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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   20 February 1873


Feby 20/73

Dear Darwin

I have been laid up for a week with Influenza aggrevated by a dinner-party in the middle of it & am thinking of going to St Leonards for a week on Saturday with Harriette who has been laid up too.1

I am delighted with Moggridge’s book2 & have written begging him to bury seeds in tobacco-pipe bowls & other receptacles There can be but two ways of accounting for the seeds not germinating— Either the want of any circulation of air, or formic acid may prevent it.3 I know nothing about formic acid— Has an ant’s-nest any increase of temperature?

I have no news except of my own folly— I have undertaken the Botany Primer for Macmillan—which will be some 100 12mo pages of a sort Introduction to the subject of Botany—4 something different I think from an Elementary lesson-book—& yet the information must be definite, & such as the recipient can be questioned about. I have given the subject a great deal of thought & sketched out a plan. The great difficulty is to go to the bottom of things & yet avoid detail,— or rather to keep pointing to the bottom of things without going into it. I am afraid it will be like the sailor’s “Potato & point—” which, as I daresay you remember, consisted in a plate of potato & one oderiferous red-herring hung over the mess table. at every mouthful of potato every man pointed it to the herring before eating it— by way of catching flavor?—

Ever yours affec | J D Hooker


Harriet Anne Hooker was Hooker’s daughter. St Leonards (now part of Hastings) was a popular seaside resort in East Sussex (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
John Traherne Moggridge’s Harvesting ants and trap-door spiders (Moggridge 1873) was published in January 1873 (Publishers’ Circular, 1 February 1873, p. 76).
In Moggridge 1873, pp. 24–5, Moggridge had noted that ants were able to check the tendency of seeds to germinate in their nest. He observed that the seeds were not denied moisture, warmth, or air in the ant nests and added that the vitality of the seeds was not affected, since he had taken seeds from nests and raised plants from them.
Hooker’s Botany (J. D. Hooker 1876) was published as one of a series of science primers by Macmillan and Co. It was 117 pages long in duodecimo.


Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

Moggridge, John Traherne. 1873. Harvesting ants and trap-door spiders: notes and observations on their habits and dwellings. London: L. Reeve & Co.


Delighted with John Traherne Moggridge’s book [Harvesting ants (1873)].

Has suggested he plant seeds in various receptacles. Only two explanations for failure of seeds to germinate [in ants’ nests]: lack of circulating air or formic acid.

Has undertaken a botany primer for Macmillan.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 149–50
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8777,” accessed on 21 October 2021,

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