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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   4 November [1862]

Down Bromley Kent

Nov 4th

My dear Hooker

I have read the pages attentively (with even very much more admiration than the first time) & cannot imagine what makes Dr. D. accuse you of asserting a subsidence, of Arctic America.1 No doubt there was a subsidence in N. America during glacial period & over a large part, but to maintain that the subsidence extended over nearly whole breadth of continent or lasted during whole glacial period, I do not believe he can support.— I suspect much of evidence of subsidence during glacial period there will prove false, as it largely rests on ice action, which is becoming, as you know, to be viewed as more & more subaerial.2 If Dawson has published criticisms, I shd like to see them.3 I have heard he is rabid against me, & no doubt partly in consequence against anything you write in my favour. (& never was anything published more favourable than the Arctic paper). Lyell had difficulty in preventing Dawson reviewing the Origin on hearsay, without having looked at it.4 No spirit of fairness can be expected from so biassed a judge.—

All I can say is that your few first pages have impressed me far more this reading than the first time. Can Scandinavian portion of Flora be so potent, from having been preserved in the corner, warmed by Gulf stream, & from now alone representing the entire circumpolar flora, during the warmer preglacial period? From the first I have not been able to resist impression (shared by Asa Gray, whose Review on you pleased me much) that during Glacial period there must have been almost entire extinction in Greenland;5 for depth of sea does not favour former southerly extension of land there: I must suspect that plants have largely been introduced by sea-currents, which bring so much wood from n. Europe.— But here we shall split as wide as the poles asunder.—6 All the world could not persuade me, if it tried, that yours is not a grand essay; I do not quite understand whether it is this essay that Dawson has been “down on”.— What a curious notion about glacial climate & Basques & Finns! Are the Basques mountaineers, I hope so. I am sorry I have not seen Athenæum, but I now take in the Parthenon.7 By the way I have just read with much interest Max Muller; the last part about first origin of language seems the least satisfactory part.—8

Pray thank Oliver heartily for his heap of references on Poisons.—9 How the Devil does he find them out? I must not indulge with Cypripedium: Asa Gray has made out pretty clearly that at least in some cases the act of fertilisation is effected by small insects being forced to crawl in & out of flower in a particular direction; & perhaps I am quite wrong that it is ever effected by proboscis.10

I retract so far that if you have the rare C. hirsutissimum, I shd very much like to examine a cut single flower; for I saw one at a Flower Show, & as far as I could see, it seemed widely different from other forms.—11

Farewell | Ever yours | C. Darwin.

P.S. Answer this if by chance you can.— I remember distinctly having read in some book of Travels, I am nearly sure in Australia, an account of the Natives during Famines, trying & cooking in all sorts of ways, various vegetable productions & sometimes being injured by them.. Can you remember any such account? I want to find it.12 I thought it was in Sir. G. Grey, but it is not.—13 Could it have been in Eyre’s Book?14


In his letter of 2 November 1862, Hooker asked CD to examine his paper on the distribution of Arctic plants (J. D. Hooker 1861a) to see whether the criticisms put forward by John William Dawson were justified. CD’s annotated copy of the number of the Transactions of the Linnean Society of London in which J. D. Hooker 1861a appeared is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
CD refers to the increasing popularity of the idea that many of the surface features of European geology were due to the action of land-ice. During the mid-nineteenth century, most British geologists (including CD), although considering valley glaciers to have been geologically important during the Pleistocene glacial period, had rejected the idea of a Europe-wide ice-sheet; it was believed instead that most of the geological phenomena of Europe were due to the submergence of much of the landmass under the sea, and to the action of icebergs. This consensus had recently been shaken by the controversial work of Andrew Crombie Ramsay (Ramsay 1862), John Tyndall (Tyndall 1862), and Thomas Francis Jamieson (Jamieson 1862; see Davies 1969, pp. 301–13). CD’s reading of Ramsay 1862 and Jamieson 1862 had largely convinced him that land-ice had been more extensive and geologically significant during the glacial period than was commonly supposed (see letter to A. C. Ramsay, 5 September [1862], and letter to Charles Lyell, 14 October [1862]).
The reference has not been identified; however, CD and Charles Lyell discussed Dawson’s reaction to Origin in their correspondence in 1860 (see Correspondence vol. 8).
In his paper, Hooker sought to explain the general paucity of the Greenland flora on the hypothesis that ‘the polar region was once occupied by the Scandinavian flora’, and that the cold of the glacial epoch drove the vegetation southwards, causing the temperate flora of southern Greenland to be ‘driven into the sea’. Following ‘the return of the heat’, Hooker argued, Greenland would have been repopulated by the migration of Arctic species surviving in the south of the peninsula (J. D. Hooker 1862a, p. 254). On reading Hooker’s paper, CD concluded that ‘during the coldest part of Glacial period, Greenland must have been quite depopulated’, suggesting that it must then have been repopulated by ‘accidental means of transport by ice & currents’ (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 February [1862]; see also letter from J. D. Hooker, 3 March 1862, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 7 March [1862]). In his review of Hooker’s essay (A. Gray 1862d, p. 145), Asa Gray espoused a similar view. See also letter to Asa Gray, 28 July [1862] and n. 11.
Since the 1840s, CD and Hooker had debated the merits of invoking former land-bridges or other means of dispersal to account for the present geographical distribution of animals and plants (see Correspondence, especially vols. 3 and 6). Whereas Hooker was favourably disposed to the idea of land-bridges, CD believed there was insufficient geological evidence in most cases, arguing instead for trans-oceanic migration. Between 1855 and 1857, he conducted an extensive series of experiments on the possible means by which organisms could be transported across oceans, but failed to convince Hooker of his position (see Correspondence vols. 5 and 6).
Max Müller 1861. Concerning Friedrich Max Müller’s views on the origins of language, see the letter from Asa Gray, 4 and 13 October 1862, n. 3.
In his letter to Hooker of 27 [October 1862], CD suggested that Daniel Oliver might be able to provide a reference for experiments on the absorption of poisons by plants. No letter from Oliver on this subject has been found, but see the letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 November 1862.
See letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 November 1862 and n. 6. In Orchids, pp. 274–5, CD concluded that Cypripedium must be pollinated by an insect inserting its proboscis into one of the two lateral entrances at the base of the labellum, directly over one of the two lateral anthers, and thus either placing the pollen onto the flower’s own stigma, or carrying it away to another flower. In ‘Fertilization of orchids’, pp. 155–6 (Collected papers 2: 152), CD stated: Prof. Asa Gray, after examining several American species of Cypripedium, wrote to me … that he was convinced that I was in error, and that the flowers are fertilized by small insects entering the labellum through the large opening on the upper surface, and crawling out by one of the two small orifices close to either anther and the stigma. Gray detailed his hypothesis in A. Gray 1862b, p. 428.
See letter to Asa Gray, 10–20 June [1862] and n. 17. There is an undated note in DAR 70: 120 that states: Cypripedium [underl brown crayon] hirsutissimum wd. be worth experimenting, on account of testing my remarks, supposing that I am correct that upper anther is soldered to labellum.
CD was preparing a draft of the part of Variation dealing with ‘Facts of variation of Plants’ (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)); in the introduction to the section, he included ‘a few general remarks on the origin of cultivated plants’ (Variation 1: 306–12). CD countered the arguments of some botanists that for cultivated plants like cereals to have been ‘noticed and valued as objects of food’, their original state must have closely resembled their present one; he pointed to ‘the many accounts given by travellers of the wretched food collected by savages’ (Variation 1: 307), and continued, without giving a reference: ‘I have read an account of the savages of Australia cooking, during a dearth, many vegetables in various ways, in the hopes of rendering them innocuous and more nutritious.’
Grey 1841.
Eyre 1845.


Cannot see how J. W. Dawson can accuse JDH of asserting a subsidence of Arctic America. Much of evidence for subsidence during glacial period will prove false as it largely rests on ice action which is more and more viewed as subaerial.

Dawson is biased against Darwinism.

Suggests Greenland may have been repopulated after glacial period extinguished flora, by migration in sea-currents.

Max Müller’s view of origin of language is weakest part of his book [see 3752].

Would like to examine the rare Cypripedium hirsutissimum.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 168
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3795,” accessed on 22 March 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10