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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   4 December 1866


Dec 4/66.

Dear Darwin

How are you after your visit here last Tuesday? & how did you get home. It was a great treat to see you looking so well.1

I have no news, having been away in Norfolk to see my Mother, who appears to be comfortably settled at Norwich.2 I received Lyells volume last night & am very anxious to begin it. What a comfort it is that he has returned to the old typography.3 We must now keep him straight anent origin & development.4 I dine with them on Tuesday, to meet Bunbury—to whom I shall give a hint on the subject.5

Have you seen the new part of Herbert Spencer,6 some of it is interesting, but much of it is ponderous verbose & sesquipedalian to the last degree. Good God fancy a luckless school boy of 10 centuries hence having to translate it into the vernacular of his epoch!— Some passages trench on your subject of Pangenesis.7

Huxleys little book on Elementary Physiology is very clear & good for those who have a good knowledge of the subject, but what the “boys & girls” for whom it is intended can make of it passes my comprehension.8

I have just finished the New Zealand Manual, & am thinking about a discussion on the Geograph. distrib &c of other plants.9 There is scarce a single indigenous annual plant in the group.10 I wish that I knew more of the past condition of the Islands & whether they have been rising or sinking   There is much that suggests the idea, that the Islands were once connected during a warmer epoch, were afterwards seperated & much reduced in area to what they now are, & lastly have assumed their present size. The remarkable general uniformity of the flora, even of the arboreous Flora, throughout so many degrees of latitude, is a very remarkable feature, as are the representation in the Southern half of certain species of the north, by very closely allied varieties or species; & lastly there is the immense preponderance of certain genera whose species all run into one another & vary horribly. & which suggest a rising area.—11 I hear that a whale has been found some miles inland.12

Do you care to see Haast’s lecture on the West-coast of Canterbury—13 It is I think quite worth glancing over: as is Doyne’s report on the formation of the lower plains of Canterbury, I can lend you both.14

At Cambridge I heard that Babington was very ill,15 with a sudden attack of illness that puzzled the Doctor, Rheumatism Gout & Paralysis were all talked of.

I suppose you never were insane enough to speculate upon the status of life on the globe: but this question of replacement of species, plus a dose of Malthus which I took the other day, has set me to stupifying myself over the question as to whether the total amount of life, i.e. of living organized matter on the globe varies materially within the limits of our knowledge:16 putting of course temperature on one side, a rise in which would I suppose largely increase the amount of organized matter existing at any one time, Temperature I suppose determines the amount of living matter existing at any time on the globe,—its fluctuations or unequal distribution the variety of life, & so forth. This may be all great nonsense, but I suppose the time may come when the inorganic equivalent of the organized matter on the globe may be measured or weighed.

What a curious discovery this is of Balfour Stewarts at the Kew Observatory, that the spots on the sun are connected with the positions of Venus & other planets, which thus either drag on one side patches of the Sun’s photosphere, or otherwise so influence it that it disperses in spots that are exposed to their influence.17

This is a precious idle gossip, but it is like holding on to your coat-tails, after you have left Kew, yourself. & calling “Papa come back”—

My wife is much the same; eats well, which I suppose is everything at this time.18

Ever Yr affectionate | Jos D Hooker.

CD annotations

1.1 How … Norwich. 2.2] crossed ink
2.4 We must … comprehension. 4.3] crossed ink
8.2 but this … other day, 8.3] scored blue crayon
End of letter: ‘Red seeds’19 pencil; ‘Woodcut Proc 8 or 9’20 ink


CD was in London from 22 to 29 November 1866 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). The Tuesday was 27 November.
Hooker’s mother, Maria Hooker, had recently moved to Norwich to be close to her daughter Elizabeth Evans-Lombe (Allan 1967, p. 224).
Hooker refers to the first volume of the tenth edition of Charles Lyell’s Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1867–8). The new edition was printed in the larger type-face of the first edition (C. Lyell 1830–3).
Lyell had entirely re-written the ninth chapter of his book, on progressive development of organic life, conceding that the geological record supported the case for transmutation, but maintaining that human beings were distinct from all other species (C. Lyell 1867–8, 1: 146–73; see also Rudwick 1998).
Hooker refers to Lyell and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Lyell, and Charles James Fox Bunbury, Lyell’s brother-in-law.
The most recent instalment of Principles of biology (Spencer 1864–7), no. 17 (2: 321–400), appeared in November 1866. CD’s annotated bound copy of the work is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 769–73).
Hooker probably refers to chapter 10 of Principles of biology (Spencer 1864–7, 2: 377–88), in which Spencer discussed the heritability of variations occuring during an organism’s lifespan. For more on CD’s theory of pangenesis, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 April [1866] and nn. 5–10.
The reference is to Thomas Henry Huxley’s Lessons in elementary physiology (T. H. Huxley 1866). The book was ‘primarily intended to serve the purpose of a text-book for teachers and learners in boys’ and girls’ schools’ (ibid., p. v).
The second volume of Hooker’s Handbook of the New Zealand flora (J. D. Hooker 1864–7) appeared early in 1867 (Yaldwyn and Hobbs eds. 1998, p. 78 n. 2). Hooker had talked about writing a general book on the geographical distribution of plants on previous occasions (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from J. D. Hooker, 1 January 1865 and n. 13).
In his recent lecture on insular floras (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 6), Hooker had commented on the rarity of annual plants on oceanic islands.
Hooker had speculated about the geological conditions affecting the islands of New Zealand in his introductory essay to the Flora Novae-Zelandiae, referring especially to the theories of Lyell and Edward Forbes (J. D. Hooker 1853–5, 1: xxi–xxvii; see also Turrill 1953, pp. 143–9). He and CD had long discussed various aspects of the geographic distribution of plants in New Zealand (see Correspondence vols. 5, 6, 10–12).
In the introductory essay to the Flora Novae-Zelandiae, Hooker had commented on the equable climate throughout the south temperate zone and speculated about how a change in the relative positions of sea and land could affect climate (J. D. Hooker 1853–5, 1: xxiii–xxiv). In his study of the geology of New Zealand, Ferdinand von Hochstetter had reported the discovery of whale bones in the Waitaki Beds, which form the boundary between Otago and Canterbury provinces (Hochstetter 1959, p. 24).
The reference is to Julius von Haast and to J. F. J. von Haast 1865.
Hooker refers to William Thomas Doyne. Doyne made two reports for the New Zealand government on the plains and rivers of Canterbury (Doyne 1864 and 1865).
Charles Cardale Babington was professor of botany at Cambridge.
The reference is to Thomas Robert Malthus’s An essay on the principle of population (Malthus 1826). In his essay, Malthus concluded that, although population increase was inevitably limited by the means of subsistence, it was impossible to put a definite limit on the ‘power of the earth to produce subsistence’ (ibid., 2: 451). On the influence of Malthus on CD, see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Ernst Haeckel, [after 10] August – 8 October [1864] and n. 8.
The observation is noted in Stewart 1865, p. 380.
Frances Harriet Hooker was expecting her sixth child (Allan 1967 s.v. ‘Hooker pedigree’).
CD’s annotation refers to the seeds that he had recently received from Fritz Müller (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 December [1866], and letter to Fritz Müller, [before 10 December 1866] and n. 6).
CD’s annotation probably refers to the woodcut that accompanied Müller’s article on climbing plants, published in Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1866): 344–9. The journal’s title had recently changed from Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society. See also Correspondence vol. 13, letter from Fritz Müller, [12 and 31 August, and 10 October 1865].


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–.

Doyne, William Thomas. 1864. Report upon the plains and rivers of Canterbury, New Zealand. [Illustrated by plans and sections.] 20th June 1864. Christchurch: Printed at the Press Office, Cork-Street.

Hochstetter, Ferdinand von. 1959. Geology of New Zealand. Contributions to the geology of the Provinces of Auckland and Nelson. Translated from the German and edited by C. A. Fleming. Wellington: R. E. Owen.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1853–5. Flora Novæ-Zelandiæ. 2 vols. Pt 2 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: Lovell Reeve.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1864–7. Handbook of the New Zealand flora: a systematic description of the native plants of New Zealand and the Chatham, Kermadec’s, Lord Auckland’s, Campbell’s, and MacQuarrie’s Islands. 2 vols. London: Lovell Reeve & Co.

Lyell, Charles. 1830–3. Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth’s surface, by reference to causes now in operation. 3 vols. London: John Murray.

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.

Malthus, Thomas Robert. 1826. An essay on the principle of population; or, a view of its past and present effects on human happiness; with an inquiry into our prospects respecting the future removal or mitigation of the evils which it occasions. 6th 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.

Rudwick, Martin John Spencer. 1998. Lyell and the Principles of geology. In Lyell: the past is the key to the present, edited by Derek J. Blundell and Andrew C. Scott. London: Geological Society.

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

Stewart, Balfour. 1865. On the latest discoveries concerning the sun’s surface. [Read 17 March 1865.] Proceedings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain 4 (1862–6): 378–80.

Turrill, William Bertram. 1953. Pioneer plant geography: the phytogeographical researches of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.


Lyell’s volume [Principles, 10th ed.] received.

"We must now keep him straight anent origin and development."

Some of Spencer’s new part is interesting but much is dull and ponderous.

Huxley’s Elementary physiology [1866].

Has finished his New Zealand manual [Handbook of New Zealand flora (1864–7)]. New Zealand flora [and past geological conditions] suggest islands were once connected.

Speculates on the total amount of living organised matter on the globe, and whether it varies.

Balfour Stewart on sunspots.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 114–17
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5294,” accessed on 21 January 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14