skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   [9 May 1863]1

Leith Hill Place2


My dear Hooker.

You give good advice about not writing in newspapers;3 I have been gnashing my teeth at my own folly; & this not caused by Owen’s sneers, which were so good that I almost enjoyed them.4 I have written once again to own to certain extent of truth in what he says;5 & then if I am ever such a fool again have no mercy on me.— I enclose A. Gray’s letter, as you might like to read all.6 I quite disagree with what he says about Lyell acting as a Judge on Species; I complain that he has not acted as a judge; I sometimes wish he had pronounced dead against us rather than possessed such inability to decide.— 7

I have read the Squib in Public Opinion:8 it is capital; if there is more & you have copy, do lend it. It shows well that a scientific man had better be trampled in dirt than squabble.

Our outing has not done much for Horace or myself;9 but I have been a bit better for the last 2 or 3 days.— I have been drawing diagrams, dissecting shoots & muddling my brain to a hopeless degree about the divergence of leaves & have, of course, utterly failed.10 But I can see that the subject is most curious & indeed astonishing. I wish you or Oliver could give me reference to some paper by Asa Gray, of which you told me.—11

I am sure you will like Bates’ book,12 & it will be a rest & pleasure to you to read it.

It is a bad job that you can come to no even moderately clear conclusion about the Cameroons.13 If the facts do not show it was migration during the Glacial period, so much the worse, as some one says, for the facts.—14 About some of the same or allied species (in the case of Fernando Po) still existing in the Mauritius; do you think there can be some truth in what I say in Origin of the forms which become extinct on continents, still surviving on islands from less severe competition.—15

I was very sorry to see in Falconer’s last letter, the parody of Louis’ XIV words, applied to Lyell:16 I have never seen any geological arrogance in Lyell.— I cannot think what he will do, now he has split with Owen & Falconer about naming mammals.—17

Goodnight— I long to be in my Hothouse & poking over my little experiments again; we return on Wednesday morning—18 Goodnight | C. Darwin

That is a clever remark in Gray’s letter about origin of language telling against each trifling variation being designed; Lyell shirked this point, which I urged him to grapple with.19 I do not believe there are above half-a-dozen real downright believers in modification of Species in all England: certainly not more, who dare speak out.—


Hooker The only honest downright

Huxley “flat-footed” (see A. Gray)

Wallace men in all England !!!20




The date is established by the endorsement; the Saturday preceding 11 May 1863 was 9 May.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwins stayed at Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, Surrey, home of Josiah Wedgwood III, from 6 to 13 May 1863.
In his letter to CD of [7 May 1863], Hooker had implored him to stop writing letters to newspapers. CD had recently written to the Athenæum on two occasions (letters to Athenæum, 18 April [1863] and 5 May [1863]).
CD refers to Richard Owen’s anonymous letter in the Athenæum, 2 May 1863, pp. 586–7, which was a response to CD’s letter to the Athenæum of 18 April [1863] (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix VII).
Letter to Athenæum, 5 May [1863].
Letter from Asa Gray, 20 April 1863. Asa Gray had sent this letter in an envelope addressed to Hooker; Hooker read part of it before he realised it was for CD, and forwarded it to him (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [7 May 1863]).
The reference is to Charles Lyell’s treatment of transmutation theories and Origin in C. Lyell 1863a (see Bartholomew 1973, pp. 296–301). See also letter to Charles Lyell, 6 March [1863].
The reference is to the squib satirising recent scientific controversies (Anon. 1863a), part of which appeared in Public Opinion 3 (1863): 497–8 (see Correspondence vol.11, Appendix VIII).
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwins stayed with relatives at Hartfield in Sussex from 27 April to 6 May, and at Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, Surrey, from 6 to 13 May 1863. The ill health of CD and his son Horace had prompted the trip (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 April [1863]).
CD refers to his research on phyllotaxy. CD’s interest in phyllotaxy was stimulated by a comment in Falconer 1863a (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Hugh Falconer, 1 October [1862], and this volume, letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 January 1863 and n. 22); CD wished to test Hugh Falconer’s assertion that a law governed the evolution of leaves around the axis of a stem, producing constant arrangements (see Falconer 1863a, p. 80). See also letter to Daniel Oliver, 20 [February 1863]. There is a series of undated diagrams relating to phyllotaxy in DAR 51: 6–32.
Daniel Oliver was Hooker’s assistant in the herbarium and librarian at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (R. Desmond 1994, List of the Linnean Society of London 1863). The reference is to A. Gray 1849; however, Hooker could not recall the article (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [13 May 1863]). Gray supplied the information in his letter to CD of [10–16] June [1863].
Bates 1863.
Hooker was writing a paper (J. D. Hooker 1863b) on a collection of plants from the Cameroons Mountains and was having difficulty explaining the geographical distribution of European genera in the region’s flora; see letter from J. D. Hooker, [7 May 1863] and n. 11. See also n. 14, below.
Possibly an allusion to a remark made by Erasmus Alvey Darwin, after reading Origin (Correspondence vol. 7, letter from E. A. Darwin, 23 November 1859): ‘In fact the a priori reasoning is so entirely satisfactory to me that if the facts wont fit in, why so much the worse for the facts is my feeling.’ However, CD was hoping that Hooker’s findings would corroborate his hypothesis that European plants had migrated to the tropics during the Pleistocene glacial period, and ascended the mountains with the return of a warmer climate (Origin, p. 378).
CD argued in Origin, pp. 106–7, that island plants and animals would face less competition and would consequently experience ‘less modification and less extermination’. CD wondered whether this hypothesis would partially explain the affinity between the plants of Clarence Peak, Fernando Po, and the plants of Mauritius and other islands in the Indian Ocean that Hooker had noted in J. D. Hooker 1861, p. 3. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [13 May 1863], and letter to J. D. Hooker, 15 and 22 May [1863]. This discussion formed part of an ongoing debate between CD and Hooker on the causal factors responsible for the geographical distribution of plants and animals (see, especially, Correspondence vols. 3 and 6).
See letter to Charles Lyell, [7 May 1863], n. 6. The reference is to Louis XIV of France.
Owen had been in dispute with Lyell since the publication of Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a) in February 1863 (see letter to Charles Lyell, 4 [February 1863], n. 4, and letter from J. D. Hooker, [23 February 1863] and nn. 2–3). Falconer’s disagreement with Lyell began in March (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 [March 1863]). Owen and Falconer were acknowledged authorities on mammalian comparative anatomy, and Lyell would probably have consulted them in the course of identifying mammalian fossils.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwins returned to Down on 13 May 1863.
The reference is to Gray’s comments on C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 454–70, in his letter to CD of 20 April 1863. CD discussed variation and design in his letters to Charles Lyell, [1 August 1861] and 21 August [1861] (Correspondence vol. 9).
In his letter to CD of 20 April 1863, Gray had written: ‘I think that you, and Hooker, are unreasonable in complaining of Lyell that he does not come out “flat-footed” as we say, as an advocate of natural-selection transmutation.’ CD refers to Thomas Henry Huxley, Alfred Russel Wallace, John Lubbock, and Henry Walter Bates.


Lists the six honest believers in his species theory in England.

Asa Gray complains that Lyell acts like a judge on species, whereas CD complains of Lyell’s indecision.

CD working on divergence of leaves.

Distribution of Cameroon plants and the glacial theory.

Survival of island relics.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Leith Hill Place
Source of text
DAR 115: 192
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4148,” accessed on 16 November 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11