skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   26[–8] October 18641


October 26/64.

Dear Darwin

Many thanks for A. Grays—2 he writes as if he had never been deceived as to the progress of matters from the first. I do not believe that any Belligerent aggressor ever knows whither it is drifting.

Have you seen Chas: Martins “Tableau Physique du Sahara orientale”3   it is very slight, but admirably written. I see A Gray alludes to Herbert Spencer— the latter has thanked me for some (trifling) assistance, in his preface,— thank God he does not bind me to his views;—which may be good bad or indifferent.—4 I always admire his wonderful grasp & admirable illustrations, but his whole work is cumbrous to my mind, & reminds me of a huge mill-sluice of scientific diction & ideas: fluid, very noisy, the noise never discordant; the stream full & powerful, but never adding an inch to the depth of the river it pours into. Much of it seems to consist in clothing biological science in the language of physical science. He often comes to me for illumination, & I reel under him, like a drunk man: he is the toughest cross questioner I ever had to deal with.

I have read Tyndall,5 but was not satisfied, I had a talk to him afterwards, but he is grown so dogmatic;—when a fellow says “my dear Hooker, the whole thing I have mathematically shown to be as certain as the heating power of the solar ray”—what can you say? but sink into insignificance.

My great difficulty is to allow of sufficient denudation. What is more familiar to you & me than 2 (or more) rocks a. b some miles apart, sticking up mid ocean so


Each 800 ft high or so,— if the distance a.–b. represents the transverse section of a quondam river valley why then the peaks a. b. must represent points in the bowels of an old continent. I like Ramsays paper much better,6 & can follow it well, I suppose that you have seen it. Still sea-action puzzles me: Staffa7 to my mind presents no traces of marine denudation— As far as I could see on a most hasty visit the angles of the column are not eaten away by Ocean, nor are the broken prostrate columns rounded. Again in the swishing tidal straits of Loch Leven I saw the glacial scratches on the rocks moutonnée under water. The flat surfaces of Staffa are no doubt planed off by ice— how the cave is formed I cannot guess, but I think not by the sea. The valleys of E. Norfolk & Suffolk are I am sure tidal & not fluvial— I have traced them from below Ipswich up to Hitcham.8 If Tyndalls idea holds good, there should be beds of pebbles most frequently found high up on cliffs, everywhere. Ramsays idea is much better, glaciers tell no tales where rivers do.9 Of course I can allow of any amount of river cutting through Limestone countries, but how about rivers running through the gorges of hard trap in Auvergne or the quartz rocks of Siberia? On the other hand ice will not cut gorges, & in those trap districts the question is narrowed to water versus fissuring.— After all the great objection to the whole Ice or water theory is, where are you to stop?— is the valley of the Amazons to be held to be all scooped out by water— if so then why not the Atlantic? if on the other hand the Atlantic is not a water-scoop, but a depression between 2 uplifted masses of land, why not also the Amazons, Rhine,? & so on to every smaller river? It cannot be doubted that strata were thrown into great folds in the bowels of the earth;—that marine denudation shaved down the tips of these as they became exposed, & that marine accumulations fill up their hollows—that subsequent tiltings rearrange the slopes hollows & hills so that there is no or little relation now between the original curves & existing valleys, & that water or i〈ce〉 was busy all the time of these changes in scooping.

So that it seems to me that it must be very difficult to say in a general way how much is due to upheaval, & faults, & how much to river & Glacier—& though I entirely go with Ramsay in thinking that in all Alpine regions or regions that have been alpine, the glaciers have done far more than the water has since, or the upheaval before them—still I cannot go so far as to account for their whole sculpturing by Ice. Ice will increase Valleys, I doubt its originating them, except by its melting & the water following a definite course.

I have no objection in the world to Primrose & Cowslip being good species, & oxlip too for that matter, but I do not see why the fact of Red Cowslips not being wild should influence our view of its claims to be a species.10 If it has a constant difference & will not cross, let it be a species, whether wild or created by cultivation (as the Gardeners have it.). Lord Ducie11 says that Red Cowslips grow wild about him & he has promised to send me some for you.

I have written to Anderson12 recommending him to try Scott13—but McNab,14 who was here the other day gives a confoundedly bad character of Scott: he seems to be vehemently prejudiced against him.

We are all pretty well | Ever affec Yrs | J. D. Hooker.

Did I tell you that by a recent bye-law persons residing out of England are not eligible for election as Associates of the Linnean. but for this there would have been no difficulty in electing Scott.15 If he does well in India he may be a member yet.

Young Bartlett, son of the Curator of Zoological Society is going to Nicaragua with Capt Prior, & to stay away 3 years.16 have you any agenda or inquirenda in that quarter of the Globe?

Tell me when you write how the book gets on.17

I have been thinking of Wallace for Gold Medal R.S.18 but it seems to be half engaged to Dr Lockhardt Clark19 this year. How would you word Wallaces claims? Will it not be difficult to cite sufficient paper work?

P.S. | The Stanhopeas are all past flower—though one or two will be in flower again in a month or so.20

The new Curator21 is making a thorough reform, & the Orchids are going ahead fast.

We had a good meeting of Phil Club22 yesterday. Busk gave us an incoherent account of the Gibraltar caves—26 species at least in a space half as big as your drawing room. Red deer Ibex, Cape Hyena, Serval, 3 Rhinoceros, Rabbit, Cervus Dama—Horse, lots of Hyena coprolites— The human remains belong to a totally different category & age. The rock itself seems to be a great Geological puzzle.

The association of Red Deer Rhinoceros & Cape Hyena seems to me to capsize all our ideas of climate being a guide to distribution—or rather of the converse23

The Royal medals are I suppose as good as settled to Mr Lockhardt Clarke & Warren DelaRue, the Rumford to Tyndall.24


The date is established by the reference to the meeting of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society of London on 27 October 1864 (see n. 22, below), which Hooker attended the day before he finished the letter.
CD had sent Hooker Asa Gray’s letter of 3 October 1864, referring him to Gray’s discussion of the progress of the American Civil War on the second page. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 October [1864].
The reference is to Charles Frédéric Martins’s Tableaux du Sahara orientale (Scenes of oriental Sahara: Martins 1864).
The reference is to the preface of volume 1 of Principles of biology (Spencer 1864–7), dated 29 September 1864. The volume was published in instalments (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 2 January 1864, n. 20), and the preface was sent out to subscribers with the October instalment. Herbert Spencer acknowledged Hooker and Thomas Henry Huxley for supplying information and correcting proof-sheets, with the disclaimer that neither should be held committed ‘to any of the enunciated doctrines that are not among the recognized truths of Biology’. For Hooker’s opinion of Spencer’s work, see also the letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 January 1864 and nn. 3–9.
Hooker refers to John Tyndall and Tyndall 1864c, which appeared in the October 1864 issue of the Philosophical Magazine. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 October [1864] and n. 5. Tyndall presented evidence supporting Andrew Crombie Ramsay’s theory of the glacial origin of mountain rock-basins (Ramsay 1862). However, see also n. 9, below.
Hooker refers to Ramsay 1864c, which was also published in the October 1864 issue of the Philosophical Magazine. Ramsay’s paper was a defence of his theory of the glacial origin of mountain rock-basins (Ramsay 1862; see letter from A. C. Ramsay, 18 August 1864 and nn. 2 and 3).
Staffa is a small volcanic island in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. It has numerous caves, the most famous of which is Fingal’s cave (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
See Correspondence vol. 11, letters from J. D. Hooker, 23 October 1863 and [1 or 3 November 1863], and this volume, letter from J. D. Hooker, 29 March 1864.
Tyndall had emphasised the role of rivers in Alpine valley formation, notwithstanding his belief that the general appearance of the Alpine landscape could be ascribed to the paramount influence of glaciers (Tyndall 1864c). Ramsay had argued that the great system of valleys and lakes in the Alps was principally the effect of ice erosion (Ramsay 1862 and 1864c). Both authors rejected the alternative theory that the valleys were the effect of fracturing and deformation in the earth’s crust.
See letters to J. D. Hooker, 8 October [1864] and 22 October [1864], and letter from J. D. Hooker, [16? October 1864] and n. 7.
Hooker refers to Henry John Reynolds-Moreton, third Earl of Ducie, whom he had visited in September (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [19 September 1864] and n. 20).
Thomas Anderson had written to Hooker asking him to recommend a gardener to superintend a botanic garden at Darjeeling. See letter from J. D. Hooker, [19 September 1864].
The reference is to John Scott, who had recently set off for India to seek employment (see letter to Asa Gray, 13 September [1864] and n. 9). Hooker and CD had been considering what might be a suitable appointment for Scott since April 1864 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [19 September 1864] and n. 22).
James McNab was curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and Scott’s immediate supervisor when he worked there as foreman of the propagating department (R. Desmond 1994). Differences between them had led to Scott’s resigning his post (see letter from John Scott, 28 March 1864, and enclosure to letter from J. D. Hooker, 6 April 1864).
George Bentham had proposed that Scott be made an associate of the Linnean Society (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [before 9 February 1864] and n. 3). The bye-laws restricted associateship to those residing in the British dominions (see letter to John Scott, 9 February [1864] and n.9). Scott was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1873 (R. Desmond 1994).
Hooker refers to Edward Bartlett, son of Abraham Dee Bartlett. At the end of 1864, Bartlett embarked on a four-year exploration of the ‘Upper Amazons’, arriving in Peru in 1865 (Bartlett 1871, p. 217). Captain Prior has not been further identified.
The reference is to Variation; CD was writing the section on ‘Laws of Variation’ between 14 September and 16 November 1864 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix II)).
CD had suggested that Alfred Russel Wallace would be a worthy recipient of the Royal Society’s Gold Medal. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 September [1864], and letter from J. D. Hooker, [28 September 1864] and n. 6.
The reference is to Jacob Augustus Lockhart Clarke. See also n. 24, below.
CD had asked Hooker to send him two or three pollen-masses from any Stanhopea in flower (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 October [1864] and n. 9).
John Smith (1821–88), formerly gardener at Syon House, Middlesex, had been appointed the new curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in March 1864 (see letters from J. D. Hooker, 16 February 1864 and 29 March 1864). On the need for reform at the gardens, see the letters from J. D. Hooker, [2 April 1864], and [4 June 1864].
The Philosophical Club of the Royal Society met on 27 October 1864 (Bonney 1919, pp. 168–9).
George Busk had recently returned from a visit to Gibraltar and France with Hugh Falconer to inspect sites containing fossils and implements and other evidence of the antiquity of humans (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [1 September 1864] and n. 11, and letter from Hugh Falconer to William Sharpey, 25 October 1864 and nn. 2 and 3). Busk’s account of the Genista Cave, Windmill Hill, Gibraltar, at the Philosophical Club is briefly reported in Bonney 1919, p. 168. Busk and Falconer gave a full report on the fossil contents of the cave in the March 1865 issue of the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, including the information that bones of Cervus dama (fallow deer), had been found in abundance (see Busk and Falconer 1865, p. 365). The Cervidae family, to which this species belongs, occupies a diverse range of habitats from Arctic tundra to rainforest.
There was a Council meeting of the Royal Society on 27 October 1864. Royal Medals were awarded to Clarke for his researches on the spinal cord and brain, and Warren De la Rue, for his astronomical observations of the 1860 solar eclipse and his improvements in astronomical photography at a Council meeting on 3 November 1864 (Royal Society, Council minutes). On the principles governing the award of Royal Medals, see letter to Edward Sabine, 5 November [1864], n. 3. At the same meeting, Tyndall was awarded the Rumford Medal for his work on the absorption and radiation of heat by gases and vapours. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [23 November 1864] and n. 8.


Bartlett, Edward. 1871. Notes on the monkeys of eastern Peru. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1871): 217–20.

Bonney, T. G. 1919. Annals of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society written from its minute books. London: Macmillan.

Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 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.

Martins, Charles Frédéric. 1864. Tableau physique du Sahara orientale de la province de Constantine. Paris.

Spencer, Herbert. 1864–7. The principles of biology. 2 vols. London: Williams & Norgate.

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


Comments at length on Ramsay’s glacial paper ["On the erosion of valleys and lakes", Philos. Mag. 4th ser. 28 (1864): 293–311]. Prefers it to Tyndall, but unconvinced about sea action and unwilling to grant that ice power sculptures the totality of landscape.

Unwilling to support Wallace for Royal Medal.

Herbert Spencer’s noisy vacuity.

Garden varieties that are constant and infertile with parent deserve to be called species.

Scott ineligible to be Linnean Society associate because he is not in England.

George Busk’s incoherent talk on Gibraltar cave fossils.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 247–53
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4645,” accessed on 16 December 2019,

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