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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   3 February 1865


Feby 3d/65.

My dear Darwin

I hope you are better— I am pretty well, but somehow not over strong & bothered with eczema in the lobes of the ear, for which I am put upon Mercury & Iodide of Iron by Startin.1

Poor old Falconer!2 how my mind runs back to those happiest of all my days, that I used to spend at Down 20 years ago.—when I left your house with my heart in my mouth like a school-boy.3 We had heard he was ill on Wednesday or Thursday & sent daily to enquire, but the report was so good on Saturday that we sent no more, & on Monday night he died.4 We had dined together at the Athenæum5 just 10 days before. He took cold on the day of that awful fog—Rheumatic fever & Bronchitis. From the first his heart did not act, & his attendant, Dr Murchison,6 took a gloomy view of his case— still on Friday he rallied & Dr M. thought the worst was over, or at least said so: on Saturday the heart again gave way & no stimulant sufficed to get it to act— on Sunday there was no more hope. He suffered terribly— he was fixed with pain, could not move a muscle, & the sweat rolled down his face & ears with agony. Poor dear old Falconer he had led the worst life for his temperament that was possible— At Post. Mort. his heart was found choked with fatty deposits. I go to the grave tomorrow with Thomson Bentham & many friends.7

What a mountainous mass of admirable & accurate information dies with our dear old friend.— I shall miss him greatly not only personally, but as a scientific man of unflinching & uncompromising integrity—& of great weight in Murchisonian & other counsels where ballast is sadly needed.8 The inconceivability of our being born for nothing better than such a paltry existence as ours’ is, gives me some hope of meeting in a better world. What does it all mean.— When we think what millions upon millions of lives & intellects it has taken to work up to a knowledge of gravity & Natural selection, we really do seem a contemptible creation intellectually & when we feel the death of friends more keenly the older we grow, we do strike me as being corporeally most miserable, for we have no pleasures to compensate fully for our griefs & pains: these alone are unalloyed.

To return to the present your paper went off extremely well last night.9 Currey read it well,—right well.10 Masters pointed out that all terete petioles had closed bundles.11 & Bentham said that there were interesting Legumes, uniting Nissolia with others & Aphaca, which would afford you capital means of testing your views.12 These last were most seductive & interesting.

Ever Yrs affec | J D Hooker.


Hooker was recovering from influenza (see letter from F. H. Hooker, [27 January 1865]). Three years earlier, CD had consulted James Startin, a leading skin-specialist in London, about his eczema (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 [March 1863] and n. 2, and Plarr 1930; see also Colp 1977, pp. 75, 216–17 n. 25). For contemporary discussions on the use of mercury ointment for eczema, and on the use of iodide of iron, see Royle and Headland 1865, pp. 144–5, Copland 1866, p. 272, and Ringer 1869, p. 165.
Hugh Falconer died on 31 January 1865 (DNB).
On Hooker’s and Falconer’s visits to Down House in the 1840s, see Correspondence vol. 3, letters to J. D. Hooker, [21 November 1845] and [10 February 1846], n. 8, and Appendix III. See also L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 458–9, and Bowlby 1990, pp. 265–7, 275.
Falconer started to feel feverish on 19 January; the attack ‘developed into acute rheumatism, complicated with disease of the heart and lungs, which proved fatal’ on the morning of Tuesday 31 January (see Charles Murchison’s biographical sketch in Falconer 1868, pp. xlviii–xlix). Frances Harriet Hooker, in her letter of [27 January 1865], told CD that she and Hooker had just heard of Falconer’s illness.
The Athenaeum Club, 107 Pall Mall, London (Post Office London directory 1865).
Charles Murchison was Falconer’s friend and physician (DNB).
Hooker refers to Thomas Thomson and George Bentham. Falconer was buried at Kensal Green, London, on 4 February 1865 (DNB).
The reference is to Roderick Impey Murchison. For Hooker’s opinion of what he described as ‘Murchisonian science’, see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from J. D. Hooker, 15 September 1863 and n. 16.
An abstract of ‘Climbing plants’ was read at the meeting of the Linnean Society on 2 February 1865.
Frederick Currey was the Linnean Society’s secretary for botany (Gage and Stearn 1988, p. 59).
Maxwell Tylden Masters was responding to the portion of the abstract of ‘Climbing plants’ on leaf-climbers, and particularly to the enlargement of the petiole (see ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 42–3, 47, 113–14). Masters referred to the internal structure of petioles that had become cylindrical (terete) and enlarged after clasping a twig or other object; the presence of ‘closed bundles’, defined as strands of ‘specialized tissue, … destitute of cambium, the procambium having become permanent tissue’ (Jackson 1928, p. 57), indicated that the petiole no longer increased in diameter. In his letter of 7 February 1865, Masters wrote to CD detailing some of the comments he made at the meeting of the Linnean Society. See also n. 12, below.
George Bentham, the president of the Linnean Society, was referring to CD’s hypothesis that the legume Lathyrus nissolia, which has grass-like leaves and is the only Lathyrus without tendrils, had developed from an ancestor resembling L. aphaca in which the tendrils were not highly developed, and was a reversion to a primordial ancestor without tendrils (‘Climbing plants’, pp. 114–15). See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. D. Hooker, [27 January 1864] and n. 23.


Bowlby, John. 1990. Charles Darwin: a biography. London: Hutchinson.

‘Climbing plants’: On the movements and habits of climbing plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 2 February 1865.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1867): 1–118.

Colp, Ralph, Jr. 1977. To be an invalid: the illness of Charles Darwin. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Copland, James. 1866. A dictionary of practical medicine. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

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

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.

Falconer, Hugh. 1868. Palæontological memoirs and notes of the late Hugh Falconer … with a biographical sketch of the author. Compiled and edited by Charles Murchison. 2 vols. London: Robert Hardwicke.

Jackson, Benjamin Daydon. 1928. A glossary of botanic terms with their derivation and accent. 4th edition. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.

Plarr, Victor Gustave. 1930. Plarr’s lives of the fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Revised by Sir D’Arcy Power. 2 vols. London: Simpkin Marshall.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.

Ringer, Sydney. 1869. A handbook of therapeutics. London: H. K. Lewis.


Falconer’s illness and suffering. His great ability and knowledge.

CD’s paper ["Climbing plants"] went extremely well [at Linnean Society]. M. T. Masters and Bentham commented.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 8–9
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4765,” accessed on 27 February 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13