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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   9 November [1872]

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Nov. 9th

My dear old Friend

I feel much difficulty in deciding what to advise about answering Owen; & I very much doubt whether my advice on any such point is worth much. In the first place, Owen’s recent letter is so obscurely expressed that only a few persons will try to understand it (my wife failed to do so) & no one can fully understand it, without having the Blue Book at his elbow, which I have not.—.—1 Again all those, whose opinion you most value, know that Owen cannot in the least be relied on, when he gives a reference, or even when he quotes a passage, as he will alter it.— All this goes to show that an answer on your part is not necessary, & the less controversy the better in every case. On the other hand if you can briefly show that you have not intentionally or in an unjustifiable manner hurt the feelings of the officers of the B. Museum, I am inclined to think a brief answer would be adviseable.2 You might commence by stating that you had already showed the falseness of many of his former assertions & that most of his present remarks were not worthy of an answer.— What rubbish about Welwitschia!3 I wish I knew the date of the Prodromus N. Hollandiæ.—4 I differ from your friends in thinking decidedly that if you answer it ought to be in “Nature”. It wd be beneath you to show that you were huffed at a paper; & Nature did publish the Memorial of the Scientific Men.—5 This is all that I can say, & it is hardly worth saying. I grieve deeply that you shd. thus be bothered by so odious a blackguard as Owen.—6

With respect to the “Artizan’s Dewellings Coy Limited,” I know nothing except from their own printed statements & the kind of men who have supported it.—7 They make too much use by a great deal of the names of those who have subscribed; but the object seems to me excellent.— I have looked at it from the first as lost money as far investment is concerned.—

Very many thanks about Dionæa.— My plants look sickly.— I have kept them too warm. I have, however, got some good out of them, & I must try & get at any price some older specimens next spring.— You have not yet told me what I owe you for the four plants.8

My dear old friend | Yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin


See the two letters from J. D. Hooker, 8 November 1872. In his letter in Nature, 7 November 1872, pp. 5–7, Richard Owen had referred to question 6661 of the Minutes of Evidence of the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and Hooker’s answer to it without saying what either the question or the answer were.
In his reply to Owen in Nature, 21 November 1872, pp. 45–6, Hooker rejected Owen’s charge that his answer to question 6661 (see n. 1, above) had inflicted pain on fellow servants of the state (staff at the British Museum). He wrote that question 6661 was: ‘Has there been insufficient space in the British Museum for the enlargement of its herbaria, or has any other obstacle interfered?’, to which Hooker’s answer was: ‘With regard to the British Museum I do not think any person can answer that except the officers of the establishment. I do not think that the nature and extent of its botanical collections or their condition is well known except to its officers.’
In his letter to Nature (see n. 1, above), Owen had implied that the failure to cultivate Welwitschia mirabilis at Kew was due to inattention on the part of the staff. In his reply (see n. 2, above), Hooker pointed out that the plant material received at Kew was not viable.
In his letter to Nature (see n. 1, above), Owen had mentioned the Prodromus floræ Novæ Hollandiæ et insulæ Van-Diemen (Introduction to the flora of Australia and Tasmania; Brown 1810) as an example of a scientific work not produced at Kew. Though commercially unsuccessful and never completed, the Prodromus was highly regarded by botanists (ODNB s.v. Brown, Robert (1773–1858)).
See second letter from J. D. Hooker, 8 November 1872 and n. 3.
CD himself had fallen out with Owen following Owen’s anonymous review of Origin ([Owen] 1860; see Correspondence vols. 8 and 9).
See first letter from J. D. Hooker, 8 November 1872 and n. 1.
Hooker had sent CD some plants of Dionaea muscipula (Venus fly trap) for his work on insectivorous plants (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 31 October [1872]).


Brown, Robert. 1810. Prodromus florae Novae Hollandiae et Insulae Van-Diemen, exhibens characteres plantarum. Vol. 1 (no more published). London: Richard Taylor.

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

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.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

[Owen, Richard.] 1860b. [Review of Origin & other works.] Edinburgh Review 111: 487–532.


Pros and cons of answering Owen’s letter.

On Artizans’ Dwellings, he approves the object but it is lost money as an investment.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 239–42
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8614,” accessed on 26 September 2023,

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