skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   3 February [1868]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Feb. 3d

My dear Hooker

Thanks for your splendid long letter which amused & interested me, or rather all of us, greatly.2 How apt one is to take a one-sided view: it never for a moment occurred to me that it was more blameable in poor Wollaston running away from his creditors & co-debtors, than for a hare to run away from the hounds. But I fear Lubbock’s view is too true.3 Thanks for letters, returned & for the Book, which I will keep for a week or fortnight.4 I have read the first page or two, & it is as full of parentheses, as his style always is, & by which I instantly recognised, much to his surprise, his review of the Origin in the Annals of Nat. Hist.—5 Poor fellow I am very sincerely sorry for him.

About Royal Soc. I was aware that my judgment was worth nothing. In so fluctuating a body it is no wonder that the gravest oversights may be made.— I suppose Mohl’s claims are very high.— His book on the vegetable cell struck me as very good.6

I am very much pleased at what you say about my Introduction: after it was in type I was as near as possible cancelling the whole. I have been for some time in despair about my book, & if I try to read a few pages feel fairly nauseated; but do not let this make you praise it; for I have made up my mind that it is not worth a fifth part of the enormous labour it has cost me. I assure you that all that is worth your doing (if you have time for so much) is glancing at ch. XI. & reading parts of later chapters.7

The facts on self-impotent plants seem to me curious, & I have worked out to my own satisfaction the good from crossing & evil from inter breeding.—8 I did read pangenesis the other evening, but even this, my beloved child as I had fancied, quite disgusted me.9 The devil take the whole book; & yet now I am at work again, as hard as I am able. It is really a great evil, that from habit I have no pleasure in hardly anything except natural history, for nothing else makes me forget my ever recurrent uncomfortable sensations. But I must not howl anymore, & the critics may say what they like: I did my best & man can do no more. What a splendid pursuit Natural History would be if it was all observing & no writing.

I am now reading Miquel on Flora of Japan & like it: it is rather a relief to me (though of course not new to you) to find so very much in common with Asia:10 I wonder if A. Murray’s notion can be correct, that a profound arm of the sea penetrated the west coast of N. America, & prevented the Asiatico-Japan element colonising that side of the continent so much as the eastern side.11 Or will climate suffice? I shall to the day of my death keep up my full interest in Geograp. Distrib.; but I doubt whether I shall ever have strength to come in any fuller detail, than in the Origin, to this grand subject.12 In fact I do not suppose any man could master so comprehensive a subject, as it now has become, if all Kingdoms of nature are included. I have read Murray’s book & am disappointed, though as you said, here & there clever thoughts occur.—13 How strange it is, that his view not affording the least explanation of the innumerable adaptations, everywhere to be seen, apparently does not in the least trouble his mind. One of the most curious cases, which he adduces, seems to me to be the two allied Fresh-water, highly peculiar Porpoises in the Ganges & Indus; & the more distantly allied form of the Amazons.— Do you remember his explanation of an arm of the sea, becoming cut off like the Caspian, converted into Fresh-water, & then divided into two lakes (by upheaval) giving rise to two great rivers. But no light is thus thrown on the affinity of the Amazon form.14 I now find from Flower’s paper, that these F. water Porpoises form two sub-families, making an extremely isolated & intermediate, very small Family.15 Hence to us they are clearly remnants of a larger group; & I cannot doubt we here have a good instance, precisely like that of Ganoid Fishes, of a large ancient marine group, preserved exclusively in Fresh Water, where there has been less competition & consequently little modification.—16

What a grand fact that is which Miquel gives of the Beech not extending beyond the Caucasus, & then reappearing in Japan; like your Himalayan Pinus & the Cedar of Lebanon.17

I know of nothing that gives one such an idea of the recent mutations in the surface of the land, as these living “outlyers” in the geological sense; we must, I suppose, admit that every yard of land has been successively covered with a beech forest between the Caucasus & Japan!

I have not yet seen (for I have not sent to station) Falconers works.—18 When you say that you sigh to think how poor your reprinted memoirs wd. appear, on my soul I shd. like to shake you till your bones rattled for talking such nonsense.— Do you sigh over the “Insular Flora”, the introduction to New Zealand Flora, to Australia, your Arctic Flora & dear Galapagos, &c &c &c.19 In imagination I was grinding my teeth & shaking you till I put sense into you.—

Farewell, I have amused myself by writing an audaciously long letter.— By the way we heard yesterday that George has won the 2d Smith Prize, which I am excessively glad of, as the second wrangler by no means always succeeds:20 the examination consists exclusively of most difficult subjects, which such men as Stokes, Cayley & Adams21 can set.

Farewell my dear old fellow | C. Darwin

Do you chance to possess Cobbolds Book on Parasitic worms or some such title, published about a year ago— it is not likely, but if you have it, will you lend it me.—22


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from J. D. Hooker, 1 February 1868.
CD refers to Thomas Vernon Wollaston and John Lubbock. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 1 February 1868.
Hooker had enclosed letters from Henry Tibbats Stainton and Thomas Vernon Wollaston with his letter of 1 February 1868; the letter from Wollaston has not been found. He also sent Wollaston’s book on the Cape Verde beetles (Wollaston 1867).
Wollaston’s anonymous review of Origin appeared in Annals and Magazine of Natural History ([Wollaston] 1860).
Hooker had mentioned possible candidates for foreign membership of the Royal Society of London, including Hugo von Mohl (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 1 February 1868 and nn. 2 and 3). The English translation of Mohl’s Grundzüge der Anatomie und Physiologie der vegetabilischen Zelle (Mohl 1851), annotated by CD, is in the Darwin Library–CUL (Mohl 1852; see Marginalia 1: 589–90); CD discussed it in Climbing plants.
Hooker had praised the introduction to Variation in his letter of 1 February 1868. Chapter 11 was titled ‘On bud-variation and certain anomalous modes of reproduction and variation’ (Variation 1: 373–411).
CD refers to his chapter ‘On the good effects of crossing, and on the evil effects of close interbreeding’ (Variation 2: 114–44).
CD refers to chapter 27 of Variation, ‘Provisional hypothesis of pangenesis’ (Variation 2: 357–404).
Annotated copies of three papers by Frederich Anton Wilhelm Miquel on the flora of Japan are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL (Miquel 1867a–c). Species common to Japan and Asia are discussed in 1867b; those common to Japan and North American in 1867a.
In order to explain why the plants and animals of the eastern United States more closely resembled those of Asia than those of the western United States, Andrew Murray postulated an inland sea, called ‘the Missouri-MacKenzie tertiary sea’, extending from the Pacific Ocean north of Vancouver Island to the Mackenzie and Missouri rivers (see Murray 1866, pp. 43–5). An annotated copy of Murray 1866 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 624).
CD had revised and expanded his discussion of geographical distribution in Origin 4th ed., pp. 442–56. He had discussed the topic at great length with Hooker; the most recent extant correspondence on the subject is from 1867 (see Correspondence vol. 15).
Hooker had written a review of Murray 1866 in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 22 September 1866, p. 902 (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter from J. D. Hooker, 28 September 1866).
See Murray 1866, pp. 213–15. The Ganges and Indus river dolphins are now classed as subspecies of Platanista gangetica (P. g. gangetica and P. g. minor; see Rice 1998). The river dolphin native to South America is Inia geoffrensis.
William Henry Flower placed Platanista and Inia in two subfamilies (Platanistinae and Iniinae) of the Platanistidae (see Flower 1866, pp. 114–15).
CD discussed ganoid fish in Origin, remarking, ‘these anomalous forms may almost be called living fossils’ (Origin, p. 107; see also Origin, p. 321, and Descent 1: 212).
CD refers to the description of Fagus sylvatica in Miquel 1867c, p. 43. The discovery of the Himalayan pine (Pinus excelsa) on Mount Peristeri in Macedonia is described in J. D. Hooker 1864; see also Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, 5 February 1864. The cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) is described in J. D. Hooker 1862; see also Correspondence vol. 8, letter from J. D. Hooker, [26 November–4 December 1860].
Hooker had praised the recently published edition of Hugh Falconer’s memoirs (Falconer 1868). See letter from J. D. Hooker, 1 February 1868.
CD refers to J. D. Hooker 1867, 1853, 1859, 1860, and 1846, respectively. All were studies of plant distribution.
George Howard Darwin had achieved second place in the mathematical tripos at Cambridge. Examination for the Smith Prizes took place two weeks after the mathematical tripos and usually involved the top two or three wranglers (see Warwick 2003, pp. 56, 155–6). On the history of the Smith prizes, see Barrow-Green 1999.
George Stokes, Arthur Cayley, and John Couch Adams.
CD refers to Thomas Spencer Cobbold’s monograph on internal parasites (Cobbold 1864). It is mentioned in a letter from Henry Holland, 2 January 1865 (Correspondence vol. 13).


Barrow-Green, June. 1999. "A corrective to the spirit of too exclusively pure mathematics": Robert Smith (1689–1768) and his prizes at Cambridge University. Annals of Science 56: 271–316.

Cobbold, Thomas Spencer. 1864. Entozoa: an introduction to the study of helminthology, with reference, more particularly, to the internal parasites of man. London: Groombridge & Sons.

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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Falconer, Hugh. 1868. Palæontological memoirs and notes of the late Hugh Falconer … with a biographical sketch of the author. Compiled and edited by Charles Murchison. 2 vols. London: Robert Hardwicke.

Flower, William Henry. 1866. Description of the skeleton of Inia geoffrensis and of the skull of Pontoporia blainvillii, with remarks on the systematic position of these animals in the order Cetacea. [Read 22 November 1866.] Transactions of the Zoological Society of London 6 (1869): 87–116.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Mohl, Hugo von. 1851. Grundzüge der Anatomie und Physiologie der vegetabilischen Zelle. Brunswick, Germany: F. Vieweg.

Mohl, Hugo von. 1852. Principles of the anatomy and physiology of the vegetable cell. Translated by Arthur Henfrey. London: John van Voorst.

Murray, Andrew. 1866. The geographical distribution of mammals. London: Day and Son.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

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.

Rice, Dale W. 1998. Marine mammals of the world: systematics and distribution. Lawrence, Kans.: Society of Marine Mammalogy.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

Warwick, Andrew. 2003. Masters of theory: Cambridge and the rise of mathematical physics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[Wollaston, Thomas Vernon]. 1860a. Review of Origin of species. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 5: 132–43. Reprinted in Hull 1973, pp. 127–40. [Vols. 6,7,8]

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1867. Coleoptera Hesperidum, being an enumeration of the coleopterous insects of the Cape Verde archipelago. London: John Van Voorst.


Comments on Wollaston’s troubles

and his book [Coleoptera Hesperidum (1867)].

Mohl’s claim to foreign membership in Royal Society very strong.

Has been in despair about Variation – not worth a fifth part of the labour it cost him.

Is reading F. A. W. Miquel’s Flora du Japon [Prolusio florae Japonicae (1866–7)]; wonders whether A. Murray could be correct in his view that an area of the sea prevented Asiatico-Japan flora colonising western N. America.

Comments on A. Murray’s book [Geographical distribution of mammals (1866)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 44–9
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5835,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16