From J. D. Hooker 2 July 1860
Botanic Gardens Oxford
I have just come in from my last moonlight saunter at Oxford & been sililoquizing over the Ratcliffe & our old rooms at the corner & cannot go to bed without inditing a few lines to you my dear old Darwin.1 I came here on Thursday afternoon & immediately fell into a lengthened revirie: without you & my wife I was as dull as ditch water & crept about the once familiar streets feeling like a fish out of water—2 I swore I would not go near a Section & did not for two days—but amused myself with the Colleges buildings & alternate sleeps in the sleepy gardens & rejoiced in my indolence. Huxley & Owen had had a furious battle over Darwins absent body at Section D.,3 before my arrival,—of which more anon. H. was triumphant— You & your book forthwith became the topics of the day, & I d—d the days & double d—d the topics too, & like a craven felt bored out of my life by being woke out of my reveries to become referee on Natural Selection &c &c &c— On Saturday I walked with my old friend of the Erebus Capt Dayman4 to the Sections & swore as usual I would not go in; but getting equally bored of doing nothing I did. A paper of a yankee donkey called Draper on “civilization according to the Darwinian hypothesis” or some such title was being read,5 & it did not mend my temper; for of all the flatulent stuff and all the self sufficient stuffers—these were the greatest, it was all a pie of Herbt Spenser & Buckle without the seasoning of either—6 however hearing that Soapy Sam7 was to answer I waited to hear the end. The meeting was so large that they had adjourned to the Library8 which was crammed with between 700 & 1000 people, for all the world was there to hear Sam Oxon— Well Sam Oxon got up & spouted for half an hour with inimitable spirit uglyness & emptyness & unfairness, I saw he was coached up by Owen & knew nothing & he said not a syllable but what was in the Reviews— he ridiculed you badly & Huxley savagely— Huxley answered admirably & turned the tables,9 but he could not throw his voice over so large an assembly, nor command the audience; & he did not allude to Sam’s weak points nor put the matter in a form or way that carried the audience. The battle waxed hot. Lady Brewster fainted,10 the excitement increased as others spoke—my blood boiled, I felt myself a dastard; now I saw my advantage—I swore to myself I would smite that Amalekite Sam11 hip & thigh if my heart jumped out of my mouth & I handed my name up to the President (Henslow) as ready to throw down the gauntlet—12 I must tell you that Henslow as president would have none speak but those who had arguments to use, & 4 persons had been burked13 by the audience & President for mere declamation: it moreover became necessary for each speaker to mount the platform & so there I was cocked up with Sam at my right elbow, & there & then I smashed him amid rounds of aplause— I hit him in the wind at the first shot in 10 words taken from his own ugly mouth—& then proceeded to demonstrate in as few more 1 that he could never have read your book & 2 that he was absolutely ignorant of the rudiments of Bot. Science— I said a few more on the subject of my own experience, & conversion & wound up with a very few observations on the relative position of the old & new hypotheses, & with some words of caution to the audience— Sam was shut up—had not one word to say in reply & the meeting was dissolved forthwith leaving you master of the field after 4 hours battle. Huxley who had borne all the previous brunt of the battle & who never before (thank God) praised me to my face, told me it was splendid, & that he did not know before what stuff I was made of— I have been congratulated & thanked by the blackest coats & whitest stocks in Oxford (for they hate their Bishop quite [section illeg] love) & plenty of ladies too have flattered me—but eheu & alas never is14
JDH reports on the debate on the Origin at Oxford [BAAS] meeting.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2852,” accessed on 25 March 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-2852