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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Joseph Dalton Hooker   3 January [1863]


Jan 3d.

My dear Hooker

I am burning with indignation & must exhale. If you have not already read, do read the first part of Falconer’s paper on Elephants in N. H. Review & mark Owen’s whole conduct.—1 I could not get to sleep till past 3 last night from indignation. Thinking over his conduct in this case, in the Brain-case2 & towards Mantell3 Nasmyth,4 Huxley,5 you & self,6 & review on Lyell,7 the Terlepeton case8 &c &c, I declare I think every honest man of science is almost bound to show his sense of Owen’s character. I have made up my mind, as far as I can at this distance of time, to attend when next Council of Royal is elected, & if no else does, vote for some other man;9 & if Owen were to come & speak to me I would tell him for what I came. But possibly he may answer Falconer, & explain. I have read only about 14 of Falconer’s paper.—10 The Reviews seem good in this number.—11

Now for pleasanter subjects; we were all amused at your defence of stamp collecting & collecting generally.12 Henrietta13 had audacity to say “well I think Dr. Hooker shows that it leads all sorts of vice; yet I shall go on collecting plants, for I love to look at them.” I ought to say nothing against collecting for 67 th of my children collect, & I collected seals, franks, coins minerals, shells insects & God knows what else. But by Jove I can hardly stomach a grown man collecting stamps. Who would ever have thought of your collecting Wedgwood ware!14 but that is wholly different like engravings or pictures. We are degenerate descendants of old Josiah W. for we have not a bit of pretty ware in the house.—15

When you see Mr Oldfield pray thank him; my questions were foolish; but not rarely foolish questions, lead, I find, to good results.—16

Notwithstanding the very pleasant reason you give for our not enjoying a holiday, namely that we have no vices, it is a horrid bore.—17 I have been trying for health sake to be idle with no success. What I shall soon have to do, will be to erect a tablet in Down church “sacred to the memory &c” & officially die, & then publish books “by the late Charles Darwin”; for I cannot think what has come over me of late; I always suffered from the excitement of talking, but now it has become ludicrous. I talked lately for 112 hours (broken by tea by myself) with my nephew18 & I was shaking & vomiting half the night— It is a fearful evil for self & family.

Goodnight | Ever yours | C. Darwin

My children’s dried flowers get a little mouldy; is it not good to wash them with corrosive Sublimate19 (how much?) in spirits? or in water? Sometime tell me.—


In his paper on fossil elephants, which was published in the January 1863 number of the Natural History Review, Hugh Falconer claimed (Falconer 1863a, pp. 43–9) that Richard Owen and his protégé, Charles Carter Blake, had abused the law of priority in zoological nomenclature. He explained that Owen and Blake had supplanted the species name Falconer had first given to the fossil elephant, Elephas columbi (Falconer 1857a, p. 319), with the name E. texianus (Owen 1858 and 1861b, and Blake 1861). In 1862, Blake argued that, according to the rules of zoological nomenclature as defined by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the name E. columbi could be changed even without ‘published priority’, on the grounds that it was not clearly defined and was likely to propagate errors (Blake 1862, p. 58). Falconer refuted the claims of both Owen and Blake for the name E. texianus, dismissing their reasons as ‘light and trivial’ (Falconer 1863a, p. 49).
CD refers to Owen’s long-running dispute with Thomas Henry Huxley, George Rolleston, and William Henry Flower on the comparative anatomy of human and simian brains, now often referred to as the hippocampus controversy (see Correspondence vols. 8–10, and Rupke 1994, pp. 270–86).
CD refers to the geologist and palaeontologist Gideon Algernon Mantell. In addition to disputes between the two men regarding the nature of particular fossils, in 1850 Owen attempted to reproduce without permission illustrations of fossil reptiles from a publication by Mantell. Owen was also thought to be the author of an obituary of Mantell that appeared in the Literary Gazette, 13 November 1852, p. 842; the article discussed Mantell’s ‘weaknesses’, dismissing him as an enthusiast with an ‘overweaning estimate’ of the value of his own work (see A. Desmond 1982, p. 208 n. 13). On Owen’s relationship with Mantell, see Spokes 1927, pp. 204–8, 221–7; Curwen ed. 1940, pp. 245–7, 260–2; Benton 1982; A. Desmond 1982, pp. 24, 208 n. 13; and Rupke 1994, pp. 6–8, 125–6. See also n. 8, below.
In 1839, a priority dispute developed between Owen and the dentist-surgeon Alexander Nasmyth; both men claimed to have been the first to outline a new theory of the ossific transformation of the cells of the pulp into dental ivory, that is, the development of teeth (see Owen 1839 and Nasmyth 1841). The debate was conducted in the Lancet between 6 June and 4 July 1840, and in the London Medical Gazette between 5 June and 17 July 1840. These exchanges culminated with Owen ridiculing Nasmyth’s efforts in the scientific arena (London Medical Gazette, 17 July 1840, pp. 657*–673*); Nasmyth subsequently claimed that Owen had prevented the publication of his research in the official report of the British Association’s 1839 meeting (see Nasmyth 1841, pp. iii–xvi). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [6 March 1863] and n. 7.
T. H. Huxley and Owen had maintained a deep-seated antipathy since the early 1850s (see A. Desmond 1982, pp. 19–55, A. Desmond 1994–7, and Rupke 1994; see also n. 2, above).
CD refers in part to Owen’s anonymous review of Origin ([Owen] 1860a). CD thought the review ‘malignant’, and that it misrepresented and misquoted his work; in his letter to Charles Lyell of 10 April [1860] (Correspondence vol. 8), CD referred to the review: ‘It is painful to be hated in the intense degree with which Owen hates me’. For accounts of the additional differences between CD and Owen, see Hull 1973, pp. 171–215, and Rupke 1994. CD also strongly objected to the ‘slighting way’ Owen alluded to J. D. Hooker 1859, in which Hooker announced his support for the theory of natural selection (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Asa Gray, 18 May [1860]). See also Correspondence vol. 8, letter to T. H. Huxley, 9 April [1860]. There is an annotated copy of [Owen] 1860a in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
In an anonymous review ([Owen] 1851) of the eighth edition of Charles Lyell’s Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1850), and of C. Lyell 1851a and 1851b, Owen attacked Lyell’s anti-progressionism and uniformitarianism.
Telerpeton (Leptopleuron) was a fossil reptile discovered in Scotland in 1851, which Owen and Mantell may both have been asked to describe; a priority dispute followed (Benton 1982).
Hooker and CD had discussed the possibility of ‘organising an opposition’ to Owen’s election to the council of the Royal Society of London in November 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, [15 and] 20 November [1862], and letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 [November 1862] and nn. 9 and 10). Owen was not re-elected at the 30 November 1863 anniversary meeting (see Proceedings of the Royal Society 13: 39), although CD did not attend the meeting (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)).
Falconer 1863a.
CD refers to the January 1863 number of the Natural History Review, which included a review of the first part of volume 1 of Bentham and Hooker 1862–83. CD’s annotated copy of this number of the journal is in the Darwin Library–CUL. See also following letter and n. 5.
See Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, [27 or 28 December 1862].
CD’s daughter, Henrietta Emma Darwin, was 19 years old.
Hooker had written that he was collecting Wedgwood ware ‘solely because they are pretty & I love them’ (Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, [27 or 28 December 1862]).
Both CD and Emma Darwin were grandchildren of the master-potter, Josiah Wedgwood I.
The botanist Augustus Frederick Oldfield, who had travelled widely in Australia and Tasmania, was a frequent visitor to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew; Hooker offered to convey any questions that CD might have for him (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, [21 December 1862] and n. 5). In his letter to Hooker of 24 December [1862] (ibid.), CD asked several questions about the diet and behaviour of Australian aborigines. Hooker sent Oldfield’s replies to CD’s queries with his letter of [27 or 28 December 1862] (ibid.).
See Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, [31 December 1862].
Henry Parker, the son of CD’s sister, Marianne Parker, visited Down House on 29 December 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 29 [December 1862]).
Corrosive sublimate (mercuric chloride) was used in herbaria to provide protection for dried specimens against fungal and insect attack (EB).


Indignant over Owen’s conduct as described in Hugh Falconer’s article on elephants ["On the American fossil elephant of the regions bordering the Gulf of Mexico", Nat. Hist. Rev. (1863): 43–114].

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Hooker, J. D.
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 178
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3898,” accessed on 24 January 2017,