skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   7 January 1873

Royal Gardens Kew

Jany 7/73

Dear Darwin

A long letter from you is no new sensation—though I have experienced but little of its delights of late.1

Our Drosophyllum flowered itself to death last summer— it went on from May till September & then could not stop its flowering, nor its consequent apotheosis. We have given so many young plants away that I can easily get you a couple.2

Greg’s “Enigmas”3 is one of the most eloquent books I ever read, & it quite fascinated me by it’s manner, not by its matter, which is singularly weak & inconclusive. I wrote to him combating some of his positions, & met him soon after, & had a delightful conversation. As to the poor man’s faith, he frankly admitted to me that, as I put it, all scientific evidence is in favor of extinction upon death, & that any reasoning to the contrary was “ingenious wriggling.”— I quite agreed with him however, that this was not conclusive, & that there was no inexcusable presumption in the conclusion, that there was a future state. It is a book that cannot but be disappointing: remember all it pretends to do is, not to crush hope, but to foster the presumption of hope being tenable—barely tenable perhaps!

I like Greg exceedingly, & should like to bring him to Down.4 (of course the Scientific part proper of the book is all but a mistake.) Ayrton I hear nothing of; our armed truce holds.5 I quite believe that Gladstone has literally muzzled him as regards Kew—i.e. told him to interfere in nothing—i.e. to originate no change whatever.6 The Belgian Academy were very civil—& wrote to me saying they intended making the opportunity of a vacancy the occasion of marking their disapprobation of the treatment I have received.7

I am extremely vexed at being dragged into hostility towards the British Museum, through Mr. Carruthers intolerable insolence—& presumption—8 the carelessness of his statements really amounts to falsity.— I have born as gently on his misstatements as I could— He must be a very odd man— within 3 months he has grossly & unprovokedly insulted, myself, Lockyer, Dyer, Bate, & Bentham,9 all on different matters— I had no idea that he was such an ill conditioned Cur.— his letters to me are most insolent.

We have just returned from a visit to Cardwells, near Godalming—10 both he & his wife are singularly pleasing persons at home— He is almost a religious man, or I should say a devout one perhaps. We had some long talks about faith & prayer— he was very frank, admitting to the full how much more difficult it was for a Scientific man to believe, than for any other—that the Miracles were open questions, of Evidence entirely—& that prayer in the common sense was wrong—he much regretted such occasional outbursts as Huxley’s,11—but blamed the Clergy more.

He was singularly earnest candid & calm, even on such matters as Darwinism! which he only a little believes—much disliking some of the results (monkeydom eg.) but could see even in this no opposition to any religion worth holding.

I have just skimmed DeCandolle & thought it very interesting indeed, except the last chapters, of which I read but one or two, & thought it twaddle.12 I have sent my copy to Gladstone, being indignant at his speech, in which he puts England’s position in respect of abstract Science far below that of France & Germany. He is going to print that address, & it will be laughed at in America & Germany, & come with a very bad grace indeed from the Prime Minister of England.13 I glanced at his “Juventus Mundi” yesterday & was astonished at its puerility— Wedgwood is a science to some parts of it!14

Have you heard that they intend to run me against the D. of Devonshire as P.R.S.15 I do dread the weight of the position more than I can tell, & would not listen to it for a moment, but that I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the scientific men who have proposed me, for their generous support last summer—16 I was told of it at the X last Thursday as a settled thing.17 About half the Council are supposed to be prepared to support me. Airy & the Cantabs18 all going in for the Duke— an excellent choice in my opinion (God prosper him!). They are greatly angered at Sabine’s19 having written to the Duke, without acquainting the Council inviting him to stand.

Archibald Smith’s death is a great loss to me. We had been intimate from very early years, & I had an equal affection & esteem for him— he was a neighbour too.20

I have wandered away from Drosera & the question you put.21 In so far as I can remember it is an accepted dogma that there is no cutaneous absorption in living plants & that glandular hairs are excretory only. I will however ask Dyer, who is away with a cold— he is translating Sachs, & will be up to the latest discoveries.22 I will also ask Berkeley.23 Your aggregation of the protoplasmic contents of the cell, reminds me of the contraction of the chlorophyll contents & ? inner cell wall of the cells under Sun-light in a Selaginella (serpens I think).24

Have you tried Begonia leaves, or shall I look out for some plants with hyaline25 bladdery epidermal cells for you to operate upon— Can you correlate the specific action of the Ammonia on the protoplasm of the cells, with that of its effect in the blood of animals poisoned by snake bites.— Is it not the case that snake poisons affects the blood corpuscles?26

Ever yours affec | J D Hooker

What a yarn I have spun!


Hooker refers to CD’s letter to him of 5 January [1873]; the last extant letter from CD to Hooker before that was the letter of 9 November [1872] (Correspondence vol. 20).
William Rathbone Greg’s Enigmas of life (Greg 1872).
There is no record of Greg’s visiting Down.
Hooker refers to Acton Smee Ayrton (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 January [1873] and n. 6).
William Ewart Gladstone was the prime minister, and as first lord of the Treasury, Ayrton’s superior.
William Carruthers was keeper of the botany department at the British Museum. In 1872, Hooker and Richard Owen, superintendent of the natural history departments at the museum, became involved in dispute over the future location of the national herbarium (see Correspondence vol. 20, letter from J. D. Hooker, 8 November 1872, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 November [1872] and n. 2). Carruthers’s evidence on the subject given to the Royal Commission on Science was published in Nature, 3 October 1872, pp. 449–52.
Joseph Norman Lockyer, William Turner Thiselton-Dyer, Henry Walter Bates, and George Bentham.
Edward and Annie Cardwell lived at Eashing Park, Godalming, Surrey; Edward Cardwell was secretary of state for war, and had been a member of the committee set up by Gladstone to investigate the dispute over the governance of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Post Office directory of the six home counties 1870; L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 169; ODNB).
For an example of Thomas Henry Huxley’s outbursts, see Correspondence vol. 16, letter from J. D. Hooker, 30 August 1868.
Hooker refers to Alphonse de Candolle’s Histoire des sciences (Candolle 1872; see also letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 January [1873] and n. 9).
Gladstone’s address was published in The Times, 23 December 1872, p. 8, and published by John Murray in 1873 (Gladstone 1873).
Hooker refers to Gladstone 1869 (Iuventus mundi (Latin): the youth of the world; a work of Homeric scholarship), and to his own hobby of collecting Wedgwood ware, a hobby that was shared by Gladstone (see L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 79).
Hooker was president of the Royal Society of London from 1873 to 1878 (ODNB). His opponent in the election was William Cavendish, seventh duke of Devonshire.
See Correspondence vol. 20, letter from John Lubbock to W. E. Gladstone, 20 June 1872. Eleven men of science, including CD, signed a memorial supporting Hooker in his dispute with Ayrton over the running of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
The X Club was established by Hooker and a group of close friends. The members were united by friendship and a ‘devotion to science, pure and free, untrammelled by religious dogmas’ (quoted in Barton 1998a, p. 411; see ibid. for an account of the club’s history and significance).
George Biddell Airy was president of the Royal Society. Cantabs: graduates or other associates of Cambridge University. William Cavendish was chancellor of Cambridge University (ODNB). Hooker was a graduate of Glasgow University (ODNB).
Edward Sabine had been president of the Royal Society from 1861 to 1871, but was not currently a member of the council (Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 21 (1872–3): 32).
Smith died on 26 December 1872 at Putney, not far from Kew (ODNB).
Hooker was employing Thiselton-Dyer part-time at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (ODNB); Thiselton-Dyer was presumably working on his translation, with Alfred William Bennett, of Julius Sach’s Lehrbuch der Botanik (Sachs 1870 and 1873; Sachs 1875).
Miles Joseph Berkeley.
Selaginella is a genus of spikemosses.
Hyaline: transparent, without granules.
Conclusions on the effect of snake venom on the blood, and on the uselessness of ammonia as a remedy, were published in 1874 by the Commission for the investigation of snake-poisoning (Report on the effects of artificial respiration, intravenous injection of ammonia, and administration of various drugs, &c., in Indian and Australian snake-poisoning; and the physiological, chemical, and microscopical nature of snake-poisons (Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press); on ammonia, see pp. 19–41, 59–60). The theory was that ammonia, which is alkaline, would neutralise the acidic snake venom. The haemotoxins found in some snake venoms destroy red blood cells.


Fascinated by Greg’s Enigmas, though its matter is weak.

Is vexed at being drawn into hostility toward British Museum through William Carruthers’ insolence and presumption.

Recounts visit with Edward Cardwell [Secretary for War].

Has sent Candolle’s book to Gladstone.

JDH indignant at Gladstone’s speech putting English science below French and German.

Thinks it is an accepted dogma that glandular hairs are excreting only. Will ask others to confirm.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 140–5
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8727,” accessed on 15 February 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21