–17
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4472,” accessed on 25 July 2024,

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