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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   27 September [1870]1

Down. | Beckenham, | Kent. S.E.

Sept. 27th.

My dear Hooker

Yours is a splendid letter, & I was very curious to hear something about the Liverpool meeting, which I much wished to be successful for Huxley’s sake. I am surprised that you think his Address wd. not have been clear to the public: it seemed to me as clear as water. The general line of his argument might have been answered by the case of spontaneous combustion; tens of thousands of cases of things having been seen to be set on fire wd be no true argument against any one who maintained that flames sometimes spontaneously burst forth.—2 I am delighted at the apotheosis of Sir Roderick: I can fancy what neat & appropriate speeches he would make to each nobleman as he entered the gates of Heaven.3 You ask what I think about Tyndall’s Lecture: it seemed to me grand & very interesting, though I could not from ignorance quite follow some parts, & I longed to tell him how immensely it wd. have been improved, if all the first part had been made very much less egotistical.4 George5 independently arrived at the same conclusion & liked all the latter part extremely. He thought first part not only egotistical, but rather clap-trap. How well Tyndall puts the “as if” manner of philosophising & shows that it is justifiable; some of those confounded Frenchmen have lately been pitching in me for using this form of proof or argument.—6

I have just read Rollestons address in Nature: his style is quite unparalleled!7 I see he quotes you about seed, so yesterday I went & observed more carefully the case given in enclosed paper which you might perhaps like to read & burn.—8 How true & good what you say about Lyell:9 he is always the same: Dohrn was here yesterday, & was remarking that no one stood higher in the public estimation of Germany than Lyell.10

I am truly & profoundly glad that you are thinking of some general work on Geograph. Distrib. or so forth:11 I hope to God that your incessant occupations may not interrupt this intention.— As for my book,12 I shall not have done the accursed proofs till end of November: good Lord what a muddled head I have got on my wretched old shoulders.

My Boys are very much obliged for your invitation for a Sunday; but they cannot accept it at present.—13

I wish I could boast of my calligraphy as you do with justice of yours.—

Ever dear old Friend | Yours affecy. | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 September 1870.
See letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 September 1870 and n. 3. The annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was held at Liverpool from 14 to 21 September, with Thomas Henry Huxley as president (Report of the 40th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, p. lxxii). Huxley’s address (T. H. Huxley 1870c), on spontaneous generation, was published in Nature 2 (1870): 400–6.
CD refers to Roderick Impey Murchison. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 September 1870 and n. 7.
The reference is to John Tyndall’s address, ‘On the scientific use of the imagination’ (Tyndall 1870). See letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 September 1870 and n. 5.
George Howard Darwin.
In a debate over his proposed election to the Paris Académie des Sciences, CD had been criticised for being a scientific amateur and for advancing conclusions that were not demonstrable. See Revue des Cours Scientifiques, 23 July 1870, p. 529, and the summary of the French debate in Nature 2 (1870): 298 and 309. See also letter from Armand de Quatrefages, 18 July 1870 and n. 6, and letter to John Tyndall, 8 September 1870 and n. 3.
CD refers to George Rolleston and to Rolleston 1870. The first portion of Rolleston’s address was published in Nature 2 (1870): 423–8. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 September 1870 and n. 6.
Hooker had tried to discover whether seed from a plant uncovered during the excavation of a lake at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was present in the surrounding soil. The case was mentioned in connection with the subject of spontaneous generation in Rolleston’s address (see Rolleston 1870, p. 98). The enclosure has not been found.
CD refers to Charles Lyell. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 September 1870.
CD refers to Anton Dohrn. Dohrn’s reminiscence of the visit is given in Heuss 1991, pp. 108–9.
Hooker had been planning to write a general work on the geographical distribution of plants for some years (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 14, letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 December 1866 and n. 9).
Hooker had invited William Erasmus Darwin and George Howard Darwin to visit Kew. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 September 1870.


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

Heuss, Theodor. 1991. Anton Dohrn: a life for science. Translated from the German by Liselotte Dieckmann. Berlin and New York: Springer Verlag.

Tyndall, John. 1870. On the scientific use of the imagination: a discourse delivered before the British Association at Liverpool, on Friday evening, 16th September 1870. London: Longmans, Green & Co.


Comments on JDH’s report of Liverpool meeting.

Huxley’s address.

Sir Roderick [Murchison]’s "apotheosis".

Tyndall’s lecture is "grand" except for egotistical beginning. Some Frenchmen have pitched into CD for using the "as if" reasoning, which Tyndall shows is justified.

Has just read George Rolleston’s address in Nature.

Anton Dohrn says German public have high opinion of Lyell.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 181–3
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7328,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18