skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   20 May 1868


May 20th/68.

Dear old Darwin

What an age it is since we have corresponded,—I hope I have written since my little trip to Wales with Huxley, which was perfect— Since then I have been for 3 days to see my sister in Torquay, & nowhere else. at Torquay I had a good lecture on “Kent’s hole” from Pengelly, who does it thoroughly well.1

My time has been actively employed in garden duties, out of doors & indoors, with an occasional diversion at your volumes & Lyell’s last2   You greatly underrate the interest of your’s, it is capital reading, putting aside all question of it’s matter, which will, if foreigners deign to read it at all, do you more credit in their eyes than all your other works put together. (I have not read 14 of it). Bentham has, & now I think, unreservedly, acknowledged himself a convert to Darwinism!3 this I quite expected, would be the case with many: a few will still hold back & flaunt the “rag of protection” till your next part appears, holding that cultivation is no argument,—when,—the said rag, being worn back to the rope, & no longer visible, they will gracefully haul it down—4

It is so long since we have corresponded, that I do not know what the deuce to write about!— We are all pretty well: my wife expects her confinement in 10 days, & is as miserable as usual, with Heart-burn, dyspepsia, palpitation & every imaginable minor evil of the coming event. Charlie has had measles lightly, at school— The Governess & children go to Eastbourne in a day or two.5

Andrew Murrays 2d & 3d parts are better than the first. How do you like Wallace’s paper?6 the more I read the more struck I am with the great ability of the man.

I have finished the Reign of Law with utter disgust—& uncontrollable indignation;—considering his birth education & position, I regard him as lower than Owen—7 his suppressed sneers at you are of a far lower order of sneer than the malicious sneers of Owen. I like a man to sneer at me out of malice & envy—but can not stand a man’s sneering at me from a top of a high Horse— The preliminary reasoning on the principles of flight appear to me radically unsound. The idea of God being compelled to dab in rudimentary organs to keep up appearances! as it were, is very droll.8 The little man writes extremely well, & expresses himself with admirable facility— in fact he has a fatal facility for handling things he does not fully understand, & which he has not the time, & probably not the power to grasp the principles of.

Lyell’s vol II. is I think a wonderful book, better than all subsequent Editions to Ed. 1. put together— What do you think of it? I have not had time to read all of it—yet.

I have skimmed over Smyth’s anniversary Geological address, with great admiration— I like both tone & manner, & the way that modest able man keeps himself & his own views & works in the background, is quite worthy of all praise.9

I have a disagreeable task in reporting on a paper of Tristram’s for R.S., which appears to be simply trash— it is an attempt to shew that the few tropical plants of the “Ghor” (Dead Sea valley) are the remains of a Miocene Flora! that has survived all subsequent geological &c changes—as Forbes W. Ireland plant survived the destruction of the Atlantis!—a more impotent production I never perused.10 I like Tristram personally & think him a most meritorious Naturalist

I am used up, & have nothing more to say— I feel my barrenness of scientific matter to communicate creeping over me every day now—& the tide of scientific literature is already up to my knees. The time was when I had now & then something to communicate that you cared to know— that is all changed now, & I feel very low at times about it.— I begin to despair of doing any-thing—even at Insular Flora again, wherein I see that I could still do much.11 perhaps when this Norwich meeting is over I shall feel more at ease. I would give 100 gs. that it were over, even with a failure a fiasco or worse. The address is nowhere yet & I look on its prospect with a loathing that cannot be uttered.12 Tomorrow I go to see Fergusson to encourage him about his prospective Lecture at the meeting!—13 God pity us both—the “blind leading the blind”— I shall have to play the hypocrite with a vengeance—

Ever yr affec | J D Hooker

CD annotations

4.1 How … the man. 4.2] scored pencil
6.1 Lyell’s … together— 6.2] scored pencil
9.9 Tomorrow … Fergusson] ‘Huxley’ added pencil


The last extant letter from Hooker is that of 7 April 1868, in which he announced that he was shortly going to north Wales with Thomas Henry Huxley. Hooker also refers to his sister Elizabeth Evans-Lombe, whose husband had been a medical practitioner at Bemerton, Torquay, from about 1867 (Medical directory, s.v. Lombe, Thomas Robert), and to William Pengelly. Pengelly had worked since 1846 on Kent’s Cavern, Torquay, where human artefacts and animal bones had been found, and published a number of papers on it (Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers, ODNB).
Hooker was director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He also refers to Variation and to the tenth edition of Charles Lyell’s Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1867–8).
Hooker apparently alludes to the ‘rag of protection’ to which Charles William Wentworth Fitzwilliam had objected in the bill for the repeal of the Corn Laws (Annual register 1846, 1: 78); previously, Richard Cobden had referred to agricultural protection as an ‘old, tattered and torn flag’ (Bright and Rogers eds. 1870, 1: 282). See also Correspondence vol. 15, letter from J. D. Hooker, 19 November 1867.
Frances Harriet Hooker was pregnant with her seventh child, Grace. The other surviving children were William, Harriet, Charles, Brian, and Reginald. The governess has not been identified.
Hooker refers to Andrew Murray’s Journal of Travel and Natural History (see also Correspondence vol. 15, letters from Andrew Murray, 12 August 1867, 16 September 1867, and 13 December 1867). The second part of the first (and only) volume contained an article by Alfred Russel Wallace on birds’ nests (A. R. Wallace 1868).
Hooker refers to George Douglas Campbell, the duke of Argyll, and his Reign of law (Campbell 1867), and to Richard Owen.
Campbell discussed the flight of birds in Campbell 1867, pp. 128–80, and rudimentary organs in ibid., pp. 204–16. He wrote that it was not possible to understand why all vertebrates were constructed upon a single plan, but that though some parts of the plan were of no use to to some organisms, there was no part that was not of use to some organism, and that the human being was the ‘supreme form’ in which all its parts received their ‘highest interpretation and fulfilment’ (pp. 214–15).
Hooker refers to Warington Wilkinson Smyth and his presidential address to the Geological Society of London, delivered on 21 February 1868 (see Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 24 (1868): xxix–lxxxviii).
Henry Baker Tristram’s paper on the fauna and flora of Palestine (Tristram 1868) was read at the Royal Society of London on 23 April 1868; an abstract appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, but the full version was not published in the Transactions. Hooker also refers to Edward Forbes’s belief in a Miocene land-bridge linking the Iberian peninsula with the Azores and with Ireland as an explanation for the similarity in the flora and fauna of the regions (E. Forbes 1846, pp. 348–9). For extensive discussions of Forbes’s Atlantis hypothesis, see Correspondence vols. 3, 5, and 6.
Hooker had read a paper on insular floras at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in 1866 (see Correspondence vols. 14 and 15); it was reprinted a number of times, including in the Gardeners’ Chronicle (J. D. Hooker 1866).
Hooker was president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science’s meeting at Norwich in August 1868 (Report of the 38th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1868)).
James Fergusson delivered a lecture on ancient Buddhist monuments at the Drill Hall in Norwich on 21 August 1868; Hooker chaired the event (The Times, 24 August 1868, p. 7).


Annual register: The annual register. A view of the history and politics of the year. 1838–62. The annual register. A review of public events at home and abroad. N.s. 1863–1946. London: Longman & Co. [and others].

Campbell, George Douglas. 1867. The reign of law. London: Alexander Strahan.

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

Forbes, Edward. 1846. On the connexion between the distribution of the existing fauna and flora of the British Isles, and the geological changes which have affected their area, especially during the epoch of the Northern Drift. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, and of the Museum of Economic Geology in London 1: 336–432.

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.

Medical directory: The London medical directory … every physician, surgeon, and general practitioner resident in London. London: C. Mitchell. 1845. The London and provincial medical directory. London: John Churchill. 1848–60. The London & provincial medical directory, inclusive of the medical directory for Scotland, and the medical directory for Ireland, and general medical register. London: John Churchill. 1861–9. The medical directory … including the London and provincial medical directory, the medical directory for Scotland, the medical directory for Ireland. London: J. & A. Churchill. 1870–1905.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers: Catalogue of scientific papers (1800–1900). Compiled and published by the Royal Society of London. 19 vols. and index (3 vols.). London: Royal Society of London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1867–1925.

Tristram, Henry Baker. 1868. On the geographical and geological relations of the fauna and flora of Palestine. [Read 23 April 1868.] Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 16 (1867–8): 316–19. [Also published in Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 2 (1868): 63–6.]

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1868. A theory of birds’ nests: shewing the relation of certain sexual differences of colour in birds to their mode of nidification. Journal of Travel and Natural History 1 (1868–9): 73–89.


Trip with Huxley was perfect.

At Torquay later he had a lecture on "Kent’s hole" from Joseph Pengelly.

George Bentham acknowledges himself unreservedly a convert to Darwinism. Many will still cling to a "rag of protection, but will eventually haul it down".

A. Murray’s later parts better than first [? Geographical distribution of mammals (1866)].

Wallace’s paper shows great ability.

Disgusted with [Duke of Argyll’s] Reign of law.

His depression and exhaustion.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 210–13
Physical description
ALS 8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6189,” accessed on 21 June 2024,

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