skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [3 March 1868]1

Royal Gardens Kew


Dear Darwin

Your letter has delighted me, & I want to answer it at length, which I shall do from Norwich where I go for 2 days on Friday. I now quite understand your Pangenesis—2

I wrote all the first half of my last letter by fits & starts, & no doubt made a precious muddle.3

It is all true what you say that the satisfaction which Pan. may give, will depend on mental constitution—or as I call it, Mental Parallax.—4

I never arrived at any such conclusion. nor did I ever in any way shape my thoughts or reason towards it because it was simply self evident.— What I have always instinctively held & thought & never could help seeing, is, that in all cases of descent, “all the properties of the parents are transmitted in the one cell”, (a wonder of wonders it always was & is to me.) & were diffused to every part of the future offspring—my examples being, the reproductive power of single cells of most lower orders of plants, of Bryum androgynum & many Ferns, & of Malaxis paludosa,5—on the one hand—, & the fertilized cell of all organisms on the other—

I do not see how any one who ever thought of the matter of descent could escape this conclusion—that the properties are not only transmitted by the one cell, but diffused thereafter throughout the future individual   It is so hard to conceive this, or rather to grasp this, for individuals; that when you come to extend it to species Genera—Orders classes &c. it may well form a stumbling block to the acceptation of the “Development of Species” doctrine—as it did with me.

So far I have instinctively held your doctrine—but never as a postulated or formulated theory or hypothesis— it was merely as part of the doctrine of descent, the most ordinary phenomena of descent being simply inconceivable to me without it— Much less did I ever ask myself whether the most obscure facts of reproduction were explicable on any other hypothesis.

So far we are agreed;— when you come to your atoms & germs & gemmules & so forth—we do not part company—but move off a little— I do not see my way— Tyndall6 believes he feels, atoms as firmly as St Paul believed he saw Christ.—7 I do not say that atoms do not exist; but I rather suppose that they maybe like minutes of time, or inches of space, or any other purely arbitrary quantities. Your doctrine of atoms thrown off in no way furthers my perceptions—or advances my ideas—

I have again read Part 1 of Pan, & with literally renewed delight. I do think Pan. as fine a thing as you ever writ.—the idea of germs & atoms notwithstanding—

As to laying claim to having by any logical process of reasoning arrived at such a doctrine, in any scientific sense i.e. by testing it as you have done—, do not for a moment entertain it— I always held, as part & parcel of the development doctrine, that the potentiality of the parent was not only transmitted by a cell, but indefinitely diffused therefrom—& hence, as I told you from the first, I could not see what there was new in your theory—except the idea of atoms &c. which I could not grasp.

My wife is laid up with a spraned foot or would go & see Mrs Darwin & you, as I hope to do next week8

Do dine with us at X Club on Thursday at 6 PM—9

Ev yr affec | J D Hooker


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 28 February [1868]. In 1868, the first Tuesday after 28 February was 3 March.
In his letter of 28 February [1868], CD had responded to Hooker’s remarks about pangenesis, the theory of heredity presented in Variation 2: 357–404 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 26[–7] February 1868).
Hooker refers to the moss Bryum androgynum (now Aulacomnium androgynum) and the orchid Malaxis paludosa, in which foliar embryos at leaf-tips can effect vegetative reproduction (Mabberley 1997).
John Tyndall.
The reference is to the biblical story of the conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–22).
There is no record in Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) of a visit from Joseph Dalton Hooker or Frances Harriet Hooker during March 1868. CD was in London from 3 March and returned home on 1 April 1868 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix II)).
The X Club was established in 1864 by Hooker, Tyndall, Thomas Henry Huxley, George Busk, Edward Frankland, Herbert Spencer, John Lubbock, and Thomas Archer Hirst; William Spottiswoode joined later. For an account of the club’s history and significance, see Barton 1998.


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

Mabberley, David J. 1997. The plant-book. A portable dictionary of the vascular plants. 2d edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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


Now quite understands Pangenesis. Satisfaction given by it, as CD says, may depend on one’s mental constitution. In all cases of descent JDH has always thought "all the properties of the parents are transmitted in the one cell and were diffused to every part of the future offspring".

Tyndall believes he feels atoms as firmly as St Paul believed he saw Christ.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 204–7
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5971,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

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