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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   13 [July 1858]

Miss Wedgwoods | Hartfield | Tunbridge Wells1


My dear Hooker

Your letter to Wallace seems to me perfect, quite clear & most courteous. I do not think it could possibly be improved & I have today forwarded it with a letter of my own.—2

I always thought it very possible that I might be forestalled, but I fancied that I had grand enough soul not to care; but I found myself mistaken & punished; I had, however, quite resigned myself & had written half a letter to Wallace to give up all priority to him & shd. certainly not have changed had it not been for Lyell’s & yours quite extraordinary kindness. I assure you I feel it, & shall not forget it.

I am much more than satisfied at what took place at Linn. Socy— I had thought that your letter & mine to Asa Gray were to be only an appendix to Wallace’s paper.—3

We go from here in few days to sea-side, probably Isle of Wight4 & on my return (after a battle with Pigeon skeletons) I will set to work at abstract, though how on earth I shall make anything of an abstract in 30 pages of Journal I know not, but will try my best.5 I shall order Bentham:6 is it not a pity that you shd. waste time in tabulating vars; for I can get the Down schoolmaster to do it on my return & can tell you all results.7

I must try & see you before your journey; but do not think that I am fishing to ask you come to Down., for you will have no time for that.

You cannot imagine how pleased I am that the notion of Natural Selection has acted as a purgative on your bowels of immutability. Whenever naturalists can look at species changing as certain, what a magnificent field will be open,—on all the laws of variation,—on the genealogy of all living beings,—on their lines of migration &c &c.

Pray thank Mrs. Hooker for her very kind little note, & pray say how truly obliged I am, & in truth ashamed to think, that she shd. have had the trouble of copying my ugly M.S.8 It was extraordinaryly kind in her.—

Farewell my dear kind friend— Yours affectly | C. Darwin

I have had some fun here in watching a slave-making ant, for I could not help rather doubting the wonderful stories, but I have now seen a defeated marauding party, & I have seen a migration from one nest to another of the slave-makers, carrying their slaves (who are house & not field niggers) in their mouths!9

I am inclined to think that it is a true generalisation that when honey is secreted at one point of circle of corolla, if the pistil bends it always bends into line of gangway to the honey.— the Larkspur is good instance in contrast to Columbine.— if you think of it, just attend to this little point.—10


CD and Emma Darwin had joined their children at Sarah Elizabeth (Elizabeth) Wedgwood’s home on 9 July 1858 (‘Journal’; Appendix II).
The letters have not been found. Alfred Russel Wallace mentioned having received letters from CD and Hooker in a letter to his mother, dated 6 October 1858 (Marchant 1916, 1: 71). An extract from that letter is given in Wallace 1905, 1: 365: I have received letters from Mr. Darwin and Dr. Hooker, two of the most eminent naturalists in England, which have highly gratified me. I sent Mr. Darwin an essay on a subject upon which he is now writing a great work. He showed it to Dr. Hooker and Sir Charles Lyell, who thought so highly of it that they had it read before the Linnean Society. This insures me the acquaintance of these eminent men on my return home. Wallace’s notebook for the period (Linnean Society archives, MS 180, p. 14), lists the table of contents of CD’s species book (Natural selection, pp. 25–32). CD probably included this information in the letter mentioned here.
The communications read at the Linnean Society meeting on 1 July 1858 were ordered as follows: first, the letter from Hooker and Lyell to the Linnean Society; second, an extract from CD’s essay of 1844 (Foundations, pp. 87–93); third, the enclosure from CD’s letter to Asa Gray, 5 September [1857] (see Correspondence vol.7, Appendix III); and fourth, Wallace’s essay entitled ‘On the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type’ (see Correspondence vol.7, Appendix IV).
The Darwin family left Sussex for the Isle of Wight on 16 July 1858 (‘Journal’; Appendix II). Emma Darwin’s diary records that they spent the night of 16 July in Portsmouth and arrived in Sandown on the evening of 17 July.
Bentham 1858. CD was anxious to tabulate the work for his study of varieties in large and small genera (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 December [1857]).
Ebenezer Norman compiled the tables from various botanical and entomological catalogues that CD used for calculating the ratio of varieties in large and small genera (see letter to J. D. Hooker,12 January [1858], n. 10, and Correspondence vol. 6, letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 August [1857]).
Frances Harriet Hooker apparently made a fair copy of the draft of CD’s letter to Asa Gray beforeit was read at the Linnean Society on 1 July 1858 (see n. 3, above). There were several small emendations to the text, possibly introduced by Frances Hooker or by CD when the proof-sheets of the paper came to him. See Appendix III.
See letter from Frederick Smith, 26 February 1858, and letter to Frederick Smith, [before 9 March 1858]. CD’s notes on his observations at Hartfield, dated 11–14 July, are in DAR 205.11(2): 90–3. CD continued observing ants while on the Isle of Wight; these notes are in DAR 205.11(2): 94.


Bentham, George. 1858. Handbook of the British flora; a description of the flowering plants and ferns indigenous to, or naturalized in, the British Isles. London: Lovell Reeve.

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

Foundations: The foundations of the Origin of Species. Two essays written in 1842 and 1844 by Charles Darwin. Edited by Francis Darwin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1909. [Reprint edition. New York: Kraus Reprint Co. 1969. Also reprinted in De Beer ed. 1958.]

Marchant, James, ed. 1916. Alfred Russel Wallace. Letters and reminiscences. 2 vols. London: Cassell and Company.

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.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1905. My life: a record of events and opinions. 2 vols. London: Chapman & Hall.


JDH’s letter to Wallace perfect. CD’s feelings about priority. Without Lyell’s and JDH’s intervention CD would have given up all claims to Wallace. Now planning 30-page abstract for a journal.

Observations on floral structure

and slave-making ants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Wedgwood, S. E. (b), Hartfield
Source of text
DAR 114: 242
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2306,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7