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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   1 January 1872

Royal Gardens Kew

Jany 1/72.

Dear Darwin

I have a confidential communication from Mr Gladstone’s P.S. to the effect that a plan is under the consideration of Govt., by which my “position as regards the First Comms of Works would be materially altered”—1 So I hope I see a way out of the wood.—

Huxley writes, no better for his Brighton trip & evidently much out of sorts. I am quite sure that this miscellaneous work is very prejudicial to him, mentally & bodily—& I do wish he could be put into some good post that would allow the full exercise of his Scientific & administrative abilities, without taxing them too much.2 I fancy that you & I are the only men for whose opinion he cares much.

The organization of the new Nat. Hist. Museum would be just the thing for him. They should give him £1500 a year for 5 years to do it.— I wonder if he would accept this:— he would not I feel sure take the permanent post of Director. I know of no one else competent for the task.3

They should have sent you 2 Pleromas— keep & flower that you have, & I will let you know when mine are coming into flower. I have 2 of them.4

Have you not plenty of Hazels in the coppice where you take your exercise?5 if so may I send a man to take a Score or two of strong suckers? I want to make some Hazel thickets here.

I go to Torquay tomorrow for two days.6

Many happy returns of the season to you & yours’— I hope Henrietta is better.7

Ever yours affec | J D Hooker

I have informed Sir H Holland of Mr West’s communication.8


William Ewart Gladstone’s secretary was Algernon Edward West. Hooker had been in dispute with the first commissioner of works, Acton Smee Ayrton, since before 1871, over the running of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. On Hooker’s dispute with Ayrton, see Nature, 11 July 1872, pp. 211–16; L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 159–77; MacLeod 1974; Port 1984; Drayton 2000, pp. 211–20; Endersby 2008, pp. 282–300; and Correspondence vol. 19. Hooker’s most recent letter to CD mentioning the subject is that of 22 December 1871 (Correspondence vol. 19).
Thomas Henry Huxley’s health had failed at the end of 1871 and he had gone to Brighton for a short holiday (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 365). On Huxley’s overworking at this period, see A. Desmond 1994–7, 2: 26–8; he broke down completely in early January 1872.
In 1870, a site at South Kensington was confirmed for the building of a new Natural History Museum to contain the natural history collections of the British Museum. Building work did not begin until 1873, and the museum opened in 1881. The first director was William Henry Flower. See Stearn 1981, pp. 3, 46, 67.
CD made a brief reference to his experiments on a Pleroma (‘unnamed species from Kew’) in Cross and self fertilisation, p. 364. Pleroma is a genus in the family Melastomataceae.
CD took his exercise in the sandwalk, or ‘thinking path’, through a wood planted near Down House in 1846 (see Atkins 1974, pp. 25–8).
Hooker’s mother, Maria Hooker, and sister, Elizabeth Evans-Lombe, lived at Torquay (Allan 1967, p. 224).
In her diary (DAR 242), Emma Darwin noted that Henrietta Emma Litchfield was ill on 2 and 21 December 1871.
Henry Holland had acted as an intermediary in Hooker’s dispute with Ayrton in 1871 (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 October 1871).


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

Atkins, Hedley J. B. 1974. Down, the home of the Darwins: the story of a house and the people who lived there. London: Royal College of Surgeons.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Desmond, Adrian. 1994–7. Huxley. 2 vols. London: Michael Joseph.

Drayton, Richard. 2000. Nature’s government: science, imperial Britain, and the ‘improvement’ of the world. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Endersby, Jim. 2008. Imperial nature: Joseph Hooker and the practices of Victorian science. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Huxley, Leonard, ed. 1918. Life and letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, OM, GCSI. Based on materials collected and arranged by Lady Hooker. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

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.

Port, M. H. 1984. A contrast in styles at the office of works. Layard and Ayrton: aesthete and economist. Historical Journal 27: 151–76.

Stearn, William T. 1981. The Natural History Museum at South Kensington: a history of the British Museum (Natural History), 1753–1980. London: Heinemann in association with the British Museum (Natural History).


Gladstone’s private secretary [West] has written that the Government plans to alter JDH’s position with regard to the First Commissioner of Works [Ayrton].

Huxley is not better after his Brighton trip.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 101–2
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8136,” accessed on 31 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20