skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   17 April [1865]


Apr 17th

My dear Hooker,

We have been quite gay: J. Lubbock came here on Friday to lunch & was very pleasant:1 you will be glad to hear that he did not speak seriously of Mrs. L. & I suspect it is only case of family-wayishness.2 The more I think of it, the sorrier I am about parliament, though yet I do not at all like the thought of his being beaten.3 He says that he hears that his Book on Man will tell heavily against him.4 He will be Sir John, before very long, for poor old Sir J. has heart-mischief & is dropsical.5

On Sunday we had a call from M. Laugel, geologist & litterateur, a very agreeable, clever, & charming man: just returned from N. America & very enthusiastic for the Federals & very sanguine for their future in every respect.6

I will keep Bot. Zeitung for about one week—7 I have read N. Hist R. & guessed right to myself that Bentham wrote on Planchon;8 I liked the article; but as I had just read the essay there was not much new to me.—9 I have been very much struck by Thomson’s article: it seems to me quite remarkable for its judgment, force & clearness. It has interested me greatly.10 I had sometimes loosely speculated on what nomenclature would come to & concluded that it would be trinomial. What a name a plant will formally bear with the authors name after genus (as some recommend) & after species & subspecies! It really seems one of the greatest questions which can now be discussed for systematic Nat. Hist.11 How impartially Thomson adjusts the claims of “hair-splitters” & “lumpers”12   I sincerely hope he will pretty often write reviews or essays. It is an old subject of grief to me, formerly in geology, & of late in Zoolog. & Botany, that the very best men, (excepting those who have to write Principles & Elements &c)13 read so little & give up nearly their whole time to original work; I have often thought that science would progress more if there was more reading. How few read any long & laborious papers. The only use of publishing such seems to be as a proof that author has given time & labour to his work.

Well farewell my dear old fellow— let me hear before very long how Sir William is—14

Yours affect | C. Darwin


CD was writing on Easter Monday. Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) indicates that George Howard Darwin was home from Cambridge, and that Elizabeth, Francis, and Leonard Darwin were home from 13 to 24 April; William Erasmus Darwin may have been present as well, after arriving on 13 April. Horace and Henrietta Emma Darwin were living at Down. There is no mention in the diary of John Lubbock’s visit.
Hooker had been concerned about the health of Ellen Frances Lubbock (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [7–8 April 1865] and n. 13).
Lubbock was standing for election to Parliament as a Liberal Party candidate for West Kent; this constituency had returned two Conservative members of parliament at the last election in 1859 (Dod’s parliamentary companion 1865). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [7–8 April 1865] and n. 14.
The reference is to Pre-historic times (Lubbock 1865), in which Lubbock discussed the archaeological evidence for the antiquity of humankind. Although in recent years the view that humans had a chronologically remote and ‘savage’ origin had become more widely accepted (see Grayson 1983, pp. 217–20), Lubbock’s supporters believed that the book would harm his chances of election and urged him to delay its publication until after the election in July (see Hutchinson 1914, 1: 74).
John William Lubbock died on 20 June 1865 (see letter from John Lubbock, 22 and 26 March 1865 and n. 3).
The reference is to Auguste Laugel. In 1860, Laugel had sent CD a copy of his review of Origin in Revue des Deux Mondes (Laugel 1860). See Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Asa Gray, 25 April [1860] and letter to ?, 25 [April 1860?]. There is an annotated copy of Laugel 1860 in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Laugel described his 1864 trip to the northern states of the USA in Laugel 1865; he discussed his support for the Union during the American Civil War in Laugel 1863, Laugel 1864, and Laugel 1866.
CD refers to George Bentham’s review of Planchon 1864a and 1864b in the April 1865 issue of the Natural History Review ([Bentham] 1865); see letter from J. D. Hooker, 12 April [1865] and n. 6.
CD evidently refers to Planchon 1864b; there is an annotated copy of this essay in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
The reference is to [Thomson] 1865. Thomas Thomson’s article was a critical review of Alexis Jordan’s attempt to establish by experiment the permanence or variability of plant forms, with a view to providing a new system of classification (Jordan 1864). Near the start of the article, Thomson wrote: ‘Darwin’s marvellous observations have of late set all the world thinking about variation and variability, and have already stimulated to an enormous extent the observing faculties of naturalists’ ([Thomson] 1865, p. 227). Thomson used his review of Jordan’s work as a point of departure for discussing classification systems in taxonomic botany and zoology in general.
Thomson discussed trinomial systems of botanical nomenclature in [Thomson] 1865, pp. 238–41. In 1842, CD had served on a committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science to ‘draw up a series of rules with a view to establishing the nomenclature of zoology on a uniform and permanent basis’ (see Correspondence vol. 2 and McOuat 1996). CD developed his understanding of scientific nomenclature further in the course of his study of barnacles, which involved him in practical problems of classification (see Correspondence vol. 4, Introduction and Appendix II); CD’s ideas developed further in discussions with Hooker on classification in botany (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 7, letter from J. D. Hooker, [25] February 1858). In 1842, the British Association rules of nomenclature had codified a binomial system in which each species was given two names, one to designate the genus and one the species, followed by the author’s name in parentheses whenever the species name was joined to a new generic name (see Strickland et al. 1863). However, by the end of the century the consensus amongst taxonomists in Europe and North America that had allowed the adoption of these rules had broken down, and a trinomial system of naming a species by genus, species, and sub-species began to be adopted by some zoologists and botanists, to take account of geographic variation (see Mayr 1942, pp. 108–11, Stresemann 1975, pp. 264–7, Stace 1980, pp. 206–10, and Stevens 1994).
[Thomson] 1865, pp. 226 and 235–6, discussed the different conclusions of ‘local botanists’, who made detailed observations of a limited number of plants inhabiting a small area, and of ‘general botanists’, who made extensive surveys of a wide range and large number of plants. The former, characterised here by CD as ‘hair-splitters’, tended to create more species according to the small differences they observed; the latter, the ‘lumpers’, tried to ‘grasp the whole range of plant forms, and … came to overlook or under-estimate the importance of minute characters’, thereby creating a ‘bias in favour of combination, rather than separation’. Jordan, whose work Thomson was reviewing, was well known for naming a large number of species (see Correspondence vol. 5, letters from H. C. Watson, 13 August 1855 and 2 October 1855, and Correspondence vol. 8, letter from H. C. Watson, 10 May 1860). For additional discussions on these two tendencies in systematics and their bearing on CD’s theory, see, for example, Correspondence vol. 6, letter to J. D. Hooker, 1 August [1857], and letter from J. D. Hooker, [6 December 1857], and Correspondence vol. 7, letter to J. D. Hooker, 11 March [1858].
CD refers to compilers of text-books or of works aiming to provide an overview of a subject. CD was presumably thinking of Charles Lyell, who was working on the tenth edition of Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1867–8), and whose Elements of geology had reached a sixth edition in January 1865 (C. Lyell 1865). CD had expressed his admiration for Lyell’s work in this genre on several occasions (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 11, letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863], and this volume, letter to J. D. Hooker, 15 [February 1865]).
Hooker’s father, William Jackson Hooker, was seriously ill (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 12 April [1865]).


[Bentham, George.] 1865a. The ancient and modern floras of Montpellier. Natural History Review 5: 202–25.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Dod’s parliamentary companion: The parliamentary pocket companion … compiled from official documents, and from the personal communications of members of both houses. Dod’s parliamentary companion. London: Whittaker, Treacher, & Arnot; Whittaker & Co. 1833–1914.

Grayson, Donald K. 1983. The establishment of human antiquity. New York: Academic Press.

Hutchinson, Horace Gordon. 1914. Life of Sir John Lubbock, Lord Avebury. 2 vols. London: Macmillan.

Jordan, Alexis. 1864. Diagnoses d’espèces nouvelles ou méconnues, pour servir de matériaux à une flore réformée de la France, et des contrées voisines. Paris: F. Savy.

Laugel, Antoine Auguste. 1860. Nouvelle théorie d’histoire naturelle. L’origine des espèces. Revue des deux mondes 2d ser. 26: 644–71.

Laugel, Antoine Auguste. 1865. Les Etats-Unis pendant la guerre. II. De l’Atlantique au Mississippi; l’Américain de l’ouest. Revue des Deux Mondes 56: 874–910.

Laugel, Antoine Auguste. 1866. Les Etats-Unis pendant la guerre (1861–1865). Paris: Germer Baillière.

Lyell, Charles. 1865. Elements of geology, or the ancient changes of the earth and its inhabitants as illustrated by geological monuments. 6th edition, revised. London: John Murray.

Lyell, Charles. 1867–8. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 10th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

McOuat, Gordon R. 1996. Species, rules and meaning: the politics of language and the ends of definitions in nineteenth century natural history. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 27: 473–519.

Mayr, Ernst. 1942. Systematics and the origin of species from the viewpoint of a zoologist. New York: Columbia University Press.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Stace, Clive Anthony. 1980. Plant taxonomy and biosystematics. London: Edward Arnold.

Stevens, Peter F. 1994. The development of biological systematics: Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu, nature, and the natural system. New York: Columbia University Press.

Stresemann, Erwin. 1975. Ornithology: from Aristotle to the present. Translated by Hans J. and Cathleen Epstein. Edited by G. William Cottrell. With foreword and epilogue by Ernst Mayr. Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press.

[Thomson, Thomas.] 1865. Species and subspecies. Natural History Review 5: 226–42.


On Lubbock’s plans.

Visited by Antoine Auguste Laugel.

Guessed right on Bentham’s "Planchon".

Much struck by Thomson’s article on nomenclature [see 4812]; importance of this subject.

Sorry best scientists read so little; few read any long papers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 265
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4814,” accessed on 14 August 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13