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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   1 February 1868


Feby 1/68

Dear Darwin

I am much obliged— I have been going over the R.S. F.M. list with Thomson,1 & find to my amazement, that Mohl is not on it, as to whose preeminence there can be no question2—also old Fries, who 50 years ago systematized the Fungi, which was I suppose as difficult a piece of work as the Barnacles.3

Thomson is going into the whole matter very thoroughly, with Oliver, Bentham, Bennett & Berkeley,4 & will no doubt come to a sound conclusion—

There is no dispute about ADCs. “Geographie” being in itself worthy the honor,5 if there were no competitors in Botany: but the difficulty is to put that one thing that is good, (amongst so much more purely Botanical work that is simply wretched), against the mass of work that others have done, & all of which is good. In Physiological or Histological, or Morphological Botany he is nowhere, in Systematic he can neither analyze nor synthesize; he has no notion, theoretical or practical of a genus or order, & has left many misplaced groups, (in the orders he has worked up), exactly where he found them & misplaced others too.— In descriptive Botany it is the same— he gives no artificial aids & outrages natural ones.—the upshot being, that what with heavy descriptions in which undue prominence is given to variable points, & constant characters overlooked, it is very difficult to determine his plants.

Add to all this, closeness in money affairs, even to the extent of underpaying for the Prodromus, the credit of which he assumes (as Editor & Part Author), & great self-sufficiency—& you have the qualities that render it very difficult to award the credit due (& amply due) to the “Geographie Botanique”.6 I know very well that these qualities should not outweigh absolute merit— but they must weigh in estimating a man’s career, & it is for the career that the F.M. is usually given.

I feel myself horridly illiberal & ill-natured, in writing down all this, but I like you to know my motives (even my bad ones), when they influence my opinions of my neighbours.

Lubbock was here the other day— he is shocked at poor Wollaston’s morals—who calls all his creditors swindlers, & runs away, & thus robs his brother debtors!7 You may like to see Wollaston’s letters & Stainton’s, so I send them.8 Now I do not think a bit the worse of Wollaston for thus “swindling his creditors”— I can quite fancy even a high X parson could not persuade him he was wrong.9 I send his C. de Verd book by post.10

I thought I had answered you about Greg, your letter was a capital one, he has not answered it—11 I am very proud of having put one of your objections to him myself, viz. that he thus removes man from out the category that all other organized beings are in— This I should think was, in the present state of science, a fatal objection; though the same argument might apply to civilization.

I have your new book & am charmed especially with the triumph over John Murray, in getting the edges cut, what a blessing it is—but I can fancy J. M. feeling actually humiliated by it—& that his glory will go with that “holy thing” the paper-cutter.12

Then too I think the Introduction as masterly a piece of good scientific writing as I ever read. I must add that I read it immediately after poor Wollastons!

What a fine work Dr Murchison has made of dear old Falconer’s Memoirs, it strikes me that it will be most useful—13 I sigh when I think how poor my reprinted Memoirs would appear beside them; if any injudicious post-mortem friend were to issue them. There is something grand in the blunt force of Falconer’s writings, & when he mounts the Pegasus of Theory, he reminds me of the picture of Sintram (ask Henrietta)—14 with him the very thought of a Speculation is sin, & a very serious thing— it is the original sin, besetting sin, of the scientific man—but when he speculated himself, as on the perfection of the post Tertiary record how lame & impotent he was.15 he sinned & suffered in short.— His labored attack on Lyell in his paper on early man, is, like Scotch wit, or “wut”—what no man would recognize as an attack, that knew not both all the circumstances, & that it was these circumstances that F. was driving at—16

Ever your illnatured cynical disagreeable friend | J D Hooker


Mountsfield, | Lewisham, | S. E.

January 27th 1868

My dear Dr Hooker,

I dare say Wollaston did not clearly unravel his position, which is rather complicated.

He had contrived from his want of business experience to have nearly all his Investments in unsound concerns.— one of these in which he had just been investing collapsed directly after the 11th May 1866, & the extent of Wollaston's liability to it was £3,200:—17 At present only a portion of this has been called up but other calls are in prospect & it is with the view of entering into some arrangement with the liquidators that Wollaston has sold his house & all its contents to a friend at Teignmouth, & has realised al his English securities to convert them into French Railways. He hopes then to be able to treat for better terms & to save something from the general wreck—but in the mean time till he has a perfect discharge from his Creditors his friends cannot interfere

Possibly his position may not ultimately turn out so bad as it at present appears & when he is again free he hopes to recover his house at Teignmouth & will no doubt again occupy himself with the Coleopterology of Oceanic Islands.

If then his residual income should not suffice for his wants it might be possible to make some arrangement for the payment to him of an Annual sum, through the cooperation of the Committee which you propose.18

However as I said before he must first be free from his Creditors or help otherwise given for Wollaston will accrue to them.

Mrs Stainton joins with me in begging to be remembered to Mrs Hooker19

Yours very sincerely | H. T. Stainton

Dr Hooker

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘B. W. Richardson’20 pencil


See letter to J. D. Hooker, [31 January 1868]. Hooker refers to Thomas Thomson and to the list of foreign members of the Royal Society of London. Thomson was a member of the council of the Royal Society.
Hugo von Mohl had published works on plant anatomy and physiology. For more discussions of Mohl’s work, see Correspondence vols. 11 and 12. He was elected a foreign member of the Royal Society in 1868.
The Swedish botanist Elias Magnus Fries produced a classification of fungi in Systema mycologicum (Fries 1821–32). He is briefly discussed in Correspondence vols. 5 and 6. Hooker also alludes to CD’s systematic work on barnacles (Living Cirripedia (1851), Living Cirripedia (1854), Fossil Cirripedia (1851) and Fossil Cirripedia (1854)). Fries was elected a foreign member of the Royal Society in 1875.
Daniel Oliver, George Bentham, John Joseph Bennett, and Miles Joseph Berkeley.
Hooker refers to Alphonse de Candolle and to his Géographie botanique raisonnée (A. de Candolle 1855). Candolle was elected a foreign member of the Royal Society in 1869.
Candolle had continued the multi-volume systematic work begun by his father, Augustin Pyramus de Candolle, Prodromus systematis naturalis regni vegetabilis (A. P. de Candolle and Candolle 1824–73).
Hooker refers to John Lubbock and Thomas Vernon Wollaston. See letter from J. D. Hooker, [25 January 1868].
See the enclosure for the letter from Henry Tibbats Stainton. Wollaston’s letter to Hooker has not been found.
‘High X’: High Church.
CD had requested Wollaston 1867, a descriptive catalogue of the beetles of the Cape Verde archipelago, in his letter to Hooker of [31 January 1868]. Hooker had mentioned the book in his letter of 28 January 1868.
Hooker had sent CD a pamphlet by William Rathbone Greg (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 15 January 1868). CD’s reply to Greg has not been found.
CD had complained to Murray about the practice of publishing books with their pages uncut and had written a letter to the Athenæum on the subject. See Correspondence vol. 14, letter to John Murray, 15 July [1866], and letter from J. D. Hooker, [29 December 1866]; see also Correspondence vol. 15, letter to the Athenæum, 1 January 1867.
Charles Murchison compiled and edited Hugh Falconer’s Palæontological memoirs (Falconer 1868).
Hooker refers to Henrietta Emma Darwin, and to the novel Sintram and his companions by Friedrich Heinrich Karl Fouqué, baron de La Motte (Fouqué 1815). In his preface to the novel, Fouqué remarked that the tale had been inspired by the engraving by Albrecht Dürer of a knight with an old, worn countenance, who rides calmly through a hostile wilderness, followed closely by Death, and a devilish form whose claw stretches toward him. Several English translations had appeared, the most recent of which was Fouqué 1867. Hooker mentioned having read the novel in his letter to CD of 19 November 1867 (Correspondence vol. 15).
The allusion to Falconer’s speculations on the Quaternary fossil record has not been identified.
Hooker refers to the paper, ‘Primeval man and his contemporaries’, written by Falconer in 1863 but not published until 1868 (see Falconer 1868, pp. 570–600). The paper described the contributions of Falconer and Joseph Prestwich to research on human antiquity, work which had not been acknowledged in Charles Lyell’s Antiquity of man (Lyell 1863a). Falconer did not refer directly to Lyell’s book, but mentioned a recent ‘digest of the whole subject, produced by a philosophical writer of high eminence and authority’ (Falconer 1868, p. 570). Falconer had also written a letter to the Athenæum criticising Lyell for failing to give credit to Prestwich and himself (Athenæum, 4 April 1863, pp. 459–60). For discussions of the dispute between Falconer and Lyell, see Bynum 1984 and Wilson 1996. See also Correspondence vol. 11.
Wollaston’s financial crisis may have been precipitated by a recent collapse in the value of railway shares in Britain (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 [January 1868] and n. 2).
Hooker was trying to organise a relief fund for Wollaston; CD had offered to contribute (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [25 January 1868], and letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 [January 1868]).
Jane Isobel Stainton and Frances Harriet Hooker.
Benjamin Ward Richardson.


Amazed that Hugo von Mohl and E. M. Fries are not foreign members of Royal Society; Thomson going over the whole matter.

Candolle’s contribution to botany.

Lubbock shocked about Wollaston.

CD’s answer to Greg was capital.

Comments on Variation.

Charles Murchison’s work on Falconer’s Memoirs [Palaeontological memoirs and notes of the late Hugh Falconer (1868)] and JDH on Falconer.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 191–4; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, DC 19, f. 200
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5831,” accessed on 19 June 2019,

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