skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [4 September 1866]1



Dear old Darwin

I am very proud of your letter—2 I thought I might have exaggerated the effect I produced on my audience, & did not like to think too much of it— I do now pray to be another “Single speech Robinson”!3 I wish you could have heard Huxley’s eloge, it pleased me so immensely, & was so much better than all the applause.4 I had set my head heart & mind on earning your’s, Groves, Huxley’s, Tyndalls, & the Lubbocks (especially Lady L’!) good opinion, & I cared little for other peoples.5 I have not seen Tyndall since, nor heard how he liked it.— He came up to me in the forenoon, evidently most anxious for my success, & questioned me about it. When I told him it was a written discourse, & that I intended to read it, his countenance fell & I saw he was cut.— he turned away first, but came back & with great delicacy & loving kindness gave me some hints; to learn passages by heart &c—(I had done this copiously already) & to put myself en rapport with the audience &c &c. I saw in short that he prognosticated a dead failure, & I spared no pains that afternoon in preparing myself to succeed in his eyes. I hope I did.—

Huxley made a capital President of §D.—& was very conciliatory prudent & amusing too—6 I really heard few papers & none of any consequence. Wallaces was no doubt the best in our line.7

As to Grove’s address, I can quite understand your disappointment at the Species part of it—8 I only wonder he did it so well, for when I have talked the subject with him, he has shown so little appreciation of its difficulties that I was rather pleased than otherwise that he thought it needful to discuss it— I knew too that he had left it all to me— indeed he, on accepting the Presidentship, retained me as champion of the cause.9 I wished him at the Devil, but felt flattered at the selection—puzzled as I was then, & am now, to make out why he should have thought me worthy of so responsible a post—on so critical an occasion. I had always a notion that he looked on me as a very weak vessell, & my branches of Botany as mild child’s play. Then too he had no hints or instructions for me   I was to “back him up” & “to carry Darwinism through the ranks of the enemy” after he had sounded the charge: & whether or no his “Continuity” Address10 was well received. In short I was a stink-pot,11 which he was to pitch into the Enemies decks, whether sinking or swimming himself.

The only excursion I went on, was to Belvoir castle, a really grand place, & well worth a visit.12 The pictures & the grounds delighted me.

I am so glad that you are succeeding with Acropera   I should not like you to be beat by any orchid.13

I sent off Seringe to day, & the Drosera shall go soon.14

Ever yr aff | J D Hooker


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 August [1866]. In 1866, the first Tuesday after 30 August was 4 September.
In his letter to Hooker of 30 August [1866], CD had expressed great satisfaction on hearing how well Hooker’s lecture on insular floras, delivered at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science on 27 August 1866, had gone. He also applauded Hooker’s plan to publish the text of the lecture. For the publication details of Hooker’s lecture, see the letter from J. D. Hooker, [28 August] 1866, n. 3.
Hooker possibly meant ‘single-speech Hamilton’, a misleading nickname for William Gerard Hamilton, who had been well-known as an orator. His lengthy maiden speech in the House of Commons on 13 November 1755 was much admired (DNB).
Thomas Henry Huxley had praised Hooker’s lecture on insular floras in remarks made after the speech was delivered (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [28 August] 1866).
In addition to Huxley, Hooker refers to William Robert Grove, John Tyndall, and John and Ellen Frances Lubbock.
The British Association meeting for 1866 was divided into seven sections. As the president of section D, biology, Huxley moderated the discussion of the papers presented in the section.
Hooker refers to Alfred Russel Wallace’s paper on adaptive mimicry in butterflies (A. R. Wallace 1866a; see letter to Robert Swinhoe, [September 1866] and n. 8).
For CD’s reaction to the address given by Grove as president of the British Association, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 August [1866] and n. 6.
In January 1866, Grove had asked Hooker to deliver a lecture on ‘the Darwinian theory’ at the British Association meeting (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 16 January 1866). While preparing his own presidential address, Grove had asked Hooker for examples of recent work supporting CD’s theory of transmutation (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 29 May 1866).
Hooker refers to Grove’s speech as his ‘Continuity’ address because Grove maintained that continuity was a ‘law of nature’ and the underlying principle on which the argument in favour of transmutation could be made (W. R. Grove 1866, pp. lxxii, lxxix).
Stink-pot: ‘A hand-missile charged with combustibles emitting a suffocating smoke, used in boarding a ship for effecting a diversion while the assailants gain the deck’ (OED).
The excursion to Belvoir Castle took place on 30 August 1866. A brief description of the excursion is given in Robertson ed. 1866, p. 290. The castle is in Leicestershire, near Grantham.
CD reported to Hooker that he was having better success than he had expected with the new specimen of Acropera that Hooker had sent (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 August [1866] and n. 11).
CD had asked Hooker to send him an article (Seringe 1830) that he was unable to find elsewhere (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 August [1866] and n. 12). Hooker had also promised to send CD a specimen of Drosera binata, the fork-leafed sundew, a carnivorous plant (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 18 August 1866).


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.

Grove, William Robert. 1866. Address of the president. Report of the thirty-sixth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Nottingham, pp. liii–lxxxii.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Seringe, Nicolas Charles. 1830. Pommier monstrueux de St.-Vallery, avec une notice sur la disposition des carpelles de plusieurs fruits. Bulletin Botanique ou Collection de Notices Originales et d’Extraits des Ouvrages Botaniques no. 5, May 1830, pp. 117–25.


On his "Insular floras" lecture.

Huxley’s success as President of Section.

D. W. R. Grove’s address. Grove left Darwinism to JDH after "sounding the charge".

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 100–2
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5206,” accessed on 20 June 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14