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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   5 June [1857]1

Down Bromley Kent

June 5th

My dear Hooker

I honour your conscientious care about the medals.2 Thank God I am only an amateur (but a much interested one) on subject.—

It is an old notion of mine that more good is done by giving medals to younger men in the early part of career, than as a mere reward to men whose scientific career is nearly finished.— Whether medals ever do any good is question which does not concern us, as there the medals are.— I am almost inclined to think I would rather lower standard & give medal to young workers than to old ones, with no especial claims. With regard to especial claims, I think it just deserves your attention, that if general claims are once admitted, it opens the door to great laxity in giving them.— Think of case of very rich man who aided solely with his money but to a grand extent—or to such an inconceivable prodigy as a minister of Crown who really cared for science. Would you give such men medals—perhaps medals could not be better applied than exclusively to such men! I confess at present I incline to stick to especial claims, which can be put down on paper.— I do not quite agree with your estimate of Richardson’s merits.3 Do, I beg you, (whenever you quietly see) to talk with Lyell on Pretwich: if he agrees with Hopkins4 I am silenced; but as yet I must look at the correlation of the Tertiaries as one of the highest & most frightfully difficult tasks a man could set himself, & excellent work, as I believe, P. has done. I confess I do not value Hopkins’ opinion on such a point. I confess I have never thought, as you show ought to be done, on the future.— I quite agree under all circumstances with propriety of Lindley.—5 How strange no new geologists are coming forward!— Are there not lots of good young chemits & astronomers or physcicists? Fitton is the only old geologist left,6 who has done good work, except Sedgwick.— Have you thought of him? He wd. be brilliant companion for Lindley. Only it wd never do to give Lyell a Copley, & Sedgwick a Royal on same year. It seems wrong that there shd be three Natural Science medals on the same year.— Lindley, Sedgwick & Bunsen7 sounds well.— And Lyell next year for Copley???—8 You will see that I am speculating as mere idle amateur.—

I am much confounded by your showing that there are not obvious instances of my (or rather Waterhouse’s) Law of abnormal developments being highly variable.—9 I have been thinking more of your remark about difficulty of judging or comparing variability in plants from great general variability of parts.— I should look at the law as more completely smashed, if you would turn in your mind for a little while for cases of great variability of an organ, & tell me whether it is moderately easy to pick out such cases, for if they can be picked out, & notwithstanding do not coincide with great or abnormal development, it wd. be a complete smasher: it is only beginning in your mind at the variability end of the question instead of at the abnormality end. Perhaps cases in which a part is highly variable in all the species of a group should be excluded, as possibly being something distinct, & connected with the perplexing subject of polymorphism.— Will you perfect your assistance by further considering for a little the subject this way?—

I have been so much interested this morning in comparing all my notes on the variation of the several species of genus Equus & the results of their crossing: Taking most strictly analogous facts amongst the blessed Pigeons for my guide, I believe I can plainly see the colouring & marks of the grandfather of the Ass, Horse, Quagga, Hemionus & Zebra, some millions of generations ago! Should not I sneer at any one who made such a remark to me a few years ago!—but my evidence seems to me so good, that I shall publish my vision at end of my little discussion on this genus.10

I have of late inundated you with my notions, you best of friends & philosophers.—

Adios | C. Darwin

I can most truly say that anyhow I am worthy of your letters, if being interested by them makes me worthy.—

I am extremely glad to hear my letter to Sharpey did not appear dogmatic or presumptuous: I had quite annoyed myself by trying to remember exactly what I had said.


The year is given by the reference to topics first mentioned in the letter to J. D. Hooker, 2 June [1857].
CD had supported the nomination of John Richardson for a Royal Medal in 1856 (see letter to Edward Sabine, 23 April [1856]).
William Hopkins.
Hooker had nominated John Lindley for one of the Royal Medals (Royal Society council minutes).
William Henry Fitton was best known for work carried out between 1824 and 1836 on the succession of strata between the Oolite and the Chalk (DNB).
The German chemist Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen was awarded the Copley Medal in 1860. In 1857, the recipient was the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul.
Charles Lyell did receive the Copley Medal in 1858. In 1857, the Royal Medals were given to John Lindley and to the chemist Edward Frankland.
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 June [1857]. George Robert Waterhouse had first formulated the generalisation concerning variation in his Natural history of the Mammalia (Waterhouse 1846–8, 2: 452 n. 1).
CD included this material at the end of his chapter on ‘Laws of variation’ (Natural selection, pp. 328–32).


DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Waterhouse, George Robert. 1846–8. A natural history of the Mammalia. 2 vols. London: H. Baillière.


Royal Society medals.

Correlation of variability and abnormal development is G. R. Waterhouse’s law. Relation of this law to polymorphism.

Colouring and marks of ancestral horse deduced from facts observed in pigeons.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
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Source of text
DAR 114: 201
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2102,” accessed on 18 October 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6