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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   15 January 1869

Royal Gardens Kew

Jany 15/69.

No. 2

Dear Darwin

I do not quite like the starting by shirking the question of what is a “Morphological character”—1 you imply that it is a term of indefinite meaning— you talk of what—“he calls M. characters” & of what “I presume likewise to be M. characters”— I think that Non-Scientific readers will at once say, “how little these men know of what they write so much about, when their fundamental terms have no definite meaning”— all characters i.e. all departures from a given structure are & must be morphological.— all originate in the fact, that every individual varies from it’s parent; & this from being subject to “the direct & definite action of the conditions of life”—(an admirable definition, Weismann’s is not intelligible to me—if sense at all)2

p. 3. at A. this is very mildly put— would it not better meet Nægeli’s objection, which seems to point to histological characters (& to which & symmetry he probably confines his use of term “morphology.”) to add “nor do we know the uses of all the special tissues of any one organ”3

p. 4. At B. Furthermore, though these arrangements of leaves are reducible to mathematical laws, &—might hence be presupposed to be the most constant of all the laws of vegetable growth, and to be absolute & irrefragable, they prove not to be so—shewing that even here is variation which no one could call progressive! capable of transmission & ready for the action of selection.4

p. 5. What is Viola nana?, we can find no such name in our books.5

p. 6. Better add which Chesnut— I have referred to Payer, he distinctly says it is not constantly the terminal flower6

7— In Adoxa calyx-lobes is better than sepals—but this is hypercriticism. I have added note on Himal. sp or form.7

8. Leave out Asa Gray— all the world knew it.— for seeds read fruit or achene.8

DC. divided Umbelliferae primarily by this character! it is exploded in Gen. Pl.9

10 A little confusion at top of page— I have set it right.

Ever yr affec | J D Hooker

CD annotations

1.1 I do … at all) 1.9] crossed pencil
1.1 I do … character”— 1.2] scored blue crayon; ‘I do not know— if not [illeg] variation but as I am [illeg] I [illeg]added pencil
3.1 p. 4.... selection. 3.5] enclosed in square brackets blue crayon
4.1 p. 5.... right. 9.1] crossed pencil


CD had sent Hooker a thirteen-page manuscript containing arguments against Carl Wilhelm von Nägeli’s theory of perfectibility (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 January 1869 and n. 1).
In the version that appeared in print in Origin 5th ed., pp. 151–7, CD referred simply to ‘morphological characters’. For August Weismann’s discussion of morphological variation, see Weismann 1868, pp. 27–9. CD’s annotations to his copy of Weismann 1868 contain a discussion of Weismann’s interpretation of a morphological character (see Marginalia 1: 860–1).
In the printed version (Origin 5th ed., p. 152), CD wrote: ‘No one will maintain that we as yet know the uses of all the parts of any one plant, or the functions of each cell in any one organ.’
In the printed version (Origin 5th ed., p. 152), CD referred to the possible explanation of the angles at which leaves are placed relative to the stem, but did not mention mathematical laws.
In the printed version (Origin 5th ed., p. 153), CD referred to ‘some species of Viola’. Viola nana is a synonym of V. tricolor; CD had received seeds of V. nana from John Scott (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter from John Scott, 24 September 1867 and n. 7).
In the printed version (Origin 5th ed., p. 154), CD referred to the varying angles of divergence in leaves of the Spanish chestnut, but did not discuss the flowers. The reference to chestnut flowers by Jean Baptiste Payer has not been found.
In the printed version (Origin 5th ed., p. 154), CD referred to variations in the calyx-lobes of Adoxa. A Himalayan form is not mentioned.
In the printed version (Origin 5th ed., p. 154), CD referred to the ‘achenes or seeds’ of central and circumferential flowers of many Compositae and Umbelliferae differing in character.
Augustin Pyramus de Candolle had divided the Umbelliferae (now Apiaceae) into three suborders, Orthospermae, Campylospermae, and Coelospermae, based on the character of the seeds (A. P. de Candolle 1829, p. 6 et seq.). For the classification of Umbelliferae in Genera plantarum, see Bentham and Hooker 1862–83, 1: 859–931. In Origin 5th ed., p. 154, CD noted that in certain Umbelliferae, exterior seeds were orthospermous but the central one was coelospermous.


Candolle, Augustin Pyramus de. 1829. Mémoire sur la famille des ombellifères. Paris: Treuttel et Würtz.

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

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.

Origin 5th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 5th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1869.

Weismann, August. 1868. Über die Berechtigung der Darwin’schen Theorie: ein akademischer Vortrag gehalten am 8 Juli 1868 in der Aula der Universität zu Freiburg im Breisgau. Leipzig: W. Engelmann.


Criticisms of and suggestions for CD’s draft MS on Nägeli [for Origin, 5th ed.].

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 1–2
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6554,” accessed on 30 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17