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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hewett Cottrell Watson to Joseph Dalton Hooker   1 January 186[8]1

Thames Ditton

Jany 1 6[8]

My dear Hooker

Thank you for the name of Cyathea affinis, & the determination to have it raised; the spores being of this year give likelihood.

As to Vicia Daunesiana, which is only a sug. name, & not well merited, possibly one of my plants may flower next summer.2 They are weakly, having been almost lost through the sharp frosts of Epsom race-week,3 just previous to which they had been turned into the open ground from a frame.

How provoking to receive the Kerguelen cabbage in its dead state!4 I suppose that plants of cold climes encounter the chance of the sun converting the cases into ovens on shipboard.

Glad to receive your good report of Mr. Darwin’s health. I have read nothing about Darwinism since his 2d. edition came out,—but thought of his theory pretty often.5 My conviction is nearly complete, either that there is a something fallacious to be eliminated from it, or else a something important to be added to it. By what process of divergent variation can you conceive your two St. Helena Umbellifers to have come into existence, so similar in characters usually looked to for distinguishing species (foliage etc) and yet so dissimilar in those resorted to for genera?6 If our technical classifications in botany & zoology refuse to harmonize with the Darwinian theory, one or other must be thoroughly unsound. My present notion is, that divergent variation is just one half of the story, and that Darwin has missed the other half, its counterbalance in nature. When anyone equally fit shall have taken like pains to shew & establish the alternate half, the theory will stand firm on two legs, instead of tottering upon one only, unable to go back, or to go forward, without a fatal fall,—a reductio ad absurdum.7

All this you will think very impudent & presumptious in me— But there was a date when you declared believers in the mutability of species, to be “superficial naturalists”;—on reading which, in Flora Indica, I resolved to remind you of it some future day!8 You don’t think them all such now!— And so we all live to learn and change.

With very good wishes for the date, Jany first— | Yours sincerely | Hewett C. Watson


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 6 January [1868]. The letter was forwarded to CD by Hooker, and may have been enclosed in the letter from J. D. Hooker, [before 6 January 1868?].
Vicia is a broad-bean genus. Watson’s suggested species name, ‘Daunesiana’, was never published.
Watson refers to the Derby, a horse-race held annually in May or early June on Epsom Downs, Surrey (Post Office directory of the six home counties 1868). In 1867, the event was held on 22 May (Annual Register).
The Kerguelen cabbage (Pringlea antiscorbutica) was found on Kerguelen island in the south Indian Ocean on the voyage of the Erebus and Terror from 1839 to 1844; it was described by Hooker in J. D. Hooker 1844–7, pp. 239–41.
The second edition of Origin was published in 1860.
Hooker had described the two Umbelliferae as Sium helenianum and Lichtensteinia burchellii (see J. D. Hooker 1867–91, 1: 23–5). Hooker noted that the similarity between the species was ‘in many respects striking’, but that L. burchellii departed from the generic character in the petals (ibid., p. 25). The two species are now placed in the same genus: S. helenianum (jellico) and S. burchellii (dwarf jellico).
Watson had previously argued that indefinite divergence of species without a ‘counter-action in nature’ was inconceivable and absurd (Correspondence vol. 8, letter from H. C. Watson, [3? January 1860]). For further correspondence between Watson and CD on divergence and convergence of species, see ibid., letter to H. C. Watson, [5–11 January 1860], and letter from H. C. Watson, 10 May 1860; see also Correspondence vol. 13, Supplement, letter from H. C. Watson to J. D. Hooker, 4 January 1861.
The passage appears in J. D. Hooker and Thomson 1855, p. 20: ‘It cannot be doubted that the general acceptance which the doctrine of the mutability of species has met with amongst superficial naturalists, has originated in a reaction from early impressions of the absolute fixity of characters.’ Watson had declared his belief in the transmutation of species in Watson 1845 and Watson 1847–59. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 November 1868 and n. 2.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1844–7. Flora Antarctica. 1 vol. and 1 vol. of plates. Pt 1 of The botany of the Antarctic voyage of HM discovery ships Erebus and Terror in the years 1839–1843, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross. London: Reeve Brothers.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton, ed. 1867–91. Hooker’s Icones plantarum; or, figures, with descriptive characters and remarks, of new and rare plants, selected from the Kew herbarium. 3d ser., 10 vols. London: Williams and Norgate.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Post Office directory of the six home counties: Post Office directory of the six home counties, viz., Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. London: W. Kelly & Co. 1845–78.

Watson, Hewett Cottrell. 1845. On the theory of "progressive development," applied in explanation of the origin and transmutation of species. Phytologist 2: 108–13, 140–7, 161–8, 225–8.

Watson, Hewett Cottrell. 1847–59. Cybele Britannica; or British plants and their geographical relations. 4 vols. London: Longman.


HCW’s criticisms of CD’s theory.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5077F,” accessed on 18 January 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16