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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   9 February [1865]1


Feb. 9th

My dear Hooker

I had not heard of poor Falconer’s sufferings before receiving your note.2 The thought has quite haunted me since. Poor fellow it is horrid to think of him,— I quite agree how humiliating the slow progress of man is; but everyone has his own pet horror, & this slow progress, or even personal annihilation sinks in my mind into insignificance compared with the idea, or rather I presume certainty, of the sun some day cooling & we all freezing. To think of the progress of millions of years, with every continent swarming with good & enlightened men all ending in this; & with probably no fresh start until this our own planetary system has been again converted into red-hot gas.— Sic transit gloria mundi,3 with a vengeance.

I have been having 5 or 6 wretched days, miserable from morning to night & unable to do anything, but am much better today. How I wish I could beg borrow or steal your eczema, intensified a dozen fold; for this alone would do me good.4 I hope Startin has done you good.5 I wish I knew whether it was any earthly use consulting any doctor, for I can get nothing more out of Dr. Jenner.6 Remember when you can with ease, you are pledged to come here. You cannot think how it pleases me to hear that you remember the gone-bye days at Down with pleasure;7 they were indeed pleasant to me. What a loss the loss of nearly all Society has been to me & to my family; & now for the few years which I may live it will be worse.—8

I am much pleased to hear that my paper on Climbers went off well.9 Masters has written to me & what he tells me accords with & supports what I have written.10 I am rather surprised that the hypothetical case of L. nissolia was noticed:11 the case interested me, because a few years ago I remember looking at this plant & concluding that it would be utterly impossible to even conjecture what could be the meaning of its strange leaves: it would be interesting to me to trace the graduated forms mentioned by Bentham,12 but I must resist the temptation. T[he] diversified powers of movements in the Climbers,13 & the gradations in structure struck me as the most interesting points in the subject.14 Well, I ought to love the subject, for it helped me over many a weary hour, when I could do nothing else.15

Elizabeth Wedgwood has been here for a day,16 & has told me a little news of you & Mrs Hooker,17 to whom pray give kindest remembrances, & of a most pleasant luncheon at her house—

My dear old friend | Yours affectly | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from J. D. Hooker, 3 February 1865.
CD refers to the death of Hugh Falconer on 31 January 1865 and the letter from Hooker of 3 February 1865.
Sic transit gloria mundi: ‘So passes away the glory of the world’ (H. P. Jones ed. 1900).
On 7 February 1864, Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) recorded: ‘C. very languid for 3 days’. CD believed that his attacks of eczema alleviated his other symptoms, and made him feel more alert (Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Emma Darwin to J. D. Hooker, 17 March [1864]).
Hooker had consulted the skin specialist James Startin about his eczema, as had CD in 1862 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 3 February 1865 and n. 1).
CD also expressed dissatisfaction with the treatment of his illness by William Jenner, and by other doctors, in his letter to Hooker of 7 January [1865].
The excitement of social intercourse often made CD feel violently ill afterwards, so he avoided society as much as possible, except that of relations (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 2, letter to W. D. Fox, [25 March 1843], Correspondence vol. 5, letter to W. D. Fox, 7 March [1852], and Correspondence vol. 11, letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 January [1863]); however, in 1863 and 1864 CD was even more ill than usual, and at one stage could ‘only stand very short visits even of the boys’ (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from Emma Darwin to J. D. Hooker, 26 December [1863]; see also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to F. T. Buckland, 15 December [1864]). For discussions of CD’s illness, see Bowlby 1990, pp. 370–8, F. Smith 1990 and 1992, Browne 1998, and Colp 1998. See also Appendix IV.
An abstract of ‘Climbing plants’ was read at the meeting of the Linnean Society on 2 February 1865. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 3 February 1865.
In his letter of 3 February 1865, Hooker had mentioned a comment of Maxwell Tylden Masters on ‘Climbing plants’. See letter from M. T. Masters, 7 February 1865.
George Bentham had commented on CD’s discussion of Lathyrus nissolia, which did not bear tendrils, and its relationship to tendril-bearing species of Lathyrus (see ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 114–15, and letter from J. D. Hooker, 3 February 1865 and n. 12).
CD had raised seedling Lathyrus nissolia in 1857 (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 July [1857]), and he examined flower specimens of the species in June 1863 for his research on heterostyly (DAR 111: A52); however, no other notes on L. nissolia have been found. Bentham had mentioned that he knew of other Lathyrus species that would be helpful to CD in testing his views, presented in ‘Climbing plants’, on the derivation of tendrils in the Leguminosae (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 3 February 1865 and n. 12).
See ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 115–18.
For CD’s work on climbing plants during periods of poor health, see, for example, letters to J. D. Hooker, 14 July [1863] and [27 January 1864] (Correspondence vols. 11 and 12).
Sarah Elizabeth Wedgwood, Emma Darwin’s sister (Darwin pedigree). Emma recorded in her diary (DAR 242) that Elizabeth arrived on 8 February and departed on 9 February 1865.


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

Browne, Janet. 1998. I could have retched all night. Darwin and his body. In Science incarnate. Historical embodiments of natural knowledge, edited by Christopher Lawrence and Steven Shapin. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

‘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. 1998. To be an invalid, redux. Journal of the History of Biology 31: 211–40.

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

Darwin pedigree: Pedigree of the family of Darwin. Compiled by H. Farnham Burke. N.p.: privately printed. 1888. [Reprinted in facsimile in Darwin pedigrees, by Richard Broke Freeman. London: printed for the author. 1984.]

Smith, Fabienne. 1990. Charles Darwin’s ill health. Journal of the History of Biology 23: 443–59.


Falconer’s death haunts him. Personal annihilation not so horrifying to him as sun cooling some day and human race ending.

His health has been wretched.

Masters has written his agreement with CD’s "Climbing plants".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 260
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4769,” accessed on 16 June 2024,

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