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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   3 March 1874

Royal Gardens Kew

March 3d/74

Dear Darwin

I have long been waiting to write to you but have been prevented by a “pack of troubles”— The receipt of the enclosed from Asa Gray breaks the silence, & gives me a little pleasure, indeed a great one, for the more honors you get from really independent bodies, the better it is for Science.1

The Linnean rows have distressed me more than I can tell— the brutality of that Owenised Scotchman (of old Crawford “d–d Scotchman” type) has chasséed poor Bentham from the chair,2 & made the Society a Scorn & bye-word3 to the public for the moment.

I have been working every day since to get support for the Council at the special meeting on Thursday, & to inoculate the fellows with good feelings. In all this I am aided most splendidly by Dyer; & Strachey has taken up the war-cry in a way which I hope will do great good. As a councillor, & as one against whom (as representative of Kew & as Bentham’s supporter) the shafts are aimed, I do not like to appear too pessimistic, & others embitter the contest—; but I am working day & night for the sake of peace & quiet: You will receive from Strachey a printed Circular, drawn up by Currey & myself & intended to instruct the Fellows— Carruthers & 12 followers, mostly very young fellows, have sent a most insolent protest to the P. & Council resolving to go to law, if the by-laws recently passed are not rescinded by the Council!4 A special general meeting is called for the 5th at the request of Carruthers & his friends when Busk will take the chair— I shall of course be in the Royal Chair.5

I am much distressed by an affair in the Office of Works—of which the Chief Secretary, Mr. G. Russell, has been detected cheating at cards in the Turf Club! & it is said will have to resign his post. G.R. has been my right-hand man & support at the office for 17 years— he is the only man in the office who knows & cares a rush for Kew & the Parks;6 & I can’t conceive how business can go on without him, for Ayrton chasséed all the gentlemen from the office in 6 months, & except the 2 Secretaries & Galton, there is not a man with an approach to Education in it. Galton is hated by everyone—& the 2d. Secretary, a nice enough fellow, is quite common place.7 I only hope that G.R’s resignation (which is I hear unavoidable) may lead to the reorganization of the whole office on a very different footing from hitherto. On personal grounds G. R’s. conduct has distressed and shocked me more than I can express.

I paid a visit to my official Chief yesterday, Ld Henry Lennox who seems to me a good-natured chatterbox with a very good head-piece; they say he has considerable capacity for work8

This is a dreary letter, but I must add another grief. It is that the Agricult. Socy. have sent to de Bary £100 with a request to investigate the Potato disease.— This, which is Carruthers doing; (he is Botanical Adviser to the Society) is intended as an insult to Berkeley, who feels it keenly—as it was he who 30 years ago first traced the history & development of the disease, got the prize from France: & de Bary has added scarcely any thing to the subject. Then too we have Currey, Broome, Rainey & others all abundantly qualified for such work in this country.9

Ever yours affec & dolourous | Jos D Hooker


The enclosed note from Asa Gray has not been found; it evidently mentioned CD’s election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 March [1874]). CD had been elected in January 1874 (see letter from American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 28 January 1874).
The disputes at the Linnean Society concerned attempts by George Bentham, the president of the society, to make changes to the bylaws (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 January 1874 and n. 2). Bentham’s request that these be passed by a single vote at a meeting on 15 January 1874 had been opposed by the Scottish botanist William Carruthers, who demanded that each alteration be considered separately (see Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1873–4): xii–xiii). This disagreement resulted in Bentham’s resignation. See Gage and Stearn 1988, pp. 68–70. Hooker had previously clashed with Carruthers and Richard Owen, both of the British Museum, over the location of the national herbarium (see Correspondence vol. 21, letter from J. D. Hooker, 7 January 1873 and n. 8). John Crawfurd’s distinction between ‘Scotsman’ and ‘d–d Scotsman’ was first mentioned by Hooker in 1864 (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, 29 March 1864).
‘Scorn & bye-word’: probably an allusion to Psalm 44: 13–14:
William Turner Thiselton-Dyer had intervened in a dispute between Hooker and Henry Trimen about the relation of the council and of individual councillors with the Linnean Society; Richard Strachey responded to Carruther’s accusations that Bentham’s behaviour with respect to changing the bylaws was illegal by suggesting at a special meeting of 5 March 1874 (see n. 5, below) that the society obtain the opinion of a legal authority. See Gage and Stearn 1988, p. 71. Frederick Currey was the botanical secretary of the Linnean Society.
Fellows of the Linnean Society had requested a meeting on 5 March 1874 to see whether the disagreements regarding the bylaws might be resolved (see n. 2, above). The meeting was chaired by George Busk, a vice-president of the Linnean Society; the ‘Royal Chair’ was probably a reference to Hooker’s status as president of the Royal Society of London. An account of the meeting appeared in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1873–4): xvii–xviii.
George Russell, grandson of the fifth duke of Bedford, had been employed since 1856 by the Board of Works, under whose jurisdiction the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the royal parks fell. The Turf Club was an exclusive gentlemen’s club in London, favoured by the aristocracy.
Acton Smee Ayrton, notorious for his lack of gentlemanly qualities, had been appointed first commissioner of works in 1869 with the brief of cutting expenditure (Port 1984, p. 162); he had interfered with Hooker’s running of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (see Correspondence vols. 20 and 21). Douglas Strutt Galton, director of public works and buildings in the Office of Works, was considered ‘a thousand times worse than Ayrton’ according to Hooker (see Correspondence vol. 21, letter from J. D. Hooker, 14 August 1873). The secretaries were Algernon Bertram Mitford and Robert John Callander, who served as the assistant or second secretary.
Henry Charles George Gordon-Lennox, third son of the duke of Richmond, was appointed first commissioner of public works in 1874.
The Royal Agricultural Society’s initiatives for encouraging research on the elimination of potato disease were widely criticised (see Nature, 1 January 1874, pp. 161–2). Miles Joseph Berkeley, when involved with the 1845 to 1847 government commission on the cause of the Irish potato blight, had traced the course of the disease after identifying a parasitic fungus as the probable cause; Anton de Bary’s experimental work in the 1860s had conclusively demonstrated the cycle of infection, but neither he nor Berkeley had provided a cure (DSB). Currey and Christopher Edmund Broome studied fungi; Rainey was probably George Rainey, a skilled microscopist.


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

DSB: Dictionary of scientific biography. Edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie and Frederic L. Holmes. 18 vols. including index and supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1970–90.

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


The row at the Linnean Society and other troubles.

The Agricultural Society has sent Anton De Bary £100 to investigate the potato disease – an insult to M. J. Berkeley, who had worked on it for 30 years.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 189–92
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9331,” accessed on 6 February 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22