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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   21 May [1868]


May 21st

My dear Hooker

I know that you have been overworking yourself, & that makes you think that you are doing nothing in science. If this is the case (which I do not believe) your intellect has all run to letter-writing, for I never in all my life received a pleasanter one than your last.— It greatly amused us all.1

How dreadfully severe you are on the little Duke;—I really think too severe; but then I am no fair judge, for a Duke in my eyes is no common mortal, & not to be judged by common rules!2 I pity you from the bottom of my soul about the Address—3 it makes my flesh creep; but when I pitied you to Huxley, he wd not join at all, & would only say that you did & delivered your Insular-Flora-Lecture so admirably in every way that he would not bestow any pity on you.— He felt certain that you would keep your head high up.—4 Nevertheless I wish to God it was all over for your sake.— I think from several long talks that Huxley will give an excellent & original Lecture on Geograph. Distrib. of Birds.5 I have been working very hard, too hard, of late on Sexual Selection, which turns out a gigantic subject, & almost every day new subjects turn up, requiring investigation & leading to endless letters & searches through books.6 I am bothered, also, with heaps of foolish letters on all sorts of subjects. But I am much interested in my subject & sometimes see gleams of light.— All my other letters have prevented me indulging myself in writing to you; but I suddenly found the Locust-grass yesterday in flower & had to despatch it at once. I suppose some of your assistants will be able to make the genus out, without great trouble.7 I have done little in experiments of late; but I find that mignonette is absolutely sterile with pollen from same plant.8 Anyone who saw stamen after stamen bending upwards & shedding pollen over the stigmas of the same flower would declare that the structure was an admirable contrivance for self-fertilisation.— How utterly mysterious it is that there shd be some difference in ovules & contents of pollen-grains (for the tubes penetrate own stigma) causing fertilisation when these are taken from any two distinct plants, & invariably leading to impotence when taken from the same plant! By Jove even Pan. won’t explain this. It is a comfort to me to think that you will be surely haunted on your death-bed for not honouring the great God Pan.—9 I am quite delighted at what you say about my book & about Bentham.10 When writing it, I was much interested in some parts, but latterly I thought quite as poorly of it, as even the Athenæum.11 It ought to be read abroad for the sake of the booksellers; for five editions have come or are coming out abroad!—12 I am ashamed to say that I have read only the organic part of Lyell, & I admire all that I have read as much as you.13 It is a comfort to know that possibly when one is 70 years old one’s brain may be good for work.

It drives me mad & I know it does you too, that one has no time for reading anything beyond what must be read: my room is encumbered with unread books.—

I agree about Wallace’s wonderful cleverness; but he is not cautious enough in my opinion.14 I find I must (& I always distrust myself when I differ from him) separate rather widely from him all about Bird’s nests & protection; he is riding that hobby to death.—15 I never read anything so miserable as Andrew Murray’s criticism on Wallace in the last nor of his Journal: I believe this Journal will die & I shall not cry: what a contrast with the old Nat. Hist. Review.—16 I am very sorry to hear how uncomfortable Mrs Hooker is.—17 poor women— good Lord how wretched my wife used to be18

Farewell— it has done me good scrawling to you— Your’s affectionately | C. Darwin


CD refers to George Douglas Campbell, the duke of Argyll. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 May 1868 and n. 7.
Hooker, as president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was expected to give an address at the annual meeting at Norwich in August 1868 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 May 1868).
CD refers to Thomas Henry Huxley, and to Hooker’s paper on insular floras (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 May 1868 and n. 11). Henrietta Anne Huxley, Huxley’s wife, and his children stayed at Down House from 18 April to 4 May 1868 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)); Huxley also presumably spent some time at Down.
No published paper by Huxley on the geographical distribution of birds is listed in the Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers.
CD published his research on sexual selection in Descent.
The grass was grown from seeds found in locust dung. See letter to J. D. Hooker, [20 May 1868] and nn. 2 and 3.
CD later discovered that only some plants of mignonette (Reseda odorata) were self-sterile (Cross and self fertilisation, pp. 119–20). See also letter to Fritz Müller, 18 July [1869] (Calendar no. 6835), and letter to J. D. Hooker, 28 November [1871] (Calendar no. 8087).
CD refers to his ‘provisional hypothesis of pangenesis’ (see Variation 2: 357–404). For Hooker’s latest comments on pangenesis, see the letter from J. D. Hooker, 26[–7] February 1868.
The Athenæum published a scathing review of Variation on 15 February 1868, pp. 243–4.
An American edition of Variation had been published (see letter from Asa Gray, 18 May 1868); French, German, and Russian translations were also published in 1868 (see also Correspondence vol. 15 for correspondence relating to these translations). CD had also received a request for translation rights for an Italian translation (see letter from Giovanni Canestrini, 14 May 1868).
CD refers to Charles Lyell and the tenth edition of his Principles of geology (Lyell 1867–8). The third book of this work, which formed the second part of the second volume, was headed ‘Changes of the organic world now in progress’. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 May 1868.
CD refers to Murray 1868 and the Journal of Travel and Natural History. The Natural History Review ceased publication in 1865.
On CD’s relief at being able to administer chloroform to Emma during her labour, see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to W. D. Fox, [17 January 1850], and letter to J. S. Henslow, 17 January [1850].


Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Lyell, Charles. 1867–8. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 10th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

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


JDH too severe on Duke of Argyll.

Pities JDH on [BAAS] address [see 6099]; Huxley feels JDH will do well and will not pity him.

Thinks Huxley will give an excellent and original lecture on geographical distribution of birds.

Has been working hard on sexual selection and correspondence about it.

Mignonette is sterile with its own pollen but any two distinct plants are fertile together. It is utterly mysterious and not even Pangenesis will explain it.

On Lyell’s book [Principles, 10th ed.].

Wallace’s wonderful cleverness, but he is not cautious enough. CD differs from Wallace on birds’ nests and protection.

A. Murray’s miserable criticism of Wallace [J. Travel & Nat. Hist. 1 (1868): 137–45].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 62–4
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6196,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16