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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [26 February 1863]1

[Royal Gardens Kew]


Dr Darwin

A million thanks for your long & capital letter.2 With all my attempts & wishes I have not been able to get through 13 of Lyells book.3 What I have read I like extremely, especially as you do the Glacial Chapter—4 The fault is the unintentional impression conveyed, that untill he Lyell went & confirmed all & everybodies observations &c &c—they were little worth!5 Also that the book is far too long, or far too short—neither a summary nor a treatise

I am disappointed beyond measure at what you tell me of his withholding his own opinions on the origin & man questions—& am justly? wroth; for I have been holding Lyell up as a very godlike philospher for changing his views (under full conviction) after the 5th. decade of his life—for hoisting his self with his own petard”6 & laying the gunpowder of variability of species under the fortress of the old “Principles” on which his horn was so justly exalted— to me what you tell me is a very great disappointment.7

I heard last night (from Murray) that he will not answer the Athenæum—8 I am glad of this, for though I must confess it will be against Lyell & a terrible punishment to Owen!—it is his only course. The impression raised on all hands is already I can quite see unfavorable to him in various ways.— “he had no business to go into the subject if he could not defend his own position in it”.— “he ought to acknowledge the ill-feeling & vindicate the holding it” &c &c &c— Then the not answering will be attributed to Lyell’s known timidity. &c &c.

I am most comforted by what you think of Lyells not feeling it, as much as I suppose—9 that is to me the great matter now, that “what’s done can’t be helped”.

I feared its deeply hurting him—& preying on his mind; it would me, & I should make a clean breast of it in Athenæum   As it is it will do Lyell an immense deal of injury I think.

As to the falseness futility & Jesuitry of Owens whole letter, it cannot be exaggerated—as you say, he has thrown a fog over the whole subject— I cannot understand his letter at all—but this was part of his plan—the first & last paragraphs are intelligeable enough!10

I need not say that everyone says that Lyell’s Brain-chapter was Huxley’s writing, though not his words.11 I have just received H’s coarse-looking little book.—12 not fit as somebody said to me, for a gentlemans table— I am sorry for this— Falconer, who has the most delicate & refined sense in such matters of any man I ever met,—is disgusted with the wood-cut of the shambles, & would let no young Lady look at it.13

But oh Lord I shall never stop at this rate.

Ever yours affec | J D Hooker


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863] and from J. D. Hooker, [1 March 1863]; the intervening Thursday was 26 February.
Hooker refers to Charles Lyell’s Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a).
Chapters 12 to 18 of Lyell’s Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 206–368) were concerned with the geological evidence of the Pleistocene glacial period, and examined the chronological relations between human and glacial history. CD expressed his admiration of these chapters in his letter to Hooker of 24[–5] February [1863].
Hugh Falconer also criticised Lyell for giving insufficient credit to the work of others in C. Lyell 1863a (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [23 February 1863] and n. 5).
Hooker alludes to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 3.4 (see Wells and Taylor eds. 1988, p. 689).
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863]. In Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1830–3), Lyell had published an important critique of the then current theories of transmutation.
Hooker refers to John Murray, publisher of C. Lyell 1863a, and to Richard Owen’s letter, published in the Athenæum on 21 February 1863, pp. 262–3, criticising Lyell’s summary of Owen’s work on the comparative anatomy of human and simian brains (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [23 February 1863] and n. 2).
In his letter of [23 February 1863], Hooker expressed concern that Owen’s letter to the Athenæum (see n. 8, above), would do Lyell ‘awful injury’; in reply, CD wrote that he thought Lyell would not be ‘nearly so much annoyed’ as Hooker feared (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863]).
The opening and closing paragraphs of Owen’s letter to the Athenæum described the means by which Owen had first learned of Lyell’s attack on his work (see n. 8, above), and his subsequent feelings of injustice.
Hooker refers to Thomas Henry Huxley and to C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 471–506. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863] and n. 13.
The reference is to Huxley’s Evidence as to man’s place in nature (T. H. Huxley 1863b).
The reference is to Hugh Falconer, and to a woodcut depicting a ‘Butcher’s Shop of the Anziques, Anno 1598’. In the illustration, a cannibal butcher is shown dismembering a human, while his shop displays a human head and body parts for sale (T. H. Huxley, 1863b, p. 55).


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

Lyell, Charles. 1830–3. Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth’s surface, by reference to causes now in operation. 3 vols. London: John Murray.


Criticism of Antiquity of man; its public reception.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 108–10
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4011,” accessed on 22 October 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11