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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [31 May 1870]1



Dear Darwin

I am choking with vanity—& behold the reason of it—enclosed—which I cannot resist the pleasure of sending to you—2

I will come & see you as soon as I can, meanwhile your Willy3 is coming to me on Saturday week I hope.

I am going to send my Willy to Mr La Touche in Salop—a friend of Symonds’ & Bentham’s, who has brought up young Colenso, & who will have Frank Lyell.4 I fancy that some of my friends will think I am putting my son into a nest of young Adders!—

Ever yr affec | J D Hooker


Thames Ditton

30 May

Dear Dr Hooker

I thank you very much for kindly sending ‘The Student’s Flora’, which I am right glad to see.5 It will surely prove a success, and be held a standard for many years to come. If asked the prominent characteristics of the S. F. I might sum up in two pair of words:

‘Condensed completeness— Judicious Selection.’ These characteristics appear alike in the plan of the work as a whole, & in the workmanship in detail.

It is a marvel to me how you have got time for it, considering the many other matters you have to look to, official & individual.

Your Appendix list, as a receptacle for plants which uselessly increase and interfere with the general text of our Floras, makes practical a remark already in print for Part iii of my Compendium Cyb. Brit., which thus, some months hence, will appear as a needless anachronism,— a post-factum suggestion.6

You have hit the medium between Bentham’s Handbook & Babn’s Manual, in the uexata questio of species;—avoiding the opposite fault or defect of each.7 Babington places too many very questionable species on equality with the unquestioned. In avoiding that extreme, one way, Bentham too much neglects them, as real though subordinate forms. I doubt whether either of them has fairly realized to his own mind the obvious fact that “species” are widely non-equivalents, & require treatment accordingly,—that it is not a drop at once from “true species” to “mere variety”, as the expressions usually run.

Of course, opinions will diverge very much in special instances,—between true species, sub-species, variety, variation, etc.— But a great step is gained for the rising botanists by training them through a descriptive Flora to recognize and trace gradations. Among others, C. Darwin ought to thank you for that; the stereotype representations of ‘species’ and ‘variety’ in Floras, even more than the like in Faunas, being barriers to the acceptance of Darwinic views.

As a sample how opinions will differ in the special instances, I should about as soon call the Pear a sub-species of Apple, as some of the plants you place in that relationship; ee: gr. Chenopodium album & ficifolium, or Hypericum quadrangulum & undulatum.8 And yet, it must be confessed that some facts side with you, rather than me, in these instances. The Chenopodia & Hyperica have been much confused, or one taken for the other; not so, Pears & Apples, either trees or fruit.

Sincerely Yours | Hewett Cl. Watson


The date is established by the date of the enclosure and the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 2 [June 1870]. The first Tuesday after 30 May 1870 was 31 May.
The enclosure, from Hewett Cottrell Watson, was evidently returned to Hooker, probably with CD’s letter of 2 [June 1870].
William Erasmus Darwin.
William Henslow Hooker had recently returned from New Zealand (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [22 May 1870]). James Digues La Touche was the vicar of Stokesay, Shropshire. Hooker also refers to William Samuel Symonds, George Bentham, Robert John or Francis Ernest Colenso, and Francis Horner Lyell.
Watson refers to The student’s flora of the British Islands (Hooker 1870), published in May 1870 (Publishers’ Circular (1870): 328).
For Hooker’s appendix of excluded species, see Hooker 1870, pp. 475–80. Watson refers to his remarks in A compendium of the Cybele Britannica: or British plants in their geographical relations (Watson 1870, pp. 425–9). The book appeared in November 1870 (Publishers’ Circular (1870): 762), but had already been privately published in three parts between 1868 and 1870. CD’s annotated copy of the privately published version (Watson 1868–70) is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Watson refers to George Bentham and Bentham 1858 and to Charles Cardale Babington and Babington 1843. Uexata (or vexata) questio: vexed question (Latin).
Chenopodium album (fat-hen, or white goosefoot) and C. ficifolium (figleaf goosefoot) are now considered separate species but are known to hybridise in the wild (Chenopodium x zahnii; see Stace 1997, p. 140). Hooker classified C. ficifolium as a subspecies of C. album (Hooker 1870, p. 316). The name Hypericum quadrangulum, which was at the time sometimes applied to plants that are now recognised as different species, is used by Hooker for H. maculatum (imperforate St John’s wort) and not for H. tetrapetalum (four-petal St John’s wort), the valid name for H. quadrangulum (see Hooker 1870, p. 69, and Robson 1990, p. 136). Hypericum undulatum (wavy St John’s wort), classified by Hooker as a subspecies of H. quadrangulum, is now generally considered to be a separate species.


Babington, Charles Cardale. 1843. Manual of British botany, containing the flowering plants and ferns arranged according to the natural orders. London: John Van Voorst.

Bentham, George. 1858. Handbook of the British flora; a description of the flowering plants and ferns indigenous to, or naturalized in, the British Isles. London: Lovell Reeve.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1870. The student’s flora of the British Islands. London: Macmillan.

Robson, N. K. B. 1990. Proposal to reject the name Hypericum quadrangulum L. (Guttiferae). Taxon 39: 135–7.

Stace, Clive Anthony. 1997. New flora of the British Isles. 2d edition. London and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Watson, Hewett Cottrell. 1868–70. Compendium of the Cybele Britannica; or, British plants in their geographical relations. 3 vols. Thames Ditton: printed for private distribution.

Watson, Hewett Cottrell. 1870. A compendium of the Cybele Britannica: or British plants in their geographical relations. London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer.


Sends enclosure [a letter from Lady Lyell?]. He is choking with vanity.

Is going to send Willy to Mr La Touche in Salop; he brought up young Colenso and Frank Lyell. Some of his friends will think he is sending his son into a nest of young adders!

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 46; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Directors’ Correspondence 105: 236)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6964,” accessed on 11 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18