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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   25 December [1868]1


Dec 25

My dear Hooker

Thanks for the interesting letter; I can however hardly believe that each Var. of the grasshopper has always been bred in its own district. What a pity she did not enclose under glass, living specimens on differently coloured surfaces.2

I am very glad to hear that you are going on with yr flora.3 Wd it be worth while my looking through my M.S index of Gardener’s Chron. for any little facts for you.4

Now I want to beg for assistance for the new Ed. of Origin.5 Nägeli justly urges that plants offer many morphological differences, which from being of no service cannot have been selected, & which he accounts for by an innate principle of progressive development. I find old notes about this difficulty, but I have hitherto slurred it over.6 Nägeli gives as instances the alternate & spiral arrangement of leaves, & the arrangement of the cells in the tissues.7 Wd you not consider as a morpholog. difference the trimerous tetramerous &c divisions of flowers,—the ovules being erect or suspended, their attachment being parietal or placental,—& even the shape of the seed when of no service to the plant.

Now I have thought, & want to show, that such differences follow in some unexplained manner from the growth or development of plants which have passed thro’ a long series of adaptive changes. Any how I want to shew that these differences do not support the idea of progressive development.8 Cassini states that the ovaria on the circumference & centre of Compos. flowers differ in essential characters, & so do the seeds in sculpture.9 The seeds of umbelliferæ in the same relative positions are coelospermous & orthospermous.10 There is a case given by Aug. St Hilaire of an erect & suspended ovule in the same ovarium, but perhaps this hardly bears on the point.11 The summit flower in Adoxa & rue differ from the lower flowers;12 What is difference in flowers of the Rue? how is the ovarium? especially in the rue? as Aug. St Hilaire insists on the locularity of the ovarium varying on the same plant in some of the rutaceæ.—13 Such differences do not speak, as it seems to me, in favour of progressive Development.—Will you turn subject in your mind, & tell me any sure facts.— Differences in structure in flowers in different parts of same plant, seem best to show that they are result of growth or position or amt of nutriment.—

I have got your Photograph over my chimney-piece & like it much;14 but you look down so sharp on me that I shall never be bold enough to wriggle myself out of any contradiction—

Yours affect. | C. Darwin

Owen pitches into me & Lyell in grand style in last chapt of vol. 3 of Anat. of Vertebrates.—15 He is a cool hand— he puts words from me in inverted commas & alters them.—


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 January 1869 (Correspondence vol. 17).
CD refers to a paper by Mary Elizabeth Barber (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [23 December 1868] and n. 2).
CD’s manuscript index of Gardeners’ Chronicle has not been found, but a later index, in the hand of an amanuensis, is in DAR 222. CD’s annotated copies of Gardeners’ Chronicle are in the Cory Library, Cambridge Botanic Garden.
CD started work on the fifth edition of Origin on 26 December 1868 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix II)).
Carl Wilhelm von Nägeli’s Entstehung und Begriff der naturhistorischen Art (The origin and concept of natural historical species; Nägeli 1865) was about the mechanisms and principles operative in the development and transmutation of species. CD’s copy of Nägeli 1865 in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL is heavily annotated, and there is a partial manuscript translation, beginning on page 15, of the German text, along with a page of notes by CD, also in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
See Nägeli 1865, pp. 28–30. Nägeli argued that while the function of leaves could be modified, their arrangement, which, he claimed, had no value in terms of ‘usefulness’, could not be altered. He also claimed that the arrangement of cells and organs in a plant was its most constant feature.
Nägeli had augmented what he termed the theory of ‘usefulness’ (‘Nützlichkeitstheorie’, that is, CD’s theory) with his own theory of perfectibility (‘Vervollkommnung’), which posited an inner tendency towards a more complex organisation. Nägeli then argued that CD’s theory could only operate on functional characteristics, while his own would account for most morphological features (Nägeli 1865, p. 29). See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 6 January [1868] and n. 5.
Henri Cassini made these observations in Cassini 1826–34, 1: 216–19.
Coelospermous: ‘Hollow-seeded; having the seed, or seed-like fruit, hemispherical, and excavated on the flat side, as in coriander’ (OED). Orthospermous: ‘Of certain umbellifers: having carpels with the albumen flat on the inner face; (of a carpel) having the albumen distributed in this way’ (OED).
Auguste de Saint-Hilaire noted the case in the genus Ranunculus in Saint-Hilaire 1841, p. 548. CD’s annotated copy of the book is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 733–8).
Adoxa (moschatel) is characterised by inflorescences consisting of five flowers, one of which faces upwards while the other four are arranged facing outwards below it. CD also refers to Ruta (rue). In common rue, Ruta graveolens, the central flower of each cluster has five rather than four petals.
For Saint-Hilaire’s remarks on locules of the ovarium, see Saint-Hilaire 1841, pp. 477, 481–7, and 550–8. No comment on some members of the family Rutaceae having varying numbers of locules on the ovaria of the same plant has been found. However, in Origin 5th ed., pp. 155–6, CD referred to Saint-Hilaire’s discussion of the ovaria of Zanthoxylon, a member of the Rutaceae.
CD refers to a photograph of Hooker taken by Julia Margaret Cameron (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 [August 1868]). The photograph is at Down House. See plate facing p. 630.
CD refers to Richard Owen, Charles Lyell, and the last part of On the anatomy of vertebrates (Richard Owen 1866–8; see letter from G. H. Darwin, 8 December 1868, n. 6). For Owen’s criticism of Lyell, see Richard Owen 1866–8, 3: 801.


Is working on new edition of Origin [5th (1869)].

Asks JDH’s assistance on a problem posed by Nägeli on morphological differences that are of no utility to plants and hence could not be selected. CD wants to show that these differences do not support the idea of progressive development as Nägeli suggests.

Owen pitches into CD and Lyell in third volume of Anatomy of vertebrates [1866–8].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 105–7
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6512,” accessed on 21 May 2019,

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