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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   20 December [1873]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Dec. 20th.

(No answer wanted)

My dear Hooker

I have been wishing for some time to write,, but have refrained from expressing my indignation at that accursed malignant hypocrite Owen. How odious that attack was on you, with its flummery at first & hints that you would accept payment for acting as President.2 I did not know what to think about our Secretaries receiving payment, & much feared that it wd. greatly annoy Huxley.— I saw, however, that he was no more concerned that any of the old Secretaries. I was, therefore, so rejoiced to read in Nature a history of the Secretaryship.—3

Hurrah for old Sir Isaac.4 The publication of the extracts was the best & most dignified answer to Owen. What an odious character he is.—

Huxley told me that you got on splendidly in your speeches at the Anniversary, & that it was an excellent meeting: this was good news, for I knew that you were frightened; it makes me uncomfortable even in imagination to put myself in such a position.—

As for myself I have little to say: I am not very well, & fear diet will not do much for me, but am working hard at a new Edit. of the Descent, which turns out a truly awful job, from the innumerable criticisms, letters, & new facts which I have to compare & judge of.—5

I find that it is no use going on with my experiments on the evil effects of water on bloom-divested leaves. Either I erred in the early autumn & summer in some incomprehensible manner, or,, as I suspect to be the case, water is only injurious to leaves when there is a good supply of actinic rays.—6 I cannot believe that I am all in the wrong about the movements of the leaves to shoot off water. The upshot of all this is that I want to keep all the plants from Kew until the Spring or early summer; as it is mere waste of time going on at present.—7

I hope that you are not much overworked.

Your’s affectionately | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the reference to Richard Owen’s address to the Royal Society of London (see n. 2, below).
CD refers to Owen’s address to the fellows of the Royal Society on the questions of income, elections, presidents, and payment of secretaries (Owen 1873), delivered at the anniversary meeting of the Royal Society (see letter from T. H. Huxley, 3 December 1873 and n. 2).
Thomas Henry Huxley had been elected secretary at the anniversary meeting of the Royal Society (see letter from T. H. Huxley, 3 December 1873 and n. 3). An article in Nature, 18 December 1873, pp. 129–30, reproduced extracts from the Minutes of the Council of the Royal Society that related the history of payments to secretaries of the society.
In 1720, the president of the Royal Society, Isaac Newton, had put forward a motion that secretaries should be paid £50 annually (Nature, 18 December 1873, p. 129).
CD began work on the second edition of Descent on 20 November 1873 (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). Since the publication of Descent in February 1871, CD had received numerous letters relating to the book (see Correspondence vols. 19, 20, and this volume).
CD had been soliciting information and performing experiments on the effect of water on the leaves and fruit of plants (see, for example, letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 August 1873, and letter from W. E. Darwin, [22 August 1873] and nn. 2 and 3).
CD had received plants of Oxalis sensitiva (now Biophytum umbraculum) from Kew in August 1873 (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Outwards book). Hooker later sent Mimosa albida and some species of Eucalyptus (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 17 [November 1873]).


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.

Owen, Richard. 1873. [Address to the fellows of the Royal Society on the questions of income, elections, presidents, and payment of secretaries.] London: privately printed.


His indignation at the malignant, odious, hypocrite Owen’s attack on JDH. History of Secretaryship [of Royal Society in Nature 9 (1873): 129–30] was best answer to Owen.

Is hard at work on new edition of Descent – a truly awful job.

No use going on with experiments on effects of water on bloom-divested leaves. May have erred. Or it may be that water is only injurious when there is a good supply of actinic rays. Will wait until spring.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 95: 308–9
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9187,” accessed on 23 January 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21