skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   7 August [1869]1

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

Aug 7th

My dear Hooker

There never was such a good man as you for telling me things which I like to hear. I am not at all surprised that Hallett has found some vars. of wheat could not be improved in certain desirable qualities, as quickly as at first.2 All experience shows this with animals; but it wd. I think, be rash to assume, judging from actual experience, that a little more improvement cd. not be got in the course of a century; & theoretically very improbable, that after a few 1000s rest, there wd not be a start in the same line of variation. What astonishes me, as against experience, & what I cannot believe, is that varieties already improved or modified do not vary in other respects: I think he must have generalised from 2 or 3 spontaneously fixed varieties. Even in seedlings from same capsule some vary much more than others: so it is with sub-varieties & varieties.—

It is a grand fact about Anoplotherium;3 & shows how even terrestrial quadrupeds had time formerly to spread to very distant regions. At each epoch the world tends to get peopled pretty uniformly; which is a blessing for Geology.—

The article in N. British is well worth reading scientifically: George D. & Erasmus were delighted with it.4 How the author does hit! It was a euphemism to speak of a fling at you: it was a kick.— He is very unfair to Huxley & accuses him of “quibbling” &c—5 Yet the author cannot help admiring him extremely.— I know I felt very small, when I finished the article. You will be amused to observe that geologists have all been misled by Playfair, who was misled by 2 of the greatest mathematicians!6 and there are other such cases; so we could turn round & show from Reviewer how cautious Geologists ought to be in trusting mathematicians.—

There is another excellent, original article, I feel sure by McClennan, on Primeval man;—well worth reading.—7

I do not quite agree about Sabine:8 he is unlike every other soldier or sailor I ever heard of, if he would not put his second leg into the tomb with more satisfaction as K.C.B. than as a simple man.— I quite agree that Government ought to have made him long ago: but what does Government know or care for Science.— So much for your splenditious letter.—9

We came home this day week; & good Lord, how pleased I was: walking has done me the greatest good & I am above my usual standard of strength. George is nearly well, & Emma better, but not quite right.—10

I have 3 plants of Drosophyllum in splendid health & flowering. I shd much like to hear what you decide on its affinities with Drosera.—11 Wd. you like one or 2 of my plants— I suppose we cd somehow pack them up?—

Whether you will care to read the enclosed 12 letter I am sure I do not know: you can keep the seed: the monstrosity is like that which you described formerly in Gardeners Chronicle.12

Thanks for sheets from Proc. Z. Soc: I knew Elephants did not produce twins; but I stupidly said 3 pairs meaning 3 males & 3 females.13 The paper has otherwise been very useful to me.— If you write to Dr Campbell (but not otherwise ) pray ask him whether he knows whether the wild Boar in India is polygamous: I have just written to Sir W. Elliot to ask.—14

Lastly have you the recent census of India: perhaps Thomson has: would Royal Society have it? I want to see proportion of men to women; but then I must hear whether the census is esteemed trustworthy.—15

Do you know anything about Lyell,16 & what he is doing.—

This is a shamefully long letter.

Ever yours | C. Darwin

P.S. Do tell me what I ought to subscribe to the Faraday Memorial: I have never seen an advertisement or list of Subscriptions.—17


The year is established by the relationship of this letter and the letter from J. D. Hooker, 5 August 1869.
CD refers to Frederic F. Hallett. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 5 August 1869 and n. 2.
CD refers to George Howard Darwin, Erasmus Alvey Darwin, and Peter Guthrie Tait’s anonymous article in the North British Review ([Tait] 1869). See letter from J. D. Hooker, 5 August 1869; see also letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 July [1869] and n. 7.
Tait suggested that a ‘spirit of quibbling’ was evident in Thomas Henry Huxley presidential address to the Geological Society (T. H. Huxley 1869c) when Huxley discussed William Thomson’s arguments on the age of the earth ([Tait] 1869, p. 426).
According to Tait, John Playfair’s arguments in favour of a uniformitarian view of an essentially unchanging solar system were based on erroneous calculations by the mathematicians Joseph Louis Lagrange and Pierre Simon, marquis de Laplace ([Tait] 1869, pp. 414–15). Huxley had argued that geologists should be cautious in trusting the conclusions of physicists (T. H. Huxley 1869c, pp. xlvii–lii).
CD refers to John Ferguson McLennan and [McLennan] 1869 (Wellesley index).
CD refers to Edward Sabine. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 5 August 1869 and n. 9.
Letter from J. D. Hooker, 5 August 1869. ‘Splenditious’ is an invented Darwin family word (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. D. Hooker, 1 June [1865] and n. 3).
See letter from J. D. Hooker, 5 August 1869 and n. 10. CD refers to George Howard Darwin and Emma Darwin.
CD evidently forwarded a portion of a letter from Fritz Müller, probably the missing part of the letter from Fritz Müller, 15 June 1869 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 13 August 1869, and letter to Fritz Müller, 8 September [1869]). CD refers to Hooker’s article ‘The monstrous Begonia frigida at Kew, in relation to Mr. Darwin’s theory of natural selection’, Gardeners’ Chronicle, 25 February 1860, pp. 170–1. Müller had sent seed of a monstrous begonia with his letter of 14 March 1869 or later; see also letter to George Bentham, 10 May [1869] and nn. 5 and 7.
In a paper published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (A. Campbell 1869), Archibald Campbell stated that twin births were unknown in elephants (ibid., p. 138). A reference in Origin to the rate of breeding of elephants had recently been misunderstood as suggesting that elephants could give birth to twins; see letter from Ponderer to the Athenæum, [before 5 June 1869] and n. 2. See also letter to the Athenæum, 7 [July] 1869. CD quoted a sentence on polygamy in elephants from A. Campbell 1869 in Descent 1: 267.
A report on the census of the Central Provinces of India had been published in 1867, and one on the census of Oudh in 1869 (A classified list, in alphabetical order, of reports and other publications in the record branch of the India Office, December 1892 (London: E. Spottiswoode, Queen’s Printer, 1894), pp. 24–5). Thomas Thomson, a friend of Hooker’s, had been superintendent of the Calcutta botanic garden and professor of botany at Calcutta Medical College.
Charles Lyell.
A subscription fund for a memorial to Michael Faraday, who had died in August 1867, was established at a public meeting at the Royal Institution on 21 June 1869 (The Times, 22 June 1869, p. 5). See also Correspondence vol. 16, letter from J. D. Hooker, 13 February 1868 and n. 6.


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

Campbell, Archibald. 1869. Notes on the mode of capture of elephants in Assam. [Read 25 February 1869.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1860): 136–40.

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.

[McLennan, John Ferguson.] 1869. The early history of man. North British Review n.s. 11: 516–49.

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.

[Tait, Peter Guthrie.] 1869a. Geological time. North British Review n.s. 11: 406–39.

Wellesley index: The Wellesley index to Victorian periodicals 1824–1900. Edited by Walter E. Houghton et al. 5 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1966–89.


Replies to JDH on Hallett; doubts that already improved varieties do not vary in other respects.

The North British Review article [see 6841] is worth reading "scientifically"; it made CD feel small.

Awaits JDH’s decision on affinities of Drosophyllum and Drosera.

Is curious to see proportion of males to females in recent census in India.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 144–8
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6855,” accessed on 29 November 2021,

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