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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   24 September 1870

Royal Gardens Kew

Sept 24/70

Dear old Darwin

I have absolutely nothing whatever to say to you, & so feel quite justified in inflicting a letter on you— If George be still with you please tell him that I hunted up & down the train for him at Willesden, but in vain, & that I therefore sent on his Pall Mall by post:1

The Brit. Assoc. meeting was a good one.— very good I suppose, though there was I think a terrible deficiency of good sectional matter—2 Huxley’s address was admirable, but a few such would do up the popularity of President’s addresses; for the general public could not follow the subject, & were profoundly ignorant of what he was driving at3 After the “Lay Sermons”, all the Liverpudlians expected brilliant sallies, & spiced heresy—& were woefully disappointed.4 In a scientific point of view I thought it quite excellent & the proper sort of thing for the occasion. Tyndall’s was a wonderful outburst of cracking & sparkling eloquence as delivered, but I was woefully disappointed in the reading of it:5 it reads ornate, frothy & all but flashy, with a soupcon of bosh here & there— I cannot bear to think this of any thing dear old Tyndall has said or sung, & if you think better of it so will I, & to any amount— I will sell my soul for him in such a matter.

Rolleston’s opening address was a wonderful affair— full of science, classics, metaphysics, logic, the Fathers, mathematical phraseology (if not method), & what not— delivered in a somewhat jerky & sententious style.6 A local paper stigmatized it as “Rococo”— a capital hit, if I remember what Rococo is as applied to art—(a jumble of periods & styles each pronounced unmistakeably; & not over well matched)— I see that in an after-dinner speech he professed not to have understood the meaning of the term, from which I guess that he feels what he can’t understand & pretty sharply too— He made a capital President.— Old Murchison surrounded himself with fireworks: he will never die— he will go up like Elijah/Elisha? in a fiery chariot; & heaven will open to receive him;—whence he will bless the earth & especially the nobles thereof—and we will canonize him.7 I did not wait over Saturday & so I missed Lubbock’s Lecture—which read well.8 I saw many old faces, & no new ones, but Van Beneden’s, a very pleasant one.9 Lyell10 looked wondrous grim in a nascent beard, which did not suit him; in fact he looked rather disreputable in it— because of it’s shortness & raggedness, & his feebleness & failing sight; which I see with real sorrow— for I never can bear to think of losing Lyell. I do so intensely love & esteem him.— how few men have been so always the same for so many years to us!

I was delighted with the Liverpool Museum, it is a lesson for our Brit. Mus.—11 the typical series of articulate & lower orders with appended popular descriptions of the tribes were admirable in all respects.

I have polished off an immense lot of small work within the last 3 months, & am now at “Genera plantarum”,12 & hope to be thinking of some general works soon on distribution or Classification— I feel marvellously lightened, more so than since I took the Direction here.13 God knows how short such feelings of relief usually are, & I do not dare to think how soon they may end. Willy is doing nicely at Mr La Touches,—14 My wife15 is at St. Albans, where she has a nice House. I am alone here, this house being under repair, I wish your William or George16 would come & see me here, & take a run to St. Albans with me any day.

I suppose you have nearly finished your book, I am sorry that you dropped the simple title of “Origin of Man”—17 I forbear to talk of the war or the loss of the Captain— what harrowing episodes in a life-time, not to talk of a month’s time.18

Now I shall shut up— when I survey the calligraphy of this epistle I am lost in wonder & admiration—& am tempted to ask you to return it—& to enclose 1d. to make sure you do!

Ever Yrs affect | J D Hooker


Hooker refers to George Howard Darwin and the Pall Mall Gazette. Willesden Junction was a station in north-west London run by London & North Western Railway.
The British Association for the Advancement of Science met in Liverpool from 14 to 21 September 1870 (see Report of the 40th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Liverpool, p. lxxii).
Thomas Henry Huxley gave the presidential address on 14 September 1870 (T. H. Huxley 1870c). The topic of Huxley’s address was spontaneous generation, and included a summary of recent experiments by Louis Pasteur and John Tyndall that demonstrated the existence of germs. Huxley was generally critical of the existing evidence for spontaneous generation; however he added that the sciences of organic matter were ‘yet in their infancy’ and that the conditions under which matter becomes living might some day ‘be artificially brought together’ (T. H. Huxley 1870c, p. lxxxiii). See letters to J. D. Hooker, 8 July [1870] and n. 9, and 12 July [1870].
The reference is to Lay sermons, addresses, and reviews (T. H. Huxley 1870a). It included one of Huxley’s most controversial essays, ‘On the physical basis of life’ (T. H. Huxley 1869a).
Hooker refers to John Tyndall’s address, ‘On the scientific use of the imagination’ (Tyndall 1870). CD had read proofs of the address (see letter to John Tyndall, 8 September 1870).
George Rolleston was president of the biology section of the British Association (see Rolleston 1870a).
Roderick Impey Murchison was president of the geography and ethnology section (see Murchison 1870). Hooker refers to the Hebrew prophet Elijah and to the story of his departure in II Kings 2: 8.
John Lubbock delivered a ‘lecture to the operative classes’ on ‘Savages’ (Report of the 40th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Liverpool, p. xxxvii). A summary and lengthy extract from the lecture appeared in The Times, 19 September 1870, p. 12; the title was given as ‘The social and religious condition of the lower races of man’.
Edouard van Beneden became a corresponding member of the British Association in 1870 (Report of the 40th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Liverpool, p. 80).
Charles Lyell.
British Museum.
Bentham and Hooker 1862–83.
Hooker was appointed director of the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, in 1865 (ODNB).
Hooker’s son, William Jackson Hooker, was being tutored by James Digues La Touche (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [31 May 1870]).
Frances Harriet Hooker.
William Erasmus Darwin and George Howard Darwin.
Hooker refers to Descent. On the title of the book, see the letter to John Murray, [after 1 July 1870] and n. 2.
The Franco-Prussian War had broken out in July 1870 (see Wawro 2003). The Captain, a turret-ship with a crew of 500, was lost at sea on 7 September 1870; there were only 20 survivors (see Annual Register 1870).


Murchison, Roderick Impey. 1870. Address to the geography section. Report of the 40th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; held at Liverpool in September 1870, Transactions of the sections, pp. 158–66.

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.

Tyndall, John. 1870. On the scientific use of the imagination: a discourse delivered before the British Association at Liverpool, on Friday evening, 16th September 1870. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Wawro, Geoffrey. 2003. The Franco-Prussian war: the German conquest of France in 1870–1871. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Reports on the 1870 BAAS meeting at Liverpool. Huxley’s address was over the heads of the laymen.

Tyndall’s was eloquent to listen to, disappointing to read.

George Rolleston’s "Rococo" address [Nature 2 (1870): 423–7, 442–6].



Has done an immense lot of work.

Regrets CD has not kept the simple title "Origin of man" [for Descent].

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 57–9
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7323,” accessed on 13 May 2021,

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