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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   18 March [1862]1

Down Bromley Kent.

March 18th

My dear Hooker

I am astonished at your larkiness in going to Walcot; I wish it had been Powis Castle, which, as far as I remember, is very grand. I saw your host, as a child; & have heard since that he is reckoned stiff & proud, but very respectable.—2

Your letter discusses lots of interesting subjects,3 & I am very glad you have sent for your letter to Bates.4 What do you mean by “individual plant”? I fancied a bud lived only a year & you could hardly expect any change, in that time; but if you call a tree or plant an individual, you have sporting buds. Perhaps you mean that the whole tree does not change. Tulips in “breaking” change. Fruit—seems certainly affected by the stock. I think I have got cases of slight changes in alpine plants transplanted. All these subjects have rather gone out of my head owing to Orchids; but I shall soon have to enter on them in earnest, when I come again to my volume on Variation under Domestication.5 In the life time of an animal you would, I think, find it very difficult to show effects of external conditions on animals, more than shade & light, good & bad soil, produce on a plants.6

You speak of “an inherent tendency to vary wholly independent of physical conditions”. This is a very simple way of putting the case (as Dr. Prosper Lucas also puts it);7 but two great classes of facts make me think that all variability is due to changes in the condition of life. (1) that there is more variability & more monstrosities (& these graduate into each other) under unnatural domestic conditions, than under nature. And secondly that changed conditions affect in an especial manner the reproductive organs,—those organs which are to produce a new being.— But why one seedling out of thousands presents some new characters transcends the wildest powers of conjecture. It was in this sense that I spoke of “climate, &c” possibly producing without selection a hooked seed; or any not great variation.8 I have for years & years been fighting with myself not to attribute too much to Nat. selection,—to attribute something to direct action of conditions; & perhaps I have too much conquered my tendency to lay hardly any stress on conditions of life. I am not shaken about “saltus”;9 I did not write without going pretty carefully into all the cases of normal structure in animals resembling monstrosities which appear per saltus.—

I saw about Heer, & thought of you; but may not Lowe be wrong?10 I shall be so glad to see you here at Easter, if you are able to come; if Willy is at home, why not bring him?11 this is Emma’s message as well as mine; but perhaps he will be at school.— We have been very anxious for 6 weeks about our boy Horace, who three or four times a day has spasmodic attacks, something like Chorea, yet different.12 Our country Doctor thinks it certainly caused only by irritation in alimentary canal;13 but I can see that Sir H. Holland thinks it serious.14 All that one can do, is to hope

Farewell my dear old friend | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship to the letter from J. D. Hooker, 17 March 1862.
Edward James Herbert, third earl of Powis, had invited Hooker to spend the weekend at Walcot Hall, Shropshire (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 17 March 1862 and n. 13).
With his letter of [10 March 1862], Hooker enclosed a letter from Henry Walter Bates. CD had asked to see the letter from Hooker to which Bates’s was a reply (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 March [1862]).
CD devoted a whole chapter in Variation to a discussion of the possibility that external conditions such as climate or food could alone cause species modification (Variation 2: 271–92).
Lucas 1847–50. There is a heavily annotated copy of this work in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 513–23).
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 March [1862] and n. 9. CD refers to Hooker’s eldest child, William Henslow Hooker.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), Horace Darwin had been ill since January. Emma took him to London in February for a consultation with Edward Headland (see letter to W. E. Darwin, 14 February [1862]).
Henry Holland, a London physician, was frequently consulted by the Darwin family. See also letter from Henry Holland, 26 March [1862].


Lucas, Prosper. 1847–50. Traité philosophique et physiologique de l’hérédité naturelle dans les états de santé et de maladie du système nerveux: avec l’application méthodique des lois de la procréation au traitement général des affections dont elle est le principe. 2 vols. Paris: J. B. Baillière.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Post Office directory of the six home counties: Post Office directory of the six home counties, viz., Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. London: W. Kelly & Co. 1845–78.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


On effect of external conditions: CD thinks all variability due to changes in conditions of life because there is more variability under unnatural domestic conditions than under nature, and changed conditions affect the reproductive organs. But why one seedling out of thousands presents some new character transcends the wildest powers of conjecture.

Not shaken by "saltus" – he had examined all cases of normal structure resembling monstrosities which appear per saltum. Has fought his tendency to attribute too much to natural selection; perhaps he has too much conquered it.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 145
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3479,” accessed on 25 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10