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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   1 February [1871]1

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

Febr 1st

My dear Hooker

I return the pamphlets, which I have been very glad to read.— It will be a curious discovery if Mr. Lowne’s observation that boiling does not kill certain moulds is proved true; but then how on earth is the absence of all living things in Pasteur’s experiment to be accounted for?—2 I am always delighted to see a word in favour of Pangenesis, which some day, I believe, will have a resurrection3   Mr Dyers paper strikes me as a very able Spencerian production.—4

It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present, which could ever have been present.— But if (& oh what a big if) we could conceive in some warm little pond with all sorts of ammonia & phosphoric salts,—light, heat, electricity &c present, that a protein compound was chemically formed, ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter wd be instantly devoured, or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.—

Henrietta makes hardly any progress, & God knows when she will be well.—5

I enjoyed much the visit of you four Gentlemen, ie after the Saturday night, when I thought I was quite done for.—6

Yours affecy | C. Darwin


The year is established by the references to Lowne 1870b and (see nn. 2 and 3, below).
Benjamin Thompson Lowne boiled spores of Penicillium glaucum and then placed them in sealed tubes; he found that mycelial filaments were produced after the tubes had been left in a warm place for twenty-four hours. His paper was published in the January 1871 issue of the Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (Lowne 1870b). In the 1860s, Louis Pasteur had experimented on spontaneous generation. He found that a boiled solution of sugar and yeast remained sterile indefinitely whether kept in a sealed flask or in an unsealed swan-neck flask that kept out atmospheric dust. (DSB 10: 369.)
Lowne discussed CD’s hypothesis of pangenesis in Lowne 1870b, p. 134. (On pangenesis, see the letter from Francis Galton, 9 January 1871, n. 1.)
William Turner Thiselton-Dyer’s paper, ‘On spontaneous generation and evolution’, appeared in the October 1870 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science (Thiselton-Dyer 1870). Thiselton-Dyer cited Herbert Spencer’s Principles of biology (Spencer 1864–7) frequently in his paper and agreed with Spencer’s view that life developed from non-living matter by slow stages.
Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) records that Henrietta Emma Darwin had measles on 4 January 1871 and ‘came down’ on 25 January.
Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) records that Hooker, Albert Günther, Robert Swinhoe, and William Winwood Reade visited Down from Saturday 28 to Monday 30 January 1871.


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.

Spencer, Herbert. 1864–7. The principles of biology. 2 vols. London: Williams & Norgate.

Thiselton-Dyer, William Turner. 1870. On spontaneous generation and evolution. Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science n.s. 10: 333–54.


Returns pamphlets.

B. T. Lowne’s observation [Mon. Microsc. J. 4 (1870): 326–30] that boiling does not kill certain moulds is curious, but then how account for absence of all living things in Pasteur’s experiment?

Always delighted to see a word in favour of Pangenesis.

Thiselton-Dyer’s paper ["On spontaneous generation and evolution", Q. J. Microsc. Sci. 10 (1870): 333–54] is Spencerian.

The chemical conditions for first production of life are said to exist at present, but in some warm little pond today such matter would be absorbed or devoured, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 188–9
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7471,” accessed on 24 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19