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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [2 October 1871]1



Dear Darwin

I return Huxley’s article which I have read with all the admiration I can express.2 What a wonderful Essayist he is & incomparable critic & defender of the faithful. Well, I think you are avenged of your Enemy:—but are not happier for that— though you must be for the spirit & body which the avenger has given to the subject, & above all for the grand use he has made of your own argument for confuting your enemy. What you must feel, & always feel, is, that peculiar & quite unreasonable bitter sorrowing which a man excites who praises you to your face & abuses you behind your back.—3 Why should this excite anything but contempt at worst, or pity at best? & yet there is no man with generous emotions but feels more sad & sorry over such treatment than either angry or vindictive.

The Psychological passages seem to me to be wonderfully clear & good, how tight he clothes a difficult idea in language. I was particularly struck with the paragraphs on Neurosis & Psychosis.—consciousness & its physical basis4—but really it is difficult to single out either passages or subjects, all is so good & there is so much power & acumen in the treatment of every branch of his subject— you may call it an essay, a critique—an exposition—or discussion—an enquiry—or what else you will— you may read for one & all of these aims.

The Exposition of Mivart’s presumptuous ignorance in citing the Catholic fathers is delicious—that’s the last pitfall the poor devil expected to be snared into.5

The tumbling over Wallace is however if not an equal feat, a far far greater service to Science.6

The appeal to conscience in the matter of the clergy & the 6 days is very powerful, & must make many a poor Devil wince in the pulpit.7 And the quiet contempt with which he treats the Squires & Parsons is extraordinarily humorous in it’s manner.8

Well, the article has been a God-send to me, for I am very very low—& cannot get my spirits up—about my poor Mother’s state. I have just returned from Torquay.9 I am also in the most detestable position that a scientific man, or an officer, or a gentleman, can be with my Lord & Master Ayrton, who I have officially denounced to the 1st. Lord of the Treasury for his conduct to me & to Kew: & I need not say that our lives are not the happiest after such an Explosion!10 How it will all end God knows, I began the battle with heart & spirit—& gloried in it— but my Mother’s condition has poisoned the whole, & I also left my sister very ill, even for her—11 so I am in the state of utter disquiet: not caring a farthing what the Treasury or Ayrton do— What a poor lot we men are— a woman would be twice as rational as I am, under twice the hard lines.

God Bless you dear old friend | Yrs affect | J D Hooker


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters to J. D. Hooker, 30 September [1871] and 4 October [1871]. In 1871, the first Monday after 30 September was 2 October.
CD had sent Hooker the proofs of Thomas Henry Huxley’s essay in the Contemporary Review, ‘Mr. Darwin’s critics’ (T. H. Huxley 1871b; see letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 September [1871]).
Huxley’s essay was in part a critique of St George Jackson Mivart’s Genesis of species (Mivart 1871a), which CD felt had misrepresented his arguments (see letter to Francis Darwin, [after 21 January 1871]). Mivart had also written a hostile review of Descent for the Quarterly Review ([Mivart] 1871c), which Huxley discussed in his essay.
See T. H. Huxley 1871b, pp. 459–67. By ‘neurosis’ Huxley meant processes taking place in the nervous system (‘the physical basis of consciousness’; ibid., p. 462); by ‘psychosis’ he meant concomitant processes taking place in consciousness itself.
In Mivart 1871a, Mivart had argued that belief in evolution was consistent with Catholic faith, citing in particular the works of the Spanish theologian Francisco Suárez. In his essay, Huxley included extensive quotations from Suárez, in Latin, tending to contradict Mivart’s view (T. H. Huxley 1871b, pp. 446–57).
Huxley discussed Alfred Russel Wallace’s reservations about human evolution in T. H. Huxley 1871b, pp. 470–3.
‘And when, Sunday after Sunday, men who profess to be our instructors in righteousness read out the statement, “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is,” in innumerable churches, they are either propagating what they may easily know, and, therefore, are bound to know, to be falsities; or, if they use the words in some non-natural sense, they fall below the moral standard of the much abused Jesuit’ (T. H. Huxley 1871b, p. 456). Huxley had previously quoted a passage from Suarez suggesting that ‘six days’ was to be understood literally, and that it was inconceivable that the words could have been used in a sense likely to be misunderstood (ibid., p. 452).
Mivart, in the Quarterly Review, had defined reason as ‘the reflection upon our sensations and perceptions, and asking what they are and why they are’ ([Mivart] 1871c, pp. 67–8). Huxley responded, ‘What becomes of an average country squire or parson? How many of these worthy persons who, as their wont is, read the Quarterly Review, would do other than stand agape, if you asked him whether he had ever reflected what his sensations and perceptions are, and why they are?’ (T. H. Huxley 1871b, pp. 466–7).
Hooker’s mother, Maria Hooker, who lived in Torquay, was ill (see letter from J. D. Hooker to Emma Darwin, 15 September 1871).
Acton Smee Ayrton was commissioner of the Office of Works, the government department in charge of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He and Hooker had disagreed in a number of areas: most recently, Hooker had discovered that the heating and ventilation of the plant houses at Kew had been removed without notice from his authority. Hooker had been in correspondence with the prime minister and first lord of the treasury, William Ewart Gladstone, since 31 August 1871. See Nature, 11 July 1872, pp. 211–16; L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 159–77; MacLeod 1974.
Hooker probably refers to Elizabeth Evans-Lombe (see L. Huxley ed. 1918, p. 430, and Allan 1967, p. 224).


Allan, Mea. 1967. The Hookers of Kew, 1785–1911. London: Michael Joseph.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

MacLeod, Roy M. 1974. The Ayrton incident: a commentary on the relations of science and government in England, 1870–1873. In Science and values: patterns of tradition and change, edited by Arnold Thackray and Everett Mendelsohn. New York: Humanities Press.


On Huxley’s article for Contemporary Review [see 7977] confuting Mivart. It has cheered him,

for he is very low about his mother’s state.

Is also in detestable position with "my lord and master", A. S. Ayrton. JDH has denounced him to the [First] Lord of the Treasury [W. E. Gladstone] for his conduct.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 80–2
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7981,” accessed on 25 October 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19