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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   17 August 1867

Royal Gardens Kew

Aug 17/67

Dear Darwin

I return, by the Train to Bromley, Mary Barton & Vol. II of North & South—1 The whole of the vraisemblable2 of the latter falls before the Darwinian Gospel— how could such imbecile parents have such a child as Margaret? Also the denouement is too abrupt, & I have no sympathy with the Hero.3

As to Mary Barton it is the most horrible story I ever read— I got through the first 13 d of the book of deaths of all classes & ages of starvation, fever, & consumption spiced and garnished with Paralysis & blindness—when poor Esther4 came on the scene & floored me— I took thereupon a sip or two of the last chapter, & being somewhat revived thereby, I managed to struggle through the rest. Esther is the blunder of the book— there was no occasion to run her hapless hopeless misery through the whole story, & thus leave a most painful impression of the whole book—a regular poisoning of the tale— It is tremendously unnatural & sensational in plot & matter but most powerful, & I suppose extremely well written— At least I could always reread bits with pleasure. The life of the Manchester work people, is I suppose pourtrayed to the life.

I also send Cunningham’s letters— do not read them unless you like— they are all details—but some of them may interest you.5

Mirabilis not in flower yet.6

We go to Scotland on the evening of the 30th—via Dunfermline (near which my old Indian friend Sir J Colvile lives)—to Dundee—7

Ever Yr affec | J D Hooker

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Novels | Mirabilis’ pencil; ‘Letters of Cunningham’ ink


CD’s home was about six miles from Bromley station. Hooker refers to two novels by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, Mary Barton (Gaskell 1848), and North and south (Gaskell 1855).
Vraisemblable: i.e. vraisemblance.
Hooker refers to the characters Margaret Hale and John Thornton in Gaskell 1855.
Esther is Mary Barton’s aunt in Gaskell 1848.
Robert Oliver Cunningham was the naturalist on the Nassau, which was surveying in the Straits of Magellan; he sent plant specimens to Hooker (R. Desmond 1994). CD returned Cunningham’s letters with his letter to Hooker of 2 September [1867].
In the previous autumn, CD had asked Hooker for specimens of Mirabilis species other than M. jalapa because he wanted to try a ‘curious’ crossing experiment (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to J. D. Hooker, 20 November [1866] and n. 6).
Hooker refers to James William Colvile. The annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was held in Dundee from 4 to 10 September 1867 (Report of the thirty-seventh meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; held at Dundee in September 1867, p. lxxiii).


His opinion of two novels: Mary Barton and North and south [both by Mrs Gaskell].

Sends R. O. Cunningham’s letters.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 174–5
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5609,” accessed on 19 April 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15