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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [25 January 1869]1

Royal Gardens Kew


Dear Darwin

Just one last thought anent genetic characters of no value to the plant–: is not the fact, that characters of primary value in system are so often of no use, an argument in favour of your conclusion, that such characters as are of no use if not in any way detrimental, are not necessarily eliminated, but may be retained ad infinitum2

On the other hand, is it not an argument against the theory of characters acquired by the individual being hereditary—thus—if hereditary modifications that never come into play, do not die out; is it likely that non hereditary modifications brought into play by the individual (for its own special use) should be transmitted?—

I dare say you have put all this in the Origin,—& I have forgot it.

We dined at the Lyell’s the other day & I was put in Elysium between that lovely Mrs Norton who I met at your house, & took down, whose face is nearest an Angel’s (barring the Nose) of any I ever saw, in a dream.—& Miss Symonds, daur of the Pendock man, such a nice girl—with the lovely name of “Hyacinthe”.3 Poor old Murchison was there, looking rather “got up”— he is a good old soul. & now that he wears a stick in the house, he looks quite picturesque, with his star & high cravat.4 The Huxleys & Lady Eastlake5 & Leonard Lyell were there, no one else; & it was a delightful little party.— Lyell complained of a cold, but looked remarkably well— I wish he would not babble to me about the Copley medal. I do hate it. & it is such bad taste. & all the more as, on my soul, I would rather not have the Copley than have it with the draw-back of an after-dinner speech at the R.S. anniversary.6

We go to a tremendous wedding at Bury St. Edmunds this week, of our old friend the Rev C. Babington, of Cambridge, now Rector of Cockfield in Suffolk. it is to be a wonderful affair I hear. We go to Cockfield on Wednesday, & I return on Thursday night to Kew.7

Ever yrs affec | J D Hooker

Have you seen a curious notice of the Cannibal tribes of S. Africa, very horrid—printed in S. Africa.8

See p 490 of Appendix Dr Spencer on Materialism.9


The date is established by the reference to the wedding of Churchill Babington (see n. 7, below). In 1869, the Monday preceding 28 January was 25 January.
See letters to J. D. Hooker, 13 January 1869 and 16 January [1869], and letters from J. D. Hooker, 14 [January] 1869 and 15 January 1869.
Hooker refers to Charles and Mary Elizabeth Lyell, Susan Ridley Norton, Hyacinth Symonds, and William Samuel Symonds, rector of Pendock, Worcestershire.
Roderick Impey Murchison was made KCB (Order of the Bath) in 1863 and was therefore entitled to wear the Knight Commander star (ODNB).
Hooker refers to Thomas Henry and Henrietta Anne Huxley, and Elizabeth Eastlake.
Hooker received the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 1887 (ODNB). His name was not put forward as a candidate for the medal in 1868 or 1869 (see Minutes of Council of the Royal Society 3 (1870): 415, 473).
Churchill Babington was married on Thursday 28 January 1869 at St James Church, Bury Saint Edmunds, Suffolk (General Register Office, marriage certificate no. 407).
The notice has not been identified, but on 23 February 1869 a paper ‘The cave cannibals of South Africa’ by Mr Layland was read and later appeared in Journal of the Ethnological Society of London n.s. 2 (1869–70): 76–80. Layland has not been further identified.


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.


Does not fact that characters important in systematics are often of no use, corroborate CD’s view that such characters, if not detrimental, may persist ad infinitum?

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Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 8–9
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6608,” accessed on 9 February 2023,

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