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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [6–9 June 1855]1

Dear Darwin

I will send Hedysarum by next Wednesdays carrier.2 it is not rare, nor so wonderfully tender, & would keep well under a bell-glass or hand light in a common room— would you not like a Mimosa sensitiva too?

I wish I could give you a rational account of my faith. I am far from wedded to the continental or Forbesian doctrine; the difficulties on all sides are so numerous & perplexing, that I really do not know where to turn for a satisfactory theory of distribution—not certainly to over-sea or under-sea transport, for that does not fulfill the conditions: not to continental transport ie Forbes because of the violence of the change & utter absence of proof; not to double creations because I do not like them!— At present I have enough to do to combat the sea-transport, & my strongest objection to it lies in the facts— 1) that the dispersion of plants over two such areas as East Suffolk + Norfolk & Holland, is too uniformly the same in both to render it probable that chance transport effected the interchange. 2) That no theory of sea-transport will account for the presence of the same plants in New Zealand & New Holland3 & be consistent with the absence of the Leguminosæ Myrtaceæ & Proteaceæ in New Zealand. We should it is true expect that the effect of sea transport would be capricious, but not to the extent that a comparison of N.Z. & N.H. demands.

Lastly, the fact that the ratio of species in the orders of Flowering Plants that are widely dispersed, is very much in direct proportion to the lowness of developement of the orders, and not to the facilities of transport, is a double barrelled argument that shuts me up altogether.

You may get over one half of this by supposing the lower developed orders to be the oldest-created & have therefore had most time to have spread furthest—allowing at the same time that they have greater powers of resisting the effects of temperature, drought &c &c. all of which squares with facts. It is not necessary to suppose that (granting this true) there has been a progressive developement (by species or by varieties); ie that Grasses were created before Lilies &c; for we may assume that the lilies &c which coexisted with the earliest created existing grasses have been killed, & replaced by others. The objection to this is that it would argue a gradual spread & monopolization of the soil by the lowest orders, for which there is much to be said in favor.

After all it is very easy to talk of the creation of a species in the Lyellian view of creation4 but the idea is no more tangible than that of the Trinity & to be really firmly & implicitly believed is neither more nor less than a superstition—a believing in what the human mind cannot grasp.

It is much easier to believe with you in transmutation, until you work back to the vital spark—a vis creatrix or whatever you may call it; which is a fact as inscrutable as a full blown species.

My own honest conviction is, that but for the necessity of Geologists swearing by species & against double creations, there would be small chance of the Lyellian views being readily accepted by the majority who do not think for themselves. I accept them because with all their difficulties they 〈    〉

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There are some bona fide European plants turning up on the Alps of S.E. Australia— What but double creation is tenable for such facts? except you assume that they were once commoner & are dying out.

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I should like to see Gray’s letter if you can spare it.

CD annotations

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2.8 1) … New Holland 2.12] ‘Is opposed to sea Transport for these reasons’ added pencil
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9.1 I should … it.] crossed pencil
Top of first page: ‘Hooker [over ’As‘] states that N. Zealand & Australia might have been united before Proteaceæ & Leguminosæ created. But land quadrupeds same type opposed to this. Has Hooker ever examined Travertine Leaves.’ ink


Dated on the basis that the letter falls between the letters to J. D. Hooker, 5 June [1855] and 10 June [1855].
Charles Lyell believed that new species were being continually created to replace those that had become extinct because of changes in the environment. In Lyell 1830–3, 2: 124, he wrote: ‘The following may, perhaps, be reconcileable with known facts:— Each species may have had its origin in a single pair, or individual, where an individual was sufficient, and species may have been created in succession at such times and in such places as to enable them to multiply and endure for an appointed period, and occupy an appointed space on the globe.’


Lyell, Charles. 1830–3. Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth’s surface, by reference to causes now in operation. 3 vols. London: John Murray.


Finds Forbes’s continental theories, migration, and double creation are all unsatisfactory explanations of geographical distribution of plants.

Is currently working on problems of sea transport of plant species.

European plants on Australian Alps only explicable by double creations.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 100: 90–3
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1694,” accessed on 27 July 2021,

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