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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [22 May 1870]1

Royal Gardens Kew

Sunday late

Dear very old Darwin

because it is so long since I have written to you that, if alive, you must now be really very old.— I have such lots to write to you about myself, that I put off & off the boring you over & over again. Then too I have been worked to death with that British Flora, & all manner of things. & now Willy is back from New Zealand & that costs time & thought—2 as this last is the best news I shall begin with it— the lad is “fat & well-liking” & apparently not in the least hurt by his rough life & voyagering— he is as nice & simple as ever; & beyond that a very few Colonial phrases have replaced many school ones, & his voice is breaking, he is quite unchanged in mind & manners. I quite expected that some roughness at least would have resulted from contact with rough people, but I do not find a trace of it— Hector certainly managed splendidly for him, I am under a very great obligation to him.3 Mentally I find little development, but he has ability & if I could only get him to take the smallest interest in any one subject, I should not despair. I have not settled what to do with him: he enjoyed his life, & talks most nicely of all the people he was thrown into company with,—but has no wish to go abroad again.

Have I told you of the jolly tour I took with Huxley to the Eifel, with my boy Charlie, to whom H. has taken a great fancy— we dabbled a little in the Geology, which is most curious, took long walks, ate very heartily & came back quite as well as we went.4

I am now in a frightful state of mind. The R.S. have referred to me Dawsons Bakerian lecture & I find it so full of perfect trash that I am compelled to recommend it’s non publication, it will be a knock-down blow to the poor man— The systematic part is very meagre indeed, the vegetable anatomy miserable & often utterly wrong; the affinities more often mere guess work, than not; & as to the theories & speculations, they would make your hair stand on end.5

What do you say to the Appalachian chain being “the centre of Plant-distribution from the Carboniferous era onwards” and the N.E. corner of that chain being “the point of origin of the Palæozoic Flora”.— Dawson’s discovery of many fossil plants of the Carboniferous type, low down in the Devonian, is a very excellent one, & if he had but contented himself with the proper summation of that, & accompanied it with sufficient evidence his paper would have been a valuable one but he has overloaded the systematic portion with generic & specific names from the merest scraps of tissue, & utterly misunderstood the structure of the most complete specimens. Then too he has page after page of the wildest speculations upon Archaic & synthetic types, on origination of species by “embryonic retardation & advance”, on “conditions of compression & expansion”, upon “advanced & postponed maturity”— & on “tendency of synthetic types to become specialized in the direction of their constituents elements” upon “types comparable to a chemists allotropic forms” & so forth. The blessed lecture cost me 212 days hard work, & I am excessively sorry for the poor man, whose reception was enthusiastic by Lyell & Murchison,6 & whose fall will be proportionally heavy & headlong. He has brought the paper all the way from Canada & was invited to make the Bakerian Lecture of it! Altogether the affair has cut me up terribly, & I would rather have burnt my fingers than performed so hateful a duty.— It is a very small consolation, that Dr. D. has a wonderfully good opinion of—himself. He & his wife spent half a day here;— she must have been very pretty, & that, to me, makes matters worse— & worse still, their son is deformed & I know that he too will feel hurt—7 The curse of Cain will cleave to me.— By the way he pooh-poohed my Greenland paper,—8 this has only just come into my head, & does not mend matters— for he will if he hears of it, put my sinister report down to spite, whereas I would fain have heaped coals of fire on the poor devils head by a gushing (not crushing) report—

We have had Cinthea Symonds9 here for a fortnight & I still find her very charming— My Uncle John Gunn has just returned from the Mediterranean, he had collected largely fossils at Marathon & Electra in Greece, but they were all stolen off his caleche10 at Naples!— what a sell for the theives—

Charlie has come out top of his form at Marlborough,11 & is promoted— I cannot tell you how happy this has made me.

I am at a monograph of Nepenthes for DC. Prod. & then shall go to long suspended Gen. Plant.—12

Do write me a line & tell me what you are doing & how you all fare.

Ever Yr aff | J D Hooker


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 May [1870]. The Sunday before 25 May 1870 was 22 May.
The last known letter written by Hooker was that of 21 November 1869 (Correspondence vol. 17). William Henslow Hooker had been sent to New Zealand for his health in 1869 (see Correspondence vol. 17).
James Hector had supervised Hooker’s son while he was in New Zealand (see Correspondence vol. 17).
Hooker refers to Thomas Henry Huxley and Charles Paget Hooker. The Eifel is an undulating plateau in western Germany characterised by deep valleys, extinct volcanoes, and crater lakes (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
Hooker was one of two referees who reported on John William Dawson’s Bakerian lecture of 1870. He sent a highly critical report to George Gabriel Stokes, the secretary of the Royal Society. Dawson’s was the first Bakerian lecture not to be published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of London (see Sheets-Pyenson 1991, pp. 179–81, 183–4).
Charles Lyell and Roderick Impey Murchison.
Dawson was professor of geology at McGill University, Montreal. Dawson’s wife was Margaret Ann Young Dawson; their son, George Mercer Dawson, was disfigured by the effects of tuberculosis of the spine, which he suffered as a child (DCB).
Hooker refers to his paper ‘Outlines of the distribution of Arctic plants’ (Hooker 1860); see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 November 1862 and n. 8.
Hooker refers to Hyacinth Symonds.
Caleche or calash: a light carriage with low wheels and removable hood or top (OED).
Marlborough College, Wiltshire.
Hooker refers to his monograph ‘Nepenthaceae, Cytinaceae’, which appeared in the last part of Candolle and Candolle 1824–73 (17: 90–116). Hooker also refers to Genera plantarum (Bentham and Hooker 1862–83). The first part of the second volume appeared in 1873.


Candolle, Augustin Pyramus de and Candolle, Alphonse de. 1824–73. Prodromus systematis naturalis regni vegetabilis, sive enumeratio contracta ordinum generum specierumque plantarum huc usque cognitarum, juxta methodi naturalis normas digesta. 19 vols. Paris: Treuttel & Würtz [and others].

Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

DCB: Dictionary of Canadian biography. Edited by George W. Brown et al. 13 vols. and index to first 12 vols. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press. 1966–94.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Sheets-Pyenson, Susan. 1991. ‘Pearls before swine’: Sir William Dawson’s Bakerian Lecture of 1870. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 45: 177–91.


Willy is back from New Zealand. JDH perturbed by what to do with him.

J. W. Dawson’s Bakerian lecture for Royal Society is full of errors, and JDH is forced to recommend that it not be published. [An abstract of the lecture was published: "On the pre-Carboniferous floras of north-eastern America", Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 18 (1869–70): 333–5.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 47–50
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7198,” accessed on 16 May 2021,

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