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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   15 September 1863


Sept 15/63

Dear old Darwin

I really have nothing worth writing about, but obey the Spirit’s motion to creep towards you with a letter— Thwaites of Ceylon seems to suffer as you do from Nettle rash, swelling up terribly— the slightest acid brings it on with him.1

I shall take care that you have a Calamus (climbing Palm) when you are ready for it.2

I sent you a letter from A Gray two days ago.3

Miss Henslow’ died last week at Cheltenham & I spent the week there being her chief executor   I had a lot of matters to attend to besides burying her.4

I am working away at the New Zealand Flora—5 Your admission of a previous continental extension of that Island excites all my attention—& I am most anxious to know what you have to say on the subject. Now that you have so taken it up I expect that great light will be thrown on the whole subject of Southern distribution—what I have longed to see some master hand at work upon.6

I am still extremely puzzled at the prodigious & undue amount of variation amongst new Zealand plants;—whole genera more undifferentiated by far than Rosa & Rubus with us, i.e. the genus presenting far greater diversity of form & yet the species all as intimately connected by intermediates. This may be due to there being plenty of space for preservation of intermediates: Can this be accounted for by the land rising, & increased space thus being afforded— We (you & I) clash a little here   Extreme diversity of form should according to you, follow on much destruction of individuals.—7 According to me if you give space enough you will have as much variation as if you killed off in a smaller area, & New Zealand looks like a case in point.— The quantity of marvellous odd form of Veronica, e.g. from the Middle Island8 is quite extraordinary & yet however odd, you can trace their origin in slight characters of previously discovered forms. An enormous proportion of the N.Z. Flora is made up of endemic species of a few rather widely distributed genera—more so than any other country I know of— I am getting intensely interested in the work.—but “heu me miserum”9 I am only half through the descriptive work! And now in my old age I am threatened with having to do Flora Indica, which I had abandoned all intention of taking up long ago.10 The Indian Govt. talk of commissioning me to do it.11 Pay would tempt me, but only because it would hold out a prospect of early retirement from the struggle of scientific work for one’s livelyhood—& shaking the dust off my feet at the Govt & Kew Gardens—but for God’s sake let this go no further— I regard succession to my fathers place with horror.12 Not that a better scientific place exists in the world except my own. I am beginning too to hate the οἱ πολλοι13 of Science— Huxley, Lubbock14 & half a dozen others are enough for me, of the workers, outside my own immediate pale which includes only yourself Bentham Oliver & Thomson.15 As to Murchisonian science16 & all that sort of thing, like K.C Bs.17 it makes me sick to read his science at the New Castle meeting.18

Lyell I have not seen even for 6 months.—nor the Horners nor Falconer,—19 perhaps when the Phil. Club meets again I shall feel a little more charitable & loving to my betters—20 meanwhile I am sunning myself in the vacation of scientific Society as far as I am concerned, & besotting over Wedgewood ware.21

On Monday I have to go down to Chatsworth22 to inspect the plant cultivation there & to Biddulph Grange (the Batem⁠⟨⁠an⁠⟩⁠ place)23 & shall probably break away to Stafford & see the potteries24 (don’t sneer) but if you know any one there that has interest to show me over a good pottery establishment ⁠⟨⁠send⁠⟩⁠ me a line care of Jas ⁠⟨⁠Bateman⁠⟩⁠ Esqre. Biddulph Gra⁠⟨⁠nge⁠⟩⁠ Cheshire.—where I s⁠⟨⁠hall be⁠⟩⁠ Monday to Wednes⁠⟨⁠day⁠⟩⁠   ⁠⟨⁠Let⁠⟩⁠ me know how you a⁠⟨⁠ll are⁠⟩⁠ getting on.— Henrietta25 ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ & all

I saw Huxley the other da⁠⟨⁠y⁠⟩⁠ looking well, you heard I suppose ⁠⟨⁠of⁠⟩⁠ the awful death of his brother.—26 The N.H. Review is made over to Sclater & Oliver as Editors ⁠⟨⁠in C⁠⟩⁠hief.—& the thing is to be made more of a Review of next year.27

We are all extremely well— My wife sends her love to you & Mrs Darwin

Ever dear Darwin | Yr aff | J D Hooker

CD annotations

1.1 I really … burying her 4.2] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘New Zealand | Character of Species—Varying’ pencil


George Henry Kendrick Thwaites was superintendent of the Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya, Ceylon (R. Desmond 1994).
The reference is apparently to the letter from Asa Gray, 1 September 1863, which Asa Gray had presumably enclosed with his letter to Hooker of the same date (Asa Gray letters: 332, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew). Gray often included letters to CD in packets sent to Hooker, presumably to save on postage. Gray addressed his letter to CD at Down, and Hooker apparently omitted to correct the address, since the letter bears a London western district postmark for 14 September (presumably Kew), a London south-eastern district postmark for 15 September (presumably Down), as well as Malvern and Malvern Wells postmarks for 16 September.
The reference is to Hooker’s aunt by marriage, Anne Frances Henslow, who died at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on 30 August 1863 (Gentleman’s Magazine n.s. 15 (1863): 520).
Hooker refers to CD’s doctrine of the ‘divergence of character’, according to which ‘the more diversified the descendants from any one species become in structure, constitution, and habits, by so much will they be better enabled to seize on many and widely diversified places in the polity of nature, and so be enabled to increase in numbers’ (Origin, p. 112). CD argued that this process of divergence of species involved a great deal of extinction, such that ‘all the intermediate forms between … the less and more improved state of a species, as well as the original parent species itself, will generally tend to become extinct’ (Origin, p. 121). On CD’s doctrine of divergence, see Ospovat 1981, pp. 170–209, and Browne 1983, pp. 210–20.
‘Middle Island’ is now called the South Island of New Zealand.
Heu me miserum: ‘Alas! wretched me!’ (Latin).
Hooker had projected a Flora Indica with Thomas Thomson during his Indian botanical expedition of 1847–50. He and Thomson completed one volume of the planned work in 1855 (J. D. Hooker and Thomson 1855). However, with Thomson’s return to India in 1854 and Hooker’s appointment as assistant director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in 1855, and in the absence of the anticipated financial assistance from the East India Company, the work was laid aside. See L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 339–42 and 354–62.
Starting in 1861, Hooker had sought the assistance of his friend Thomas Anderson in bringing a proposal before the Indian government to fund his Flora Indica. The Indian government officially sanctioned the Flora on 10 November 1863, but Hooker did not resume work on the project until 1870, when he began to prepare a more circumscribed work entitled Flora of British India (J. D. Hooker 1872–97). See L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 354–62 and 2: 12–17.
Hooker was assistant director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where his father, William Jackson Hooker, was director (R. Desmond 1994).
οἱ πολλοι: (hoi polloi) ‘the many: the rabble’ (ancient Greek); (Chambers).
Thomas Henry Huxley and John Lubbock.
Daniel Oliver was Hooker’s colleague at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where Thomas Thomson and George Bentham also worked in the herbarium (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [21 July 1863], and DNB s.v. Bentham, George).
Hooker refers to the geologist, Roderick Impey Murchison, who was adept at using social influence to further his scientific ambitions (DNB, DSB, and Stafford 1989). Hooker particularly objected to Murchison’s tendency to lionise travellers before fully establishing the value of their reports, and he regarded the Royal Geographical Society, of which Murchison was a former president and prominent member, as a ‘sort of seton upon science’ which drew ‘all odium for scientific lion-hunting, toadying and tuft-hunting away from the Linnean, Royal and Geological [Societies]—only that the latter are too fond of following in [the] wake!’ (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 407).
Murchison had been made a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KCB) in 1863 (DNB).
The reference is apparently to Murchison’s inaugural address as president of the geographical section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at the annual meeting held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 26 August to 2 September 1863 (Murchison 1863a). In his address, Murchison described the development of British geography over the previous twenty-five years, dwelling particularly on the progress of colonial exploration. Extracts from the address appeared in The Times, 28 August 1863, p. 7, and the Athenæum, 5 September 1863, p. 311. An editorial discussion of the speech in The Times, 29 August 1863, p. 8, began: ‘Sir Roderick Murchison’s address to the British Association describing the progress of geographical discovery is almost too triumphant. There will be very soon little left to discover.’ Murchison also read a geological paper at the meeting (Murchison 1863b), which was reported in The Times, 3 September, p. 8, and the Athenæum, 26 September 1863, pp. 403–4.
Hooker refers to Charles Lyell, Leonard Horner and his family, and Hugh Falconer.
The Philosophical Club of the Royal Society next met on 29 October 1863 (Bonney 1919, p. 164).
Hooker had recently become an avid collector of Wedgwood ware (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, [27 or 28 December 1862], and this volume, letter from J. D. Hooker, 6 January 1863).
Hooker refers to Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, home of William Cavendish, seventh duke of Devonshire, which possessed ‘one of the most magnificent gardens in Britain’ (Hadfield et al. 1980, p. 98). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 26 August 1863.
The botanist and horticulturalist James Bateman had created ‘one of the most remarkable gardens in England’ at Biddulph Grange, north Staffordshire (Hadfield et al. 1980, p. 30). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 26 August 1863.
Hooker refers to the district of north Staffordshire known as ‘the Potteries’, which was the principal site of the English china and earthenware industries (EB). The Wedgwood works were at Etruria, near Hanley, one of the principal towns of the Potteries; Biddulph Grange is approximately seven miles north of Hanley.
Henrietta Emma Darwin. The Darwin family were staying in Malvern Wells, Worcestershire, where CD was undergoing treatment at James Smith Ayerst’s hydropathic establishment (see letter to W. D. Fox, 4 [September 1863]).
George Knight Huxley had died suddenly, early in August 1863 (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 248).
Since the start of the new series in 1861, the Natural History Review had been edited by a ‘commissariat’ of eleven co-editors, with T. H. Huxley as de facto editor-in-chief. However, Huxley relinquished this role in July 1863 because of the pressure of work. See L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 209–10. Philip Lutley Sclater and Daniel Oliver were co-editors of the new series of the journal, which contained a mixture of reviews and original articles.


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

Bonney, T. G. 1919. Annals of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society written from its minute books. London: Macmillan.

Browne, Janet. 1983. The secular ark. Studies in the history of biogeography. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.

Chambers: The Chambers dictionary. Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap Publishers. 1998.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

DSB: Dictionary of scientific biography. Edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie and Frederic L. Holmes. 18 vols. including index and supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1970–90.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1864–7. Handbook of the New Zealand flora: a systematic description of the native plants of New Zealand and the Chatham, Kermadec’s, Lord Auckland’s, Campbell’s, and MacQuarrie’s Islands. 2 vols. London: Lovell Reeve & Co.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1872–97. The flora of British India. Assisted by various botanists. 7 vols. London: L. Reeve & Co.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Ospovat, Dov. 1981. The development of Darwin’s theory. Natural history, natural theology, and natural selection, 1838–1859. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stafford, Robert A. 1989. Scientist of empire. Sir Roderick Murchison, scientific exploration and Victorian imperialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Pleased CD accepts continental extension for New Zealand, whose flora has many genera like Rubus with great diversity and connecting intermediates. Suggests geological uplifting creates more space, hence opportunities for preservation of intermediates. Sees clash with CD on causes of extreme diversity of form in a group.

JDH’s attitude toward democratisation of science.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 163–6
Physical description
8pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4306,” accessed on 2 December 2021,

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