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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [26 May 1865]1



Dear old Darwin

It is a age since we corresponded.2 I have been engrossed morning noon & night with business. My father has been away, he is much shaken, though quite as well as, at his age, can be expected.3 My Herbm. Clerk died last week, a most serious loss to me, as he knew the ins & outs of the establishment from childhood, & was so trusty accurate & dependable: he was son of old Smith.4

Now we have to get rid of Curator of Pleasure Grounds,5 & I want to take advantage of this to reorganize the whole establishment, which is worked to death,6 & I dread a break down of our new Curator,7 who, what with Garden duties & accounts, works 16 hours a day: as for myself who have never done less, this is all very well, but persons not accustomed to it cannot stand it— as matters stand neither he nor I could leave Kew a week.

Then all Burchell’s enormous collections have come here,8 & I have not only to train a new Clerk for myself, but a new Herbarium assistant— Oliver’s defect is, that he is not a good utilizer of others labor, which is a sad draw-back both on his own acct:, & that of others, as he fails to train those under him & me.9

I am trying to look my future fairly in the face, but cannot see far ahead. My dear old Father piles duty on duty, & will neither give in nor give up. I do admire his gallantry, & I do not want to see him give up, but things do get into dreadful confusion, & I shall have a heavy day of reckoning

I send 2 letters of Willys which refresh me wonderfully— the complexity of blunders is charming.10

Lyell has sent me p. 112 of Principles to look over (Ch. VII. on changes of temperature)11   much of the detailed argument seems to me a blunder altogether & that he is out of his depth.12 I should like to talk it over with you   Have you read Tylors book on Prehistoric man?13 I am charmed with it—& rather disappointed with Lubbocks.14 I wish he had not reclamated in re Lyell, whether right or wrong.15

My wife is poorly— I hoped she was to have given me a little daughter 7 months hence but she seems in an ambiguous way.16 Pray say nothing of it in writing to me—

Ever yr affec | J D Hooker


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 1 June [1865]. The Friday before 1 June 1865 was 26 May.
The last known correspondence between Hooker and CD was the letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 May 1865, and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 May [1865].
William Jackson Hooker was nearly 80 years old; he had been suffering from bronchitis and influenza (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 May 1865 and n. 7).
The reference is to Alexander Smith and to his father, John Smith (1798–1888). John Smith was curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, until 1864 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [7–8 April 1865], n. 5). Alexander Smith died on 15 May 1865 (R. Desmond 1995, p. 429).
Alexander Williamson had been curator of the Pleasure Grounds since 1848; he retired in 1866 (see R. Desmond 1995, p. 432). On the history of the Pleasure Grounds, see R. Desmond and Hepper 1993, p. 13. The post of curator of the Pleasure Grounds was abolished by the Office of Works and Public Buildings (the government department responsible for the gardens) in 1865, and the duties of this post were transferred to the curator of the Botanic Gardens (R. Desmond 1995, p. 225).
Hooker and his father, William Jackson Hooker, had been ‘putting everything on a new footing of strict discipline’ since the arrival of the new curator, John Smith (1821–88), in 1864 (Allan 1967, p. 212). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [7–8 April 1865]. Hooker became director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on 1 November 1865; on the changes in organisation that were a condition of Hooker’s becoming director at Kew, see R. Desmond 1995, p. 225. On Hooker’s work as director from November 1865, see also Turrill 1963, pp. 122–37.
John Smith (1821–88) succeeded John Smith (1798–1888) as curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in 1864 (see R. Desmond 1995 and letter from J. D. Hooker, [7–8 April 1865], n. 5).
Hooker refers to the plant collections of William John Burchell (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [19 April 1865] and n. 14).
Daniel Oliver was keeper of the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (R. Desmond 1994).
Hooker refers to his eldest son, William Henslow Hooker, aged 12 (Allan 1967, ‘Hooker pedigree’); the enclosures have not been found. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 1 June [1865].
Hooker refers to the ninth edition of Charles Lyell’s Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1853); Lyell was preparing the tenth edition (C. Lyell 1867–8). Chapter 7 of the ninth edition became chapter 11 of the tenth edition (see C. Lyell 1867–8, 1: iv).
Hooker refers to Lyell’s argument in chapter 7 of the ninth edition of Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1853, pp. 102–12) that the relative positions of land and sea on the globe were a major influence on climate. He argued that the more land there was in the polar regions, and the more sea there was in the tropical regions, the more global temperatures would fall, and vice versa. For CD’s earlier discussions of Lyell’s theory, see, for example, Correspondence vol. 10, letter to A. C. Ramsay, 5 September [1862] and nn. 8 and 9, and Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, [2 April 1864] and n. 17, and letters to J. D. Hooker, 5 April [1864] and 23 September [1864]. For a discussion of Lyell’s theory of climate, see Ospovat 1977.
Hooker refers to Edward Burnett Tylor’s Researches into the early history of mankind (Tylor 1865). There is a lightly annotated copy of Tylor 1865 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 810–11).
Hooker refers to John Lubbock’s Prehistoric times (Lubbock 1865), a series of essays derived from five articles previously published in Natural History Review and a series of lectures delivered at the Royal Institution in 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from John Lubbock, 10 January 1864 and n. 4). There is an annotated copy of Lubbock 1865 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 512–13).
In a note to the preface of Lubbock 1865, p. x, Lubbock charged Lyell with having made much use of his archaeological publications (particularly Lubbock 1861), in Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863c, pp. 11–16), ‘extracting whole sentences verbatim, or nearly so’, without proper acknowledgment. Lubbock went on to state that he had included the note lest readers think that it was he who had taken ‘very unjustifiable liberties’ with the work of Lyell. For two differing accounts of this dispute, see Bynum 1984, pp. 169–79, and L. G. Wilson 2002. For the full text of Lubbock’s note, see the letter from Charles Lyell to J. D. Hooker, [31 May 1865], n. 3. See also Appendix V.
Hooker’s wife, Frances Harriet Hooker, did not give birth to another child until 1867 (Allan 1967, ‘Hooker pedigree’). The Hookers’ second daughter, Maria, had died in 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from J. D. Hooker, [28 September 1863]).


Allan, Mea. 1967. The Hookers of Kew, 1785–1911. London: Michael Joseph.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 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.

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

Lyell, Charles. 1867–8. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 10th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

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

Turrill, William Bertram. 1963. Joseph Dalton Hooker. Botanist, explorer, and administrator. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons.

Tylor, Edward Burnett. 1865. Researches into the early history of mankind and the development of civilization. London: John Murray.

Wilson, Leonard Gilchrist. 2002. A scientific libel: John Lubbock’s attack upon Sir Charles Lyell. Archives of Natural History 29: 73–87.


All overworked at Kew.

Burchell collections enormous.

Lyell has sent MS of Principles p. 111 on changes of temperature. JDH thinks Lyell blunders and is out of his depth.

Charmed with E. B. Tylor’s book on man [Early history of mankind (1865)],

disappointed in Lubbock’s [Prehistoric times (1865)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 22–3
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4836,” accessed on 23 October 2021,

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