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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   26 March [1854]

Down Farnborough Kent

March 26th

My dear Hooker

I had hoped that you would have had a little breathing time after your Journal, but this seems to be very far from the case; & I am the more obliged (& somewhat contrite) for the long letter received this morning, most juicy with news & most interesting to me in many ways. I am very glad indeed to hear of the reforms &c in Royal Socy. 1 With respect to the Club,2 I am deeply interested; only two or three days ago, I was regretting to my wife, how I was letting drop & being dropped by nearly all my acquaintances, & that I would endeavour to go oftener to London; I was not then thinking of the Club, which, as far as any one thing goes, would answer my exact object in keeping up old & making some new acquaintances. I will therefore come up to London for every (with rare exceptions) Club-day & then my head, I think, will allow me on an average to go to every other meeting. But it is grievous how often any change knocks me up. I will further pledge myself, as I told Lyell, to resign after a year if I did not attend pretty often, so that I should at worst only encumber the Club temporarily. If you can get me elected, I certainly shall be very much pleased.—3

—Very many thanks for answers about Glaciers. I am very glad to hear of the second Edit. so very soon; but am not surprised for I have heard of several, in our small circle, reading it with very much pleasure. I shall be curious to hear what Humboldt will say; it will, I shd. think, delight him & meet with more praise from him, than any other book of Travels, for I cannot remember one, which has so many subjects in common with him. What a wonderful old fellow he is.—4 I suppose you know that Sir H. Holland wrote the Quarterly Review;5 but very probably he wd. not like this to be spread.—

What a very singular & striking coincidence is the result you mention in regard to the affinities of Noggerathus & Salisburia;6 I know the latter by sight, & am astonished to hear that it is a Conifer.—7 Good Heavens what work there is in you,—, to hear of your 150 pages, 4to, in smallish print, of Introduction8 is enough to make me shudder; though if it is in the least like the New Zealand Introduction, it will be, I am sure, worth any amount of labour.—

By the way, I hope, when you go to Hitcham towards the end of May you will be forced to have some rest.9 I am grieved to hear that all the bad symptoms have not left Henslow; it is so strange & new to feel any uneasiness about his health.— I am particularly obliged to you for sending me Asa Gray’s letter;10 how very pleasantly he writes. To see his & your cautions on the species-question ought to overwhelm me in confusion & shame; it does make me feel deuced uncomfortable. I cannot quite understand why you & he think so strongly that it “does more harm than good to combat such views.”— It is delightful to hear all that he says on Agassiz:11 How very singular it is that so eminently clever a man, with such immense knowledge on many branches of Natural History, should write such wonderful stuff & bosh as he does. Lyell told me that he was so delighted with one of his (Agassiz) lectures on progressive development &c &, that he went to him afterwards & told him “it was so delightful, that he could not help all the time wishing it was true”.12 I seldom see a Zoological paper from N. America, without observing the impress of Agassiz’s doctrine’s,—another proof, by the way, of how great a man he is.— I was pleased & surprised to see A. Gray’s remarks on crossing, obliterating varieties,13 on which, as you know, I have been collecting facts for these dozen years.—

How awfully flat I shall feel, if I when I get my notes together on species &c &c, the whole thing explodes like an empty puff-ball.—

Do not work yourself to death

Ever yours most truly | C. Darwin

P.S. I almost forgot to say that I will return all the Books, which I have of yours.—viz “the Plant”,—“Wallace”—“Salt-Lake”,14 on Wednesday next by carrier who shall book and pay them to Kew by Parcels Delivery on Thursday. Very many thanks for this most valuable loan, than which I do not know when I have had a more interesting set.— We have kept these books an unconscionable time.


William Parsons, Earl of Rosse and president of the Royal Society, had announced his intention to resign his position at the anniversary meeting in November 1854 due to continuing bad relations with members of council and objections raised against his nominations for the council during his presidency (Hall 1984, pp. 94–7). The incoming president, Lord Wrottesley, was favoured by the reforming members of council, such as Leonard Horner and Charles Lyell (ibid., p. 97).
The Philosophical Club of the Royal Society was a dinner club founded in 1847 by ‘the more zealous reformers’ of the society (Bonney 1919, p. vi). CD had been invited to become a founding member but had declined. See Correspondence vol. 4, letter to J. F. Royle, [23 April – 28 May 1847].
CD was elected on 24 April 1854 and remained a member until his resignation in 1864 (Bonney 1919, pp. 39, 57).
See letter from J. D. Hooker, [c. 25 March 1854], n. 3.
Henry Holland, physician in ordinary to Queen Victoria, was a distant cousin of CD and occasionally his physician. For CD’s low opinion of Holland’s scientific qualifications, see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to J. D. Hooker, [18 April 1847]. He had reviewed the first three volumes of Humboldt 1846–58 for the Quarterly Review.
The genus Noeggerathus is a group of primitive gasteropods common in the Jurassic. Only a few species exist in the modern period, all of which live in the tropical seas of the West Indies and Japan. Salisburia is a synonym for Ginkgo biloba, the maidenhair tree. CD’s comment may relate to the fact that both organisms were once common but are now represented by only one or a few species living in sub-tropical and tropical regions. Their ‘affinites’ are consequently with fossil species rather than with other living forms.
Hooker considered Salisburia to be allied to cycads and hence a member of the Coniferales. It is now placed in a separate order. For Hooker’s views on the taxonomic position of conifers and gymnosperms generally, see letters from J. D. Hooker, [29 June 1854] and 25 August 1854.
The introduction to Flora Indica (J. D. Hooker and Thomson 1855).
John Stevens Henslow, Hooker’s father-in-law, was rector of Hitcham. Frances Hooker was expecting her second child in June.
Soon after his return from India, Hooker began corresponding with Asa Gray, professor of botany at Harvard University (Dupree 1959, pp. 233–5). The letter to which CD refers, dated 21 February 1854 (Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), commented on Hooker’s introductory essay to Flora Novæ-Zelandiæ (J. D. Hooker 1853–5), which Gray also reviewed in the American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 17 (1854): 241–52, 334–50. CD’s notes about the letter, dated 26 March 1854, are in DAR 205.2: 102. They refer to Gray’s belief that ‘representative species’ arose from similarities of climate in the areas where they were found. CD commented that if this were true, there should be even more resemblance between them than was usually the case.
Gray was critical of Louis Agassiz’s position on a number of issues, but particularly his pro-slavery views, which Agassiz based on a theory of separately created races of mankind. In his letter to Hooker of 21 February 1854, Gray wrote: ‘I confine myself to trying to show him that his own data do not at all necessitate the conclusions he sometimes draws from them.’ (Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; printed in part in Dupree 1959, p. 228).
Agassiz had delivered two series of lectures at the Lowell Institute in Boston. The first, in 1846 and 1847, was entitled the ‘Plan of creation in the animal kingdom’; the second, 1848–9, was on comparative embryology (Lurie 1960). Charles Lyell, in Boston to deliver a course of lectures at the Lowell Institute in 1852, may have attended one of Agassiz’s frequent public lectures (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 176).
In his letter to Hooker, 21 February 1854, Gray referred to the ‘inevitable mingling of stock preventing the continuance of individual peculiarities … The arrangements of nature go to prevent the perpetuation of varieties & races. Interfere with nature by domestication & segregation, and they spring up as fast as you please.’ (Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew). For CD’s comments on this view in his notes on the letter, see DAR 205.2: 102.
Schleiden 1848, Wallace 1853, and Stansbury 1852. CD’s notes on Schleiden 1848 are in DAR 71: 38–42.


Bonney, T. G. 1919. Annals of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society written from its minute books. London: Macmillan.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Dupree, Anderson Hunter. 1959. Asa Gray, 1810–1888. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University.

Hall, Marie Boas. 1984. All scientists now: the Royal Society in the nineteenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1853–5. Flora Novæ-Zelandiæ. 2 vols. Pt 2 of The botany of the Antarctic voyage of HM discovery ships Erebus and Terror, in the years 1839–1843, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross. London: Lovell Reeve.

Humboldt, Alexander von. 1846–58. Cosmos: sketch of a physical description of the universe. Translated [by Elizabeth Juliana Sabine] under the superintendence of Edward Sabine. 4 vols. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans; John Murray.

Lurie, Edward. 1960. Louis Agassiz: a life in science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schleiden, Matthias Jacob. 1848. The plant; a biography. In a series of popular lectures. Translated by Arthur Henfrey. London.

Stansbury, Howard. 1852. An expedition to the valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah: including a description of its geography, natural history, and minerals, and an analysis of its waters: with an authentic account of the Mormon settlement. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1853. A narrative of travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, with an account of the native tribes, and observations on the climate, geology, and natural history of the Amazon valley. London: Reeve.


CD welcomes the prospect of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society as means for seeing old acquaintances and making new ones. Will try to go up to London regularly.

Admits that the warning from JDH and Asa Gray (that more harm than good will come from combat over the species issue) makes him feel "deuced uncomfortable".

Reflects upon the complexity of Agassiz; how singular that a man of his eminence and immense knowledge "should write such wonderful stuff & bosh".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 120
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1562,” accessed on 23 January 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5