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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   8 July [1869]1

Caerdeon Barmouth N. Wales

July 8th

My dear Hooker.

I have been very idle not to have thanked you long ago for your very pleasant letter of June 24th. which I could see you wrote to cheer me up, though at the time overburdened with correspondence. I liked your letter very much indeed, but do not write again, as it made me feel guilty.— Very many thanks about the Beards of the Russians.—2 I cannot gain any strength & have given up the attempt to walk & have now got a pony lent me by Miss Lloyd (who is staying close by with Miss Cobbe) & this will perhaps do me some good & anyhow pass the time till I get home.—3

My object in writing to you now is to tell you that I have had a letter from Dr. Habel of N. York, who has staid 5 months at the Galapagos: I have told him,, if he collected plants, to communicate with you, & I hope I did rightly.4

From reading several essays by Nägeli & others I have come to think that it is all important with respect to the principles of Variability to learn all that we can about the polymorphic or protean genera, such as Rubus, Hieracium &c &c.5 Keep this, if you can, a little in your mind.

The New Zealand genera are interesting under this point of view. I want especially to hear of as many cases, as occur, of single species, or sections of genera, being tolerably fixed in form, whilst the other species are eminently variable.— From the time before writing the Origin, these genera have always seemed to me very perplexing.

We shall be at Down at very end of month.6

I am truly glad that you receive such comfortable accounts from N. Zealand about Willie.7

My dear old Friend | Yours affect | C. Darwin

PS. My note was written before receiving yesterday the paper on Snakes, which I have been very glad to read.8 I am strongly inclined to be a believer, not in fascination but in extreme fear which leads the wretched creature to fall into the snakes power, in same manner as many people feel inclined to throw themselves down a precipice. Similar accounts have been published about the Rattle-snake in U. States, which I have believed, though ridiculed. I go further & am much inclined to suspect, that the noises of the Rattle-snake & of the Puff adder, which are by no means dissimilar, serve to paralyse their prey with fear.—

I think the paper ought to be published,—if not in Linnean Journal, in Popular Science Jrnl or in the Annals or somewhere.9

Yours affect | C.D


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 June 1869.
CD refers to Mary Charlotte Lloyd and Frances Power Cobbe. Lloyd lent her pony, ‘Whitey’, to CD (Lucas 2007, p. 322).
The letter to CD has not been found, but Simon Habel did write to Hooker and the herbarium at Kew holds five specimens of plants collected by Habel in the Galapagos (letter from Simon Habel to J. D. Hooker, 30 June [1869], Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, DC 204, f. 609; for the list of specimens, see the Kew Herbarium Catalogue,
In Origin, p. 46, CD had discussed ‘protean’ or ‘polymorphic’ genera, in which the species presented ‘an inordinate amount of variation’, and said, ‘hardly two naturalists can agree which forms to rank as species and which as varieties.’ Carl Wilhelm Nägeli had argued that natural selection acted only on physiological, not on morphological characteristics of plants, which, Nägeli argued, were controlled by a principle of ‘perfectibility’ (‘Vervollkommnung’; see Nägeli 1865, p. 29, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 January 1869 and n. 1). CD evidently hoped that the study of polymorphic genera would provide clear examples of the action of natural selection on morphological features.
CD returned to Down on 31 July 1869 (‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 17, Appendix II)).
William Henslow Hooker. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 June 1869 and n. 5.
The paper on snakes was written by Mary Elizabeth Barber (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 17 July 1869 and n. 9).
CD refers to Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Popular Science Review, and Annals and Magazine of Natural History.


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

Lucas, Peter. 2007. Charles Darwin, ‘little Dawkins’ and the platycnemic Yale men: introducing a bioarchaeological tale of the descent of man. Archives of Natural History 34: 318–45.

Nägeli, Carl Wilhelm von. 1865. Entstehung und Begriff der naturhistorischen Art. 2d edition. Munich: Verlag der königl. Akademie.

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.


Simeon Habel of New York has returned from Galapagos. CD has asked him to send any plants to JDH.

Reading Nägeli convinces him that it is all-important to learn all about polymorphic or protean genera for the "Laws of Variability".

New Zealand genera are interesting and have perplexed him for years.

Has read paper on snakes. Thinks it is not fascination but fear that makes the victim fall into snake’s power.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 137–9
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6822,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17